Farmers, distributors, and business owners packed the 14th Star Brewing Co. event room in St. Albans, VT on Tuesday, July 31 to discuss a shared goal: support Vermont farms and maximize the usage of locally-produced food. The event was free but exclusive to those working in the food industry. Healthy Roots Collaborative Coordinators Koi Boynton and Johanna Setta worked the room with ease, and provided each guest with a folder containing a list of all the mixer attendees, information about Healthy Roots, a Farm & Food Directory, and drink tickets to sample a selection of 14th Star beers and Due North Vineyard wines. Boynton described the event as, “connecting growers, makers, and buyers to advance the availability and viability of local food in Northwest Vermont,” and she and Setta took their matchmaking very seriously. Each attendee was assigned a “date” for the evening – the pairs were chosen based on their potential to develop a business relationship and encouraged to meet and chat over drinks and delicious hors-d’oeuvres (locally sourced of course!).
The over 30 food businesses represented were diverse in their professions as well as their motives. The Abbey Group, represented by Nina Hansen and Cheryle Slayton, is a food service company serving over 120 scholastic and corporate locations across 3 states. Their commitment to utilizing local food initially drew them to Healthy Roots, and they had previously partnered up for their Harvest of the Month school program, where their ultimate goal was to ‘make local happen on school menus.’ Hanson sits on the Healthy Roots Advisory Committee and lauded them for hosting the event, saying, “the buyer-producer relationship is not always easy to navigate, and Healthy Roots really facilitates that for us.”
Food businesses across the region that were in attendance had similar takeaways from the event. For Blue Thumb Farm, a U-Pick blueberry farm in South Hero, this marked one of the first Healthy Roots events they’ve attended and discovering new people in their industry was an exciting venture. West Farm in Jeffersonville was amazed by the number of new food industry professionals they became connected with at the event. Boston Post Dairy of Enosburg Falls realized, thanks to this event, that they were already connected with many attendees but that their connections weren’t deep enough to recognize that they were in the same food industry, which extended and strengthened their existing relationships. Each of the farms found commonality in the fact that the event was, above all, a way for them to build their community around the food industry.
The mixer was casual, fun, and an overall success for the attendees as well as Healthy Roots. Setta calls Healthy Roots a multifaceted organization, and the scope of their upcoming one-day conference this fall, Growing the Working Landscape, perfectly encompasses their work done on partnering farms as well as in their community. While their gleaning, farm to table, and food security programs shine at the forefront of the organization, events like the mixer help achieve their overall goals of increasing local procurement, celebrating local food, and strengthening the purchasing power local food in their region. Based on their successes this past week, Northwestern Vermont has a delicious future to look forward to thanks to Healthy Roots Collaborative.