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Vermont Farm to School Conference Gathers 250 Local and National Leaders to Listen, Learn, and Develop Plans to Grow Farm to School Throughout Vermont

Over 250 local and national farm to school leaders gathered together this week at the 2016 Vermont Farm to School Conference to learn about the positive impacts of Farm to School programming, sample local cuisine, and help shape the future of farm to school in Vermont.  Held over the course of two days at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, Vermont, the conference featured talks by US Senator Patrick Leahy, USDA Farm to School and Community Food Systems Director Deborah Kane, and Executive Director of Child Nutrition of Detroit Public Schools Betti Wiggins.


Conference attendees had opportunities to attend over 25 workshops focused on a variety of topics including farm to school curriculum design and funding strategies, sharing stories of impact, school garden program planning, and engaging teens through innovative food systems programs.  A number of state government leaders and representatives were also in attendance, including Vermont Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jolinda LaClair, Commissioner of Health Harry Chen, MD, Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, and Windsor County Senator Dick McCormack.


“Vermont has long been a leader of farm to school efforts, and this conference is a clear indicator of what has seeded that leadership,” said USDA Farm to School Director Deborah Kane during her keynote speech yesterday.  “I am so inspired by Vermont’s vast farm to school network and its strong, meaningful, and effective partnerships. Working together helps make farm to school work!”


The first state in the nation to implement a Farm to School Grant Program, Vermont has long been a national leader in the Farm to School movement. Since 2007 the Vermont Farm to School Grant Program, administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM), has invested over $1.5 million in Farm to School Programs in over 30% of Vermont’s schools, impacting over 30,000 students.


The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets recently announced more than $130,000 in funding available to Vermont schools in 2017. Grants are available for planning and development of new Farm to School (FTS) Programs, expanding existing FTS programs, or (new for 2017) transitioning to a universal meals program, which enables schools to offer all students fresh, healthy meals at no charge.


“I am extremely proud of the innovation and leadership provided by Vermont’s Farm to School Network over the last 10 years, and I’m pleased to see so many people here today working together to strengthen and grow the farm to school movement throughout our state,” said Vermont Ag Deputy Secretary Jolinda LaClair.  “Our Farm to School programs are essential to building a culture of ‘Ag Literacy’ in our schools and communities and to preparing our students to make a lifetime of healthy choices.”


Hosted by the Agency of Ag and Vermont FEED, in partnership with the Vermont Farm to School Network, the 2016 Farm to School Conference offered workshops and opportunities for both beginners and experts dedicated to food, farm, and nutrition education. The goals of the conference included:

  • Strengthening the connections between the Classroom, Cafeteria, and Community and share best practices from across the state
  • Strengthening the Vermont Farm to School Network and connect people so they envision themselves as part of the FTS Movement
  • Widening the audience aligned with Vermont’s Farm to School goals and strategies


Betty Wiggins, the Executive Director of Child Nutrition of Detroit Public Schools, spoke at the conference dinner on Wednesday night, which featured bean and vegetable cassoulet made with locally grown beans from Vermont Bean Crafters.  Responsible for school meals in 137 schools in Detroit, Betty credits the Vermont Farm to School model for much of the success of her farm to school programs.


“I need to thank Vermont and all of you for providing me with the inspiration to start farm to school programs in my own school system in Detroit,” said Wiggins.  “Almost a decade ago, I visited Vermont to learn about farm to school, and I stole your model.  At this point in my talk, I just wanted to remind you all that imitation is the highest form of flattery.”


“Our goal at the Vermont Department of Health is to help ensure the ‘healthy choice’ is also the easy choice and the attractive choice for kids,” said Health Commissioner Harry Chen, MD. “Farm to School does just that by making local, healthy foods available to our children in a way that is appealing to them.”


The conference attracted a wide range of FTS members and leaders, including farmers, food processors & distributors, child nutrition professionals, teachers, school administrators, government officials, policy makers, advocates, and non-profit partners.  In welcoming remarks, VAAFM Food Systems Chief Abbey Willard challenged all conference attendees to “learn something new, share something inspirational, and commit to replicating something successful in your community.”


Conference attendees heeded this opportunity and spent two inspirational days sharing stories and communicating the educational, nutritional, and economic impacts of Farm to School in their communities.


For more information about Vermont Farm to School visit  or contact Ali Zipparo at or call (802) 505-1822.




About the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets: VAAFM facilitates, supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment.  www.Agriculture.Vermont.Gov


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Colebrook Academy Recognized as Top Achiever for School Breakfast Challenge

Colebrook Academy Recognized as Top Achiever for School Breakfast Challenge

 Colebrook Academy was recently recognized as a top achieving small high school of the fourth quarter, by New Hampshire Kids Count, increasing school breakfast participation among all students by 713.3% and among free and reduced price students by 409.9% between October 2013 and October 2015.

For the last two years, the New Hampshire Department of Education has been running a promotion in all public schools in an attempt to increase breakfast participation. The goal is to get schools to increase their participation by 25%, with recognition going to each school that reaches the goal.

This achievement has been possible due to the strong effort and determination of The Abbey Food Service Director Steve Learned and Colebrook Academy Principal Mark Fiorentino, who have been working closely with Site Supervisor Steven Davis and assistant Debra Thompson to make the increase possible.

“We tried many new menu items to increase breakfast sales” says Steve Learned.  “But after talking with the students, it became apparent that many of them just aren’t ready to eat breakfast at 7:30 in the morning.  Offering breakfast at a later time was the key.”

Principal Mark Fiorentino says  “The idea of a Grab-N-Go breakfast seemed logical from the start, but it affects daily classrooms and teachers. We are fortunate to have such a flexible staff, that is willing to go above and beyond for our students. This program has worked well, but there has been growing pains over the past year.  Several times I have questioned its value and yet stayed the course through innovative inventions. I’m glad we did.”

The Abbey Group is an award winning food service management company whose mission is to feed children nutritious and delicious meals and build meaningful relationships with the communities that we serve. We succeed in our efforts by maximizing student participation through innovative merchandising, high quality staff and menus that feature on trend items as well as home-style and traditional favorites.

New Hampshire Kids Count is dedicated to improving the lives of all children by advocating for public initiatives that make a real difference.  As the only independent multi-issue child advocacy organization in NH, we use comprehensive data to bring people together, raise questions, seek answers and make smart, long lasting changes for NH children. NH Kids Count and its coalition, NH Hunger Solutions, developed the New Hampshire Roadmap to End Childhood Hunger (PDF), a statewide plan to tackle the root causes of childhood hunger. Expanding the use of school breakfast is one step toward creating a New Hampshire where every child has three nutritious meals a day.

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Boosting school lunch – The Abbey Group makes the news!

Make sure to visit the Milton Independent online or read below to check out an article about our new chef at Georgia School! We are so excited to welcome Peter Siegfried to our Abbey family.

Boosting school lunch

Georgia students can expect more variety for lunch when they return to school next week.

In preparation for hordes of hungry kids filing into the GEMS cafeteria, workers are installing new refrigerated display cases and a panini grill to expand lunch offerings.

The upgrades are funded by $40,000 of the 2015 surplus, one of the school board’s attempts to spend down the money before the end of the fiscal year.

The board received a wish list of sorts for cafeteria equipment needs from Scott Choiniere, Abbey Group vice president of operations and GEMS food service representative, and new chef Peter Siegfried in the spring.

The board also OK’d the purchase of two new milk coolers, a convection oven, an ice cuber, plus two cash register stations and $3,000 of small wares. Only a request for more walk-in cooler storage was tabled due to lack of space, Choiniere said.

“The school board is invested in the program,” he said. “There’s definitely going to be a lot more variety [for students].”

This year, for $2.25, students can now choose from made-to-order sandwiches, panini specials, express items like chicken or pulled pork sandwiches, a chef’s special and fresh grab- and-go items like cheese, fruit, hummus, chips and salsa and three varieties of pizza cooked on the new conveyor.

“The freshness of it is going to help,” Choiniere said. “We’re going to do cooking in front of the kids, so you’re going to have that smell in the room, too.”

Pizzas were previously cooked in the kitchen, connected to the cafeteria by a corridor. As a result, in recent years, the school fielded complaints about food quality, temperature and freshness.

New Abbey chef Peter Siegfried is pictured in his new cafeteria. Siegfried started at GEMS at the end of last year. "He's still getting his feet wet," Choiniere said, adding that he's excited for new opportunities with the NECI-educated chef. (Photo by Abby Ledoux)

The board attempted to address this with a $3 million bond for a cafeteria expansion and redesign. Plans proposed abutting the kitchen and cafeteria and growing the 2,651 square foot space that officials say is incredibly cramped come lunchtime.

But Georgia voters nixed the bond on Town Meeting Day, approving the $12.8 million school budget and a separate $2.4 million bond to replace the building’s outdated HVAC system.

Board member Ben Chiappinelli has indicated the cafeteria project will return, but for now, the small-scale improvements will help, Choiniere said, despite having no extra space.

Choiniere estimated about 100 students come through the lunchroom each shift: “We’re doing the best that we can do with what we have,” he said.

Chef Siegfried came to Georgia at the tail end of the last school year after running kitchens at IBM and the University of Vermont, and Choiniere is especially excited about what the New England Culinary Institute-educated chef can bring to the table.

Siegfried and Choiniere are both dedicated to starting a farm-to-school program at GEMS, provided they drum up enough volunteer support. Choiniere envisions a vegetable garden, fruit trees or even a greenhouse for growing a hyperlocal lunch or for an outdoor classroom.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said, citing other school Abbey programs that make maple syrup or even raise livestock. “It’s still in the planning stages … we need to get some people with a passion for it to help us.”

Teachers are showing interest, and the school board is in favor, but funding is still a question. One Maine school leveraged a parent’s skills as a landscape architect; its walking paths, school garden and orchard were all designed for free, Choiniere noted.

The Abbey Group locally sources as much of its food as possible, but you can’t get much closer than your own backyard. Choiniere envisions school-wide planting days and outdoor math and science lessons someday.

He’s well aware of neighboring Milton Town School District’s success with its own program, nationally recognized for its excellence in 2013 when First Lady Michelle Obama invited fifth-graders to plant and harvest vegetables in the White House garden.

“We want to go to the White House; we want to be in the magazines,” Choiniere said. “Everybody’s got to get together … it can go a lot of places.”

To help establish Georgia’s burgeoning farm-to-school program, contact Chef Peter Siegfried at 524-6358.

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Congratulations to The Abbey Group’s Tina Bushey

Associate Food Service Director, Tina Bushey, was recently awarded a Certificate of Excellence from the Food & Nutrition Services of the USDA in recognition and appreciation for her amazing contribution to the Swanton School being certified a Gold winner of the USDA HealthierUS Challenge. This award has only been granted one other time in the state of Vermont and was made possible largely to Tina’s efforts. Congratulations Tina! IMG_2324 IMG_2331 IMG_2349

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