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Shields: Locally Grown

08/23/11 7:55AM By Jeff Shields
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Commentator's Brunch Sampler

(HOST) This week we're featuring a Sampler of some of the essays recorded live at the Commentator Brunch earlier this year. The theme - "Picture This" - inspired commentator Jeff Shields to describe - in some detail - a transition that turned out to be full of surprises.

(SHIELDS) I'm Jeff Shields and I'm going to talk to you today about "Trials of a Locavore."

On arriving as Dean at Vermont Law School , I decided it would be terrific if we could move from processed institutional food to locally grown fare.

Easier said than done.

Changing the approach to food preparation for a staff who had taken everything either out of the can or out of the freezer bag is an interesting task.

Early on, I suggested that fresh fruit for dessert at a lunch for donors would be a nice step beyond the canned fruit which had been the rule before. The result - rock-hard cantaloupe, unripened pineapple - fruit, yes, but hardly local.

A few months later when we had made some progress on the food to be served, I suggested that we have a list on each table of the sources of the locally grown produce, so the students could see we were supporting our local farmers. The list included Luna Blue potatoes and Long Wind tomatoes; also on the list prepared by our chef was "Coca Cola, bottled in White River Junction, Vermont ."

There was confusion about whether it was sufficient to be local or whether food had to be both local and taste good. I remember a trustee gathering at which I stood at the beginning of the dinner to make a toast, and sipped the wine and almost spit it out. I approached one of the kitchen staff and said, "Where is this wine from?" And they looked at me, beaming, saying, "We knew you would be pleased that it's local." And I said, "Tell me more." And they said, "It's local rhubarb wine."

Four head chefs later, about seventy percent of what we serve is raised or grown within fifty miles of the Law School . We buy from about thirty different Vermont farms. Ritz crackers and cheese whiz have been replaced with locally baked bread and artisanal cheese, resulting in lots of smiles among our students, faculty, and friends.

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