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The Abbey Group’s Michelle Powers Makes the News!

Rutland Herald

This Just In

Dutchess Farm keeps its products fresh and local

October 08,2012



CASTLETON – Students at Castleton’s elementary and middle schools were munching on vegetables that Stephen Chamberlain had harvested just that morning while Chamberlain was at his greenhouses located not far away, busily distributing a few hundred ladybugs.

Chamberlain was hoping that the ladybugs, which had been flown in from California just that morning, might be hungry enough to make their lunch of any insect pests munching on his spinach crop.

It’s all part of Chamberlain’s carefully orchestrated effort to grow healthy organic food that’s eaten locally — not just by neighboring children, but also by 100 area families with weekly food subscriptions; customers at the Downtown Rutland Farmers Market and the Rutland Food Co-op; patrons at the Iron Lantern, a Castleton restaurant; and residents at Forty Seven Main, a mental health treatment center located just a few blocks from the home Chamberlain shares with his wife Julia and their three children.

Michelle Powers, food service manager for Castleton-Hubbardton schools, buys bushels of tomatoes and peppers in season from Chamberlain’s Dutchess Farm and processes what isn’t eaten immediately into sauce for spaghetti and pizza. She works for the Abbey Group, a food supplier that incorporates locally grown produce in its school offerings.

About 250 of Castleton’s 374 elementary and middle school students eat school lunch regularly; Powers is committed to cooking with fresh food free of sodium and unhealthy additives while also reducing the schools’ carbon footprint by decreasing the amount of food trucked in from far away.

Along with tomatoes, peppers and salad mix, Powers uses garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash and cucumbers grown by Chamberlain and works with him at seed-ordering time in her effort to introduce students to food they might not be familiar with; this year it was watermelon radishes and husk cherries.

Powers also purchases leftover vegetables after the weekend farmers’ market at a greatly reduced cost – a benefit to both the school district and Chamberlain and a mutual effort to avoid waste. But while she enjoys saving the school system a bit of money,

Powers says it’s the quality that keeps her committed to buying local.

“There is no comparison to the stuff we have shipped in from elsewhere,” she says. “Steve’s food is always an excellent value.”

His Dutchess Farm actually incorporates several locations from greenhouses and fields located behind his home near downtown Castleton to land leased from Ed Lewis, a seventh-generation farmer whose Tidy Hill Farm in North Poultney was the longest running dairy farm in Vermont until Lewis retired in 1999.

That property has beautiful soil, good drainage and sun exposure not to mention a postcard setting surrounded by deciduous trees just now taking on their fall colors.

For the complete story, see Tuesday’s Rutland Herald.


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Abbey Group Food Service Director Maureen O’Neil Wins Greet the Challenge Award

Yesterday, our Food Service Director for the South West Supervisory Union Maureen O’Neil, was featured on the front page of the Bennington Banner for winning the “Greet the Challenge” award given out by the School Nutrition Association-VT annually.

The award recognizes “excellence and outstanding achievement by school food service directors and managers whose efforts exemplify commitment to child nutrition and learning, and positive attitudes regarding the challenge of providing nutrition services to Vermont students.”

The award was given in large part due to Maureen’s extraordinary efforts to feed students when not required to do so during a teacher’s strike that lasted 9 days last October.

Please read below for the full article (as seen on the Great job Maureen, we love you!


SVSU food chief honored for feeding kids during strike


Wednesday October 17, 2012


Staff Writer

BENNINGTON — Child nutrition was a serious concern during a nine-day teachers’ strike in Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union last October.

Half of the students in the supervisory union come from low-income families and rely on free meals from the schools, but with classes coming to an unexpected closure for two weeks, there was significant concern that those children would go hungry.

The supervisory union’s food service provider, The Abbey Group, was not required to step up, but Director Maureen O’Neil and her staff went above and beyond to find a way to get food to those who needed it most. The Abbey Group set up nine locations where children could pick up bag lunches and breakfast. After word spread, hundreds of children were picking up meals each day. When the strike ended, The Abbey Group had served 4,400 meals.

“People don’t budget to feed their kids during school time, or for daycare, so after a week we were getting swamped,” O’Neil recalled.

Before delivering any of those meals, O’Neil had to register the supervisory union as a summer program through the state and then coordinate with school principals and staff to help distribute the meals.

It was largely for O’Neil’s efforts during the strike that she was selected to receive the “Greet the Challenge” award from the Vermont branch of the School Nutrition Association. The award recognizes “excellence and outstanding achievement by school food service directors and managers whose efforts exemplify commitment to child nutrition and learning, and positive attitudes regarding the challenge of providing nutrition services to Vermont students.”

O’Neil was nominated by Laurie Lingner, an administrative assistant in the SVSU finance office, who told the story of how O’Neil kept the children on her mind as schools shut down for two weeks last fall.

“Our kids were fed during this time because of Maureen and her staff. The families were so grateful and I was so proud that our schools were able to offer this service. Maureen inspires people and makes them want to give our students the best,” Lingner wrote in her nomination letter.

Lingner also wrote about the transformation of The Abbey Group during O’Neil’s three-plus years as director during which time the program has gone from “good to great.”

O’Neil has been instrumental to increasing local produce in the nine SVSU schools through the Farm to School program, increasing breakfast participation and improving communication within the program, with local farmers and with the supervisory union business office.

Last year the schools served 154,000 breakfasts, which was nearly a 25 percent increase from 2010 when O’Neil began and 118,000 breakfasts were served. A large reason for that increase is The Abbey Group’s focus on spreading awareness of the importance of eating breakfast. There have also been a number of promotions offering free breakfast to all students (including the first three weeks of school this fall) that O’Neil and the SVSU Food Service Advisory Committee have been instrumental in starting.

With the statewide recognition, assistant director of The Abbey Group Stephanie Gates said others will get to learn about the tremendous job she and others who work closely with O’Neil have seen the past few years.

“She deserves this award because she just works so hard,” Gates said. “She goes above and beyond. She loves her job, she’s here for the kids, she’s here for the employees, she’s just here for all for us.”

In addition to her hard work, Gates, who has been with The Abbey Group since before O’Neil started, said the communication O’Neil has prompted has made everybody’s job more enjoyable.

“I think the communication, not just between the kitchens and the staff, but between the directors and business office, has just improved immensely. It’s the little stuff some days that has really changed,” she said.

The former owner of Alldays & Onions on Main Street and the Spiral Press Cafe in Manchester, O’Neil said she enjoys being in a school with the students every day and the opportunity to teach children the importance of eating well.

“I like teaching them to eat healthy and how important it is, and seeing kids thrive,” she said.

O’Neil will be honored at the SNA-VT Annual Meeting in Stowe on Thursday.


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Straight from the USDA- Taking on your own Whole Grain Challenge

Taking on your own Whole Grain Challenge

It’s hardly a secret that whole grains are better for you than refined grains. That’s why in 2010, The Abbey Group decided to eliminate all refined grain choices in every food except pizza, which until 2012 we offered a choice between the two. It was because of this sweeping effort The Abbey Group was nominated for and won a nationally recognized Whole Grain Challenge Award from the Whole Grains Council.

“The Abbey Food Service Group was the hands down favorite to win the ‘Wild Card’ category in the 2010 Whole Grains Challenge.” –Whole Grains Council

Sometimes we encounter resistance from children when they, as we say, “make the switch” but we know all of the tricks to make the transition as painless as possible. In many of our schools, whole wheat has totally integrated into student’s daily life and if parents make the switch at home, then it becomes the new normal for kids. That makes it easy for children to make other healthy decisions throughout their entire lives. If you’re looking incorporate more whole grains into your diet but thought you couldn’t, just remember the  thousands of children who’ve done it right in the cafeteria. We’ve included a few helpful tips distributed by the USDA to help you make the switch.

Make Simple Switches

-To make half your grains whole grains, substitute a whole-grain product for a refined-grain product. For example, eat 100% whole-wheat bread or bagels instead of white bread or bagels, or brown rice instead of white rice.


Whole Grains Can Be Healthy Snacks

-Popcorn, a whole grain, can be healthy snack. Make it with little or no added salt or butter. Also, try 100% whole-wheat or rye crackers.
Save Some Time

-Cook extra bulgur or barley when you have time. Freeze half to heat and serve later as a quick side dish.

Mix It Up With Whole Grains

-Use whole grains in mixed dishes, such as barley in vegetable soups or stews and bulgur wheat in casseroles or stir-fries. Try a quinoa salad or pilaf


Try Whole-Wheat Versions

-For a change, try brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Try brown rice stuffing in baked green peppers or tomatoes, and whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese.


Bake Up Some Whole-Grain Goodness

-Experiment by substituting buckwheat, millet, or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin, or other flour-based recipes. They may need a bit more leavening in order to rise.


Be A Good Role Model For Children

-Set a good example for children by serving and eating whole grains every day with meals or as snacks.


Check The Label For Fiber

-Use the Nutrition Facts label to check the fiber content of whole-grain foods. Good sources of fiber contain 10% to 19% of the Daily Value; excellent sources contain 20% or more.


Know What To Look For On The Ingredients List

-Read the ingredients list and choose products that name a wholegrain ingredient first on the list. Look for “whole wheat, “brown rice,” “bulgur,” “buckwheat,” “oatmeal,” “whole-grain cornmeal,” “whole oats,” “whole rye,” or “wild rice.


Be A Smart Shopper

-The color of a food is not an indication that it is a whole-grain food. Foods labeled as “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “100% wheat, ”cracked wheat,” “seven-grain,” or “bran” are usually not 100% whole-grain products, and may not contain any whole grain.




By the way– Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples. Grains are divided into two

subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel—the bran, germ, and endosperm. People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases.

for more information on whole grains please visit


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The Abbey Feeds: A Highlight on Vermont Conservation Camps

Now that children are out of school for the summer, parents often struggle with how to keep their kids active, healthy, and engaged. Though summer can be ripe with fresh fruits and vegetables, it can also be a time where children have a relaxed schedule and can fall into unhealthy and inconsistent eating habits. One way to curb all of these summer parent struggles is by having children attend any youth summer camp. These can have a tremendous positive impact on their physical wellbeing as well as a positive effect on psychological development, self-esteem and independence.

Of course there are tons of different types of camps available to children, ranging from computer camps, sports camps, religious camps, and beyond. But did you know that, in true Vermont fashion, the state of Vermont offers two summer conservation camps for Vermont youth that run from June to August?  These camps are located in Buck Lake in Woodbury, Vermont and Camp Kehoe is located on Lake Bomoseen in Castleton.

What makes these programs so unique is that they’re sponsored and directed by Fish & Wildlife Department professionals-the same people who manage the fish and wildlife resources in Vermont. The students work with biologists, foresters, game wardens and conservation educators who teach these young people about Vermont’s forests, wetlands and wildlife. Not only do the youth develop valuable life skills but they also gain environmental knowledge so they can continue the state’s traditional rural pursuits–enjoying all aspects of the outdoor world.

Not only do students peruse many physically stimulating activities in these camps that keep them fit in the summer, they also are fed by us, The Abbey Group, around the same guidelines that guide school nutrition throughout the school year so parents can sleep easy.

Please see the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website at for more information.

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