By CHERYL DORSCHNER
Every year that moveable feast, known as the SEJ Conference Saturday night reception, rolls out its local talent and regional cuisine. Veteran conference-goers still speak in hushed tones of the 2003 party at New Orleans' Mardi Gras World and gyrate at the thought of 2004 in Pittsburgh with "No Bad Ju-Ju."
This year, the Vermont conference team promises to take the concept of "local" to a new level, thanks to this event's sponsorship by co-host the University of Vermont.
It was Vermont resident Bill McKibben whose report on his one-year, eat-locally experiment landed in "Gourmet" magazine last July. (www.transom.org/tools/beginnings/2006/ 200602_bill_mckibben/gourmet_article.html)
But it is University of Vermont associate professor and former director of the Vermont Fresh Network, Amy Trubek, who helped McKibben freeze tomato sauce that year and advised him on a few close-to-home culinary options. Trubek was recently described by the Pennsylvania Gazette as "one of the leaders of a social culinary revolution that affects not just goodtasting food, but nutrition, culture, agriculture, and food-handling. Think Alice Waters, M.F.K. Fisher, and terms like slow food, Buy Local-Buy Fresh, organic, and taste of place." (www.upenn.edu/gazette/0905/0905pro03.html
McKibben, Trubek, the Vermont Fresh Network, local farmers, bakers, cheese makers, chefs and others will put their hands together Saturday, Oct. 28, to whip up a cornucopia of in season, Vermont-grown and -made foods and drinks for SEJers.
Did I say, drinks?
Fear not, Vermont is home to at least 15 breweries including Magic Hat and Long Trail. Otter Creek Brewery even makes witbier, a Belgian style beer made from locally grown organic wheat. Vermont also makes its share of wines and ciders. And while its reputation in the cellar does not rival France's Beaujolais region, Vermont farmstead cheeses rival any in Europe. Last year, in an article on the UVM-based Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, The New York Times pointed out that Vermont has as many licensed artisan cheese makers as all five other New England states, "perhaps because it has more good alpine-like grass, perhaps because it has always been a dairying state, and perhaps because the state has done so much to help its dairy farmers."
Trust that the menu won't be all stone-ground wheat thins and farmer's cheese. In late October Vermont farms and gardens' harvest is at peak. Leaders in the "slow food" movement, food producers and experts hope to start a little dinner conversation about what the implications of eating locally are: economically, environmentally, nutritionally and culturally. Can we do without lemons when we have apples close at hand?
As sampling and dining give way to desserts and dancing, a Vermont favorite, Tammy Fletcher and her Disciples, will bring SEJers to their feet. Fletcher opened for Kris Kristofferson on April 8. The diva is known for her national anthem at Fenway Park, sold-out shows with Vermont Symphony Orchestra and pub singing from Ireland to Iceland. She's made a few grand entrances at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn before.
The century-old, impeccably restored Coach Barn on the former estate of William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb is the setting for SEJ's big night. The 1902 barn once stabled horses and an extensive collection of carriages and sleighs that were lowered to the main floor by a hand-cranked elevator.
Once the pastoral playground and experimental farms of the "new aristocracy," today the 1,400-acre working farm and environmental education center preaches place-based practices from forest to furniture and farm to fork. The nonprofit operates camps, educational programs and tours at the national historic landmark on Lake Champlain's shores. For more information on Shelburne Farms visit www.shelburnefarms.org.
Cheryl Dorschner is senior communications specialist in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at the University of Agriculture & Life Sciences at the University of Vermont.
** From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal Summer, 2006 issue.