Enticing Consumers To Buy Local, Even In Winter

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(Host) Many consumers want to buy their strawberries and peas from a nearby farm as demand for locally produced food has risen. But will consumers still buy local produce in the winter if it’s frozen?

As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, Green Mountain College and a Rutland County group believe a flash freezer and a $100,000 grant will help them find out.

(Keck) Tara Kelly is executive director of the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, or RAFFL – a nonprofit organization that promotes local farming by helping to develop new food markets and improve infrastructure and distribution.

(Kelly) "As RAFFL has been looking at the future of farming, one of the things that keeps coming up is the need for processing infrastructure. The idea that if we want to grow enough food to feed a larger amount of people who want to take advantage of local food there has to be other ways of extending the market year round – of having additional income streams for the farms that extend into the winter."

(Keck) Freezing produce seems like a good way to do that. But Kelly says there are still a lot of questions about demand and pricing.

Phillip Ackerman Leist runs Green Mountain College’s Farm and Food Project. The Green Mountain College teamed up with RAFFL to get answers. First they lined up a mobile, flash freezer from the state department of agriculture. Then the college built a commercial kitchen and prep area to make the freezer easier for farmers to use.

He says thanks to the $100,000 grant, they also have a staff person to oversee the facilities, test flash-frozen foods and collect data.

(Leist) "Farmers can actually come in and at a subsidized rate, and actually even free if it’s for the charitable food system, they can come in and use the commercial kitchen, also use the flash-freeze unit. And we’re also going to be moving it around. So this grant from Janes’ Trust actually gives us the ability to move it throughout southern Vermont and a little bit in the northern tier as well working in conjunction with RAFFL and the UVM Extension."

(Keck) Ackerman Leist says with freezing, farmers can sell year round and make use of produce that doesn’t sell fresh.

He says if they freeze enough produce, farmers can enter new markets with local institutions like hospitals and schools.

Tara Kelly says Green Mountain College itself is working hard to increase the amount of local food it serves on campus.

(Kelly) "So this is a chance for them – they have a ready made dining hall there to see what the bugs are – to figure out what the issues are as to why it is or isn’t feasible. Because they know we’re answering questions that everyone around Vermont is asking themselves. What kind of infrastructure will move the local food system forward. And so I think that’s why they made the investment. They know that what we learn here is going to be important to the rest of Vermont and New England."

(Keck) Kelly says farmers are already using the commercial kitchen and several have set up appointments to freeze produce later in the summer.

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.

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