Food, from farmers

By Randal Smathers

Can eating your veggies make you healthier? There’s an innovative program in Rutland that aims to show it’s a fact.

Each Wednesday, 100 bags of locally grown vegetables are handed out by the Health Care Share program to families and residents of senior and assisted living homes whose doctors have prescribed them.

Heidi Lynch, who runs the program for the Vermont Farmers Food Center on West Street, said the Health Cares, in its second year, is unusual in that most similar plans offer coupons instead of hard, cold cash crops. They get the produce in turn from small and / or beginning farms from around the region: Alchemy Gardens in Shrewsbury, Breezy Meadows Orchard and Nursery in Tinmouth, Caravan Gardens in Cuttingsville and Yoder Farm in Danby, as well as the Smokey House Center in Danby.

Education is a major part of the program. Every week, recipients get a printed sheet with a list of veggies, recipes and health tips, and there’s a demonstration of recipes or samples during distribution at the Food Center where roughly two-thirds of the bags are picked up. The other third are handed out at the Community Health Centers of Rutland County on Stratton Road.

The produce naturally varies by season. The last week of August the bags included tomatoes, melons, squash, zucchini, carrots, onions and kale – almost seven and a half pounds of fresh food. It’s designed to serve a family of four for a full week. If there is any extra, families are welcome to take more. Due to health concerns not everybody can used everything in the bag, so there is some swapping. Corn in particular can be too high in sugar for Type II diabetics, said Lynch, but those conversations are also an important part of the educational process.

From 10 to noon is farm dropoff time. Then there’s two hours of sorting and bagging and a pause before the distribution starts at 3 PM. After an initial rush, things typically slow down, said Lynch, then pick up again around 5:30 as people get off work. By 6 it’s all over. There’s a secondary distribution on Thursday and if any is still unclaimed it is donated to the Turning Point and / or Dream Center. There’s surprisingly little turnover: Some 85 percent of users pick up their shares week in and week out.

The program is 9 weeks into a 12-week run, with monthly “harvest shares” planned for the fall / early winter. Folks wishing to participate should ask their doctor. The year started with five medical offices prescribing. Two more recently signed on. Lynch is signing up doctors and farmers in February and March; April through June is open enrollment.

Lynch is an enthusiastic proponent. A Rutland native, she attended St. Mike’s in Burlington where she was introduced to organic gardening. She was introduced to a program similar to the Health Shares in Richmond, Vt., then talked to Greg Cox, the president of the Farmers Food Center, about it and it took off. Now she discusses “the food system,” and how the program works as a wholesale opportunity for small farms that don’t grow enough to attract a regular bulk purchaser. A vegetarian, she can still discuss the relative merits of local, organic meat versus corporation-farmed soybeans shipped thousands of miles.

And it’s a combined effort. Besides the farmers and Farm Center, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps volunteers and the youth team at Vocational Rehab have been regulars at helping sort and bag the produce, along with help from Grace Congregational and Good Shepherd Lutheran churches, College of St. Joseph and Green Mountain College. The major funder (Lynch calls it “seed money” with a straight face) is the Bowse Health Trust of Rutland Region Medical Center. Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, Vermont Fresh Network, Hunger Free Vermont, UVM’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, and SAGE (Shrewsbury Institute for Agricultural Education) provide the training, nutritional expertise and recipes.

For more information, see

This article was originally published in Sam’s Good News; the latest edition is here.

As American as ice cream

So on Monday I finally got my American citizenship at a ceremony in Montpelier, so no more green card.

It was a nice ceremony. The speech from Judge William Sessions was heartfelt, but it rather missed the point for me and most of my fellow emigres, or at least the ones to whom I spoke. He was talking about us now having an opportunity in the United States, but that’s rather an old-fashioned idea fit for the huddled masses on Ellis Island.

The modern reality of immigration is that it’s almost impossible to get citizenship from outside the country. Instead, you come here, apply for a green card and work between three and 10 years before even being eligible. So legal immigrants are here and settled, not yearning to be free. The only thing I’m free of that I wasn’t free of last week is the threat of an arbitrary decision by Immigration ending in my deportation …

Having said that, I will add that the immigration experience is the single most frightening, arbitrary and dehumanizing experience I’ve ever been through, and that’s coming from somebody who was once stuck up at gunpoint by three Russian cops.

On the bright side, after the ceremony, we decided to celebrate in the most American way we could think of: Binge eating.

We went to Ben and Jerry’s for the factory tour in Waterbury, where four adults and four boys between 4 and 8 years old finished off a Vermonster: 20 scoops of ice cream, four ladles each of caramel and chocolate sauce, four bananas (Hey, bananas! It must be good for you!), three chocolate chip cookies, a fudge brownie, walnuts, whipped cream and your choice of four toppings. We passed on the walnuts and two of the four toppings (just rainbow sprinkles and Reese’s Pieces, please).

The funny part is that the boys all had a couple of little dishes, decided they were full and quit eating … it was the adults who really pigged out. We got close enough to being finished that we got pins to celebrate the feat and my sister-in-law took the bucket home as a souvenir. Is great country, this America, yes?

Grass-fed Vermont beef

An update from my friends with the beef (grass fed, humanely slaughtered and downright delicious from Pawlet, VT. … The cows came in a little smaller than last year, so they are just $400 per quarter … cut, wrapped and frozen. Drop me a line and I’ll forward your their contacts.

I’m a confirmed carnivore, and I approve of this message.

Near-food products

Sure, pizza’s a vegetable. After all, the cheese you put on top might be. What? What?

Last week I was cooking for a bunch of kids. So, pizza. In the process of emptying the fridge of bags of shredded cheese for the pizzas, I came across a bag of Price Chopper “Low fat” shredded mozzarella. I blame Katya, by the way, for the existence of the bag in our fridge. I tend to buy food and she tends to buy the low-fat, imitation-flavored, near-food products. But back to our tale …

I was using up the cheesy scraps ahead of a grocery shop, so I threw this, this … stuff on the pizzas, put them in the oven at 425 with the convection on and waited for it to melt.

After a while, I peeked into the oven and the cheese still hadn’t melted. Odd. The oven seemed to be working. Finally, I pulled the pizzas out and the crust was cooked (almost dried out, it had been so long), but the cheese was still in its original shape, now brittle instead of melted. The pizzas were, well, dreadful. Edible, but just. The kids were pulling the cheese off and throwing it away because it was so crunchy.

I went back and checked the bag. Did you know that low-fat, shredded mozzarella has a large component of potato starch? The ingredients listed were skim milk, milk solids and potato starch. Turns out there’s a whole industry involved in making shredded-cheese-like products. Apparently somebody used the “low melt” fabrication instead of the “medium” or “high melt” versions.

Sargento also keeps our friends at Omya busy, including calcium carbonate in their near-food:

Calcium carbonate and potato starch are also natural ingredients. They pass through your body as any food does.

And here I thought shredded cheese was, you know, cheese … that had been shredded.

Bocce, even

One of the more charming rituals of Old Rutland is bocce at the Italian American Club on Grove Street. The Paramount Theatre has an evening of bocce and a meal for 8 to 24 people as an auction item for its annual Festival of Trees fundraiser.

Save the date … Saturday, Dec. 3 at 6 PM. Good fun for a great cause!

From our friends around Vermont

The Paramount Festival of Trees has auction items donated from Good Commons in Plymouth (a four-course dinner for two with wine pairings and a “Culinary immersion,” from Manchester (Up for Breakfast and Northshire Bookstore gift certificates), from Downtown Grocery in Ludlow, from Weston, we have seasons’ tickets from the Weston Playhouse, dinner at the Bryant House Restaurant and gift baskets from Vermont Country Store … lots more fun stuff from around the state as well as Rutland County.

Drop me a line for tickets and I’ll spring for your first glass of wine (OK, in the words of Jay Kenlan, “bidding fuel.”) Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Paramount; doors open at 6 PM … see you there …

For my fellow foodies …

The Paramount’s Festival of Trees has loads of food-oriented auction items this year … gift certificates to many of the wonderful eateries in and around Rutland … the RAFFL / farmers’ market gift basket that was such a hit last year … new this year is a beach house barbeque at Mountain Top Inn for you and 44 of your closest friends. And yes, I will be cooking dinner for six featuring mostly local foods at Steve and Nancy Burzon’s beautiful Danby home again this year.

Remember to save the date: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 6 PM at the Paramount!

Beef available

I have friends in Pawlet who keep a few cows and sell the beef by the quarter periodically.

The cattle are free-range, grass-fed, humanely slaughtered (not an oxymoron); the beef is excellent. It’s $500 for a mixed quarter (so not a front or hind quarter) … just under 100 pounds, cut, wrapped and frozen. Drop me a note and I’ll put you in touch with my friends.


The latest industrial food atrocity comes from Washington State via apple packager Snokist (full story here). The scariest line from the report? FDA regulations to (sic) allow companies to “recondition” food, but the final product must be free of contamination …

This after Snokist “heat treated” several ginormous bags of moldy applesauce intended for baby food, then repackaged them for sale; illnesses resulted. Presumably they went to the trouble of heat-treating because “rules prohibit mixing contaminated product with sound product to get to acceptable levels of filth,” this according to Pat El-Hinnawy, an FDA spokeswoman.” I’m sure Ms. El-Hinnawy intends that to assure the consumer that the FDA is thoroughly safeguarding our food, but does that phrase, “acceptable levels of filth,” make anyone else gag, just a little?

When my Grandma Schobert would catch someone trying to sneak a fast one past her, she would call their story by saying it was  “applesauce.” So, Ms. El-Hinnaway, on behalf of the FDA, “applesauce, applesauce, applesauce.”

Meanwhile, I’ll get my apples (and cider, and cider doughnuts) from Brown’s Farm Stand, or Mendon Mountain Orchard, or Champlain Valley Orchards, or any one of the other local producers.

Body and mind Saturday

From the top:

8:45 AM — RAHA learn to skate / learn to play hockey program for kids at Spartan Arena.

9:15 AM — Race-day registration opens for the Halloween 5K put on by city rec. Race time is 10.

10 AM — The One City One Prompt event, a two-hour shared writing experience, starts at the Fox Room of the Rutland Free Library. My comrade in blog Jim Sabataso has all the info.

10 AM — Killington opens for the weekend … only one run to date, but it never hurts to remind Boston that you’re here when you get snow in October.

10 AM — Vermont’s finest farmers’ market (don’t take my word for it; it won an online poll this fall from the American Farmland Trust) wraps up its outdoor season at Depot Park until 2 PM.

6:30 PM — Halloween Parade steps off downtown.

So just the usual stuff going on … gotta love Vermont.