Over the past year at Weybridge House, we have learned that purposeful eating is an exciting and essential vehicle for reducing our carbon footprint and revitalizing the Vermont economy. Although Weybridge House has served vegetarian dinners every Monday through Thursday for almost two decades, in 2009 we decided to update the house’s mission to reflect the most current environmental-eating movement—local food. During the 2009 growing season, house members froze, canned, and dried local produce, filling three chest freezers and over 300 canning jars. We combined this produce with staple goods such as local flours and dairy products to provide enough food for the entire year. The only exceptions to our local diet were the additions of yeast, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Four nights a week, all year, Weybridge House used the food we preserved to cook all local dinners for an average of 18 people. Members of Weybridge House found great joy this spring because we made it through the winter living off of the work of the local farmers who grew our food, and the housemates who worked hard to preserve it.
This commitment to preserving produce to feed the house and cooking with Vermont ingredients was time-consuming and challenging, and it forced us to be creative with our recipes. What can you cook with a can of tomatoes, potatoes, frozen green beans, corn, and peppers in the middle of January? A hearty vegetable soup! What can you cook when you have a surplus of eggs and frozen spinach? Spinach quiche! This challenge made each meal some of the most rewarding and satisfying of our lives. During the 2009—2010 academic year, Weybridge House demonstrated that it is not only possible but also enjoyable to incorporate local food as a significant portion of a Middlebury student’s diet.
Through local eating, Weybridge House residents looked critically at how our eating habits impact ecological and economic communities at multiple spatial scales. At the local scale, each house member met and meaningfully conversed with local farmers and learned about the connections between food in Weybridge House and the ecology of Vermont. For example, Weybridge House planned to have several cans of tomatoes to eat each week during the winter, but the exceptionally rainy summer and widespread blight reduced Vermont’s tomato production significantly, and therefore limited how much we could preserve. Every week this winter, we confronted the realities of growing food in Vermont’s unpredictable climate and we recalled the challenges our farmers faced in August. On the national and international scale, many Weybridge House members participated in the winter term class Food Justice (student taught by Weybridge House members) and thoroughly examined food and agriculture policy. Developing an understanding of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Farm Bill contextualized the legal challenges local farmers face trying to fit their farms into federal laws that don’t match the scale of Vermont’s farms. Weybridge House members have greatly appreciated the opportunity to ground their academic study of sustainability and environmental studies in the tangible process of obtaining, preparing, and eating sustainably grown food.
Although there are many avenues for implementing sustainability on college campuses, after this year’s localvore experience, we now believe in practicing “lived activism” through a commitment to Vermont food. By applying and living out the study of environmental issues and sustainability beyond the classroom, we have learned that local eating is a successful way to practice sustainability in our everyday lives. The combined efforts of Weybridge House, the winter term class, and the College’s organic garden this year have created significant momentum for a food studies community at Middlebury that will be a movement to watch in the coming years.
Given the success of the 2009—2010 year, Weybridge House will continue the local food project in 2010—2011, and with a generous contribution from the College's Environmental Council grants, two paid interns will coordinate the project this summer. You can follow Middlebury’s food community by going to www.middfood.com. Watch for a complete final report on the Weybridge House local eating project, available in August 2010.