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Swanton on track to become only gold standard ranked school in Vermont for Healthy US School Challenge

Abbey Group team member,  Tina Bushey, and the NEI (Nutrition Education Institute) committee at Swanton School have worked extremely hard to develop and adhere to the rigorous nutrition and health guidelines needed to meet the criteria to achieve the gold standard for the Healthy US School Challenge. To put this into perspective, currently there is no other school in the state that has this distinction.

The HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) establishes rigorous criteria for schools’ food quality, participation in meal programs, physical activity opportunities and nutrition education–the key components that make for healthy and active kids. This program is designed to bring promotion and support of good nutrition and physical activity from the entire school and greater community. All aspects of the school and cafeteria staffs are included in these efforts.

This nationwide award program, created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2004, recognizes schools that create healthier school environments through their promotion of good nutrition and physical activity. Schools that are doing the very best work to keep kids healthy are recognized, and high-achieving schools even receive monetary incentives (information provided by the USDA website).

Tina Bushey, and the NEI (Nutrition Education Institute) committee at Swanton School  were a big part of creating a brand new resource publication about school wellness. Make sure to click the link below to read this amazing guide.

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We’ve Made the News! New cookbook offers kid-tested, healthy school meal options

Abbey Food Service Director Maureen O’Neil is in the news again giving her first hand account of the new cookbook developed by Vermont school nutrition professionals aimed to promote healthy eating among Vermont’s youth.  Be sure to read below or  visit the Bennington Banner online to see the entire article.

BENNINGTON — A recently released cookbook developed by Vermont school nutrition professionals aims to promote healthy eating among Vermont’s youth.

Vermont FEED (Food Education Every Day), the Vermont Agency of Education, and the School Nutrition Association of Vermont collaborated with the New England Culinary Institute to write, “New School Cuisine: Nutritious and Seasonal Recipes for School Cooks by School Cooks.”

According to a release distributed by the Agency of Education, the cookbook, which features unique, seasonal recipes, is designed to help schools incorporate more local, fresh food in the meals they serve, while simultaneously adhering to the new United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) school nutrition standards.

“I am very pleased and excited to provide our food service programs in Vermont, and throughout the country, this creative, colorful, and fun resource,” Agency of Education Child Nutrition Programs Director Laurie Colgan said in the release. “The recipes are delicious and will help our schools get more local foods in their school menus.”

The book’s release comes shortly after National Farm to School month, which was recognized across the U.S. during the month of October.

All of the recipes included in the cookbook, from savory dishes like chicken vegetable curry, to sweeter dishes, like the strawberry spinach salad, were taste-tested and approved by hundreds of students.

The book also includes information on how to make buying local food more affordable, tips on introducing new recipes into school cafeterias, and produce storage guides.

Locally, members of Mount Anthony Union Middle School’s “New Roots” Farm to School Committee are enthusiastic about the book’s release.

Maureen O’Neil, committee member and food service director for the Southern Vermont sector of the Abbey Group, the food service company that provides local schools with breakfast and lunch accommodations, said she and her fellow “New Roots” members had the opportunity to sample some of the book’s recipes this past June during a three-day visit to the Farm to School Institute at Shelburne Farms.

“The kale hummus and brownies were delicious,” she said. “I know that a lot of hard work went into this cookbook.”

Helen Fields, another “New Roots” committee member, said the recipes are kid-friendly and relatively easy to prepare.

“They’re simple, highly nutritious, diverse and tasty,” she said, noting the use of many spices and herbs in a lot of the recipes. “The biggest benefit is that by making the meals they’ve proposed, you can create very interesting, tasty, and nutritious food on a limited budget. It’s also fun for the kids because they love to taste interesting things and experiment,” she said. “Kids are always very surprised at how good veggies taste if you cook them right. This book is great for that.”

According to the Agency of Education, a free copy of the cookbook will soon be distributed to every Vermont school. A printable version can also be downloaded at

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey. 

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Congratulations Meggen Hanna! Winner of the 2013 Outstanding Achievement in Child Nutrition

For the second year in a row, the School Nutrition Association of Vermont has awarded an Abbey Group employee the prestigious award for Outstanding Achievement in Child Nutrition”. This year the award went to the Barstow Memorial School Site Supervisor and Chef, Meggen Hanna.

 In her nomination letter for the “Outstanding Achievement” Award, Carol Wright had this to say:

“Meggen always has a smile for students and staff.  Since she has been in our cafeteria, the food is so much better.  We now use local foods and foods from our school garden, along with a salad bar, homemade soup, and handmade bread.  She brings in guest speakers and programs, leads culinary arts classes, mentors students interested in becoming chefs, works with elementary students to do fall harvest in the school garden, and gives her time after hours to be part of our Wellness Committee.  She has enthusiasm for her job and our school and it shows every day.” 

Meggen is a huge asset to the Abbey family and we’re very proud to have her on our team. Great job Meggen!

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The Abbey Group Made the News! Abbey Group strives to source local produce for schools all year

The Abbey Group’s Bennington area food service program is in the news once again! Our program is highlighted in the following article for our constant commitment to the local food movement.  Please  see the  article below for the whole story or see it at this link,, on the Bennington Banner website.


BENNINGTON — Throughout October, schools nationwide are celebrating Farm to School Month.

According to the National Farm to School Month website,, the celebration stems from the passage of House Resolution 1655, a resolution passed by Congress in 2010 which both officially denoted October as National Farm to School Month and demonstrated the importance of Farm to School programs in the U.S.

The month is meant to be a time for students, teachers, and families to celebrate the connections happening across the country between K-12 schools and local farms and the food that they produce.

The Farm to School movement in general aims to serve healthy breakfasts and lunches in school cafeterias, thereby improving student nutrition, while simultaneously supporting local farmers. Farm to School programs exist in all 50 states, but since farm to school is known as a “grassroots” movement, the programs differ depending on each respective community.

According to Maureen O’Neil, food service director for the Southern Vermont sector of the Abbey Group, the food service company which provides local schools with breakfast and lunch accommodations, National Farm to School Month is celebrated not only throughout October, but every other month as well.

“One month isn’t more special than the other,” O’Neil said. “We are year-round advocates of the farm to school movement.”

She went on to explain that The Abbey Group sources as much local produce as possible from area farms such as Clearbrook Farm, Moses Farm, True Love Farm, and Maplebrook Farm, just to name a few.

“Right now, we’re getting all of our apples from Southern Vermont Apple Orchards,” O’Neil said. “Every week, we pick up about 20 cases.”

O’Neil said that this week, students participated in school-wide apple tastings, which allowed them to sample different types of apples.

“The kids were able to try apples that maybe they’d never had before,” she said.

According to O’Neil, Rick Heyniger, the Abbey Group’s farm to school coordinator, plays a heavy hand in ensuring that the majority of their produce comes from local farms.

“He acts as a liaison with the farms and is actually a farmer himself,” she said. “He looks at what’s in season, what looks good. Sometimes we’ll freeze things from the summer to use later on in the year. It really depends on what’s available.”

Last week, Heyniger picked up 60 pounds of peppers from local farms and distributed them among local schools.

O’Neil said that students seem to enjoy the farm to school concept that is practiced by The Abbey Group.

“We have signs in the cafeterias that say where the food is from,” she said. “The kids get a kick out of seeing where their food is grown, especially from farms they know.”

O’Neil also noted the economic aspect of the Farm to School movement.

“It really helps our community,” she said. “We’re supporting our local farmers by buying their food and so we’re supporting our local economy.”

While O’Neil recognizes the value in sourcing local food, she also noted that relying solely on local food is not a reality, as the Abbey Group feeds upwards of 3,000 students every day, from Shaftsbury, Pownal, Bennington, North Bennington, and Woodford.

“We couldn’t exist just on local food,” she said. “We use as much of it as we can get, and then get quality non-local product as well.”

O’Neil added that faculty from Mount Anthony Union Middle School, in a group now known as “New Roots” have made strides towards fully embracing the Farm to School movement.

Last year, the school applied for and was accepted into the Farm to School Institute at Shelburne Farms, a 1,400 acre working farm and a non-profit education center for sustainability.

MAUMS was one of only 10 school statewide accepted into the program.

This past June, the “New Roots” group, of which O’Neil is a member, spent three days learning the “3-Cs” of the Farm to School movement: Community, Classroom, and Cafeteria.

“The group showed our commitment for the Farm to School movement and learned how to foster that feeling in our schools,” O’Neil said. “It was nice working with other schools doing the same thing and it was an honor to be accepted. We learned a lot.”

To learn more about National Farm to School Month, visit

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.



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