Jeannie Bartlett, a senior at The Academy in Charlemont, has many interests including “farms, food, the environment, health and community” which she put together in a delicious way. Local Lunches, her Independent Senior Project, fed Academy students a monthly lunch composed of local ingredients all year.
Todd Sumner, Academy Headmaster, explained “Senior projects are intended to extend a student’s classroom learning to provide service, and to apply and implement their learning. Students have to be responsible for a project over a long period of time, breaking tasks down, planning logistics and then actively getting resources.” Students check in with their advisor every week or so, but the projects cover a large range of topics.
Bartlett lives in Leyden and worked at Dancing Bear and Silk Purse farms during past summers,. When she called Tom Ashley of Dancing Bear and chatted about her project ideas he suggested Local Lunches. “The idea resonated with me immediately because it linked so many of my interests, and meant involvement in the community,” she said.
It takes a wide variety of skills to pull off a project like this beginning with making up menus that students will enjoy, finding sources for the ingredients, contacting farmers and arranging prices. Bookkeeping, too, as well as educating students about the farms and the benefits of fresh local food.
Calling strangers on the phone was difficult, she admits. “The first time I called a farmer I was so nervous that I was going to forget to say something or that I was going to say the wrong thing that I wrote a script for myself. I guess it must have been an okay script, because he didn’t take me for a telemarketer! Thank goodness it quickly became much easier and more comfortable for me, so that now I don’t have to gear myself up before dialing!”
Dancing Bear Farm is known for its greens which are available even in winter, and heirloom tomatoes. Peter Tusinski’s Silk Purse Farm specializes in onions and shallots. Both are organic farms; both have cooperated on marketing for years, taking each other’s produce to the big markets in Brookline and Newton. Nowadays they do a lot of business with local restaurants and at the smaller local markets.
Tusinski said Jeannie worked for him for the past three summers ”and then Tom stole her,” he said with a laugh. “She does everything well. You don’t have to look over her shoulder. And you get to know a person, talking about religion and philosophy and everything while we are working and weeding.”
Anna Hanchette of Manda Farm in Plainfield was also on hand with Ashley and Tuscinski to talk to the students about their farms before Tuesday’s Local Lunch with a menu that included chicken or egg salad, green salad with asparagus and shortcake with blueberries and raspberries (frozen).
Manda Farm raises rare breed and heirloom animals, “partly to preserve the breed and partly to help maintain a diverse gene pool,” Hanchette said.
They raise Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs and Dexter cows for meat. “We are ‘Certified Naturally Grown and Animal Welfare Approved’ as is our slaughterhouse in New York State. We want our customers to know how our animals are treated from beginning to end,” Hanchette said.
Manda Farm also sells eggs, raspberries, vegetables, and Narragansett turkey at Thanksgiving. Their meat is sold at the Ashfield Farmer’s Market and at the Farm.
Other farms that have provided produce to Local Lunches include: Donovan Farm in Hawley; Red Fire Farm in Granby; Winter Moon Farm, Czjakowski Farm, and River Bend Farm in Hadley; Apex Orchards in Shelburne; Farmstead at Mine Brook in Charlemont; Upingill Farm in Gill; and Snow’s Ice Cream in Greenfield.
The most fun part has been picking up the products. “Even on a quick visit
to a farm I can get such a feel for it. I wish I could take my school-mates with me, but since that’s not practical I take pictures and write up little anecdotes for them, and post them on the Local Lunches bulletin board that I made,” she said.
Hearing Bartlett talk about her project was particularly moving to me after watching the famous British chef Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution, televised over the past weeks. Oliver has been concerned about how people cook and eat for some time. We Americans were the target of his concern when he took is Food Revolution to Huntington, West Virginia, named by some as the country’s unhealthiest town because of its high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It was his goal to get people to think about the quality of the food they were eating, the health implications, and the pleasure they were missing by not cooking for themselves.
Oliver found that kindergarteners didn’t recognize potatoes or apples in their native form – and that school lunches were not as healthy as they could be. He had a job to do to change perceptions and habits.
Oliver hadn’t started his Food Revolution when Bartlett designed her Local Lunches. She was ahead of the curve in her concern, and action. However, she is like Oliver who expressed his pleasure when he sat people down to eat good fresh food.
After all her work Bartlett says, “I love seeing the meal on people’s plates. That’s possibly the most rewarding moment. Then, I know that this meal has become a reality.”
Between the Rows May 1, 2010