By Amanda Luchtel and Rachel Stievater
The newly constructed hoop house had been transformed. Dried flower bundles and woven grapevines hung from the purlins, accentuated by strings of lights. A row of round tables covered in white cloth stretched down the length of the house. In one far-end corner stood our 1950s Ford tractor (for ambience, of course). In the other corner, UVM Catamount Farm grown apples were being pressed into cider. This was going to be an evening to remember.
Amanda Luchtel, who recently completed the UVM Farmer Training program, organized the dinner. Photos by Nick Tsichlis.
Amanda Luchtel, a 2018 UVM Farmer Training program student, had organized a farm-to-table dinner to raise money for the Chittenden County Food Shelf and for the ability for Catamount Farm to offer subsidized CSA shares for the 2019 season.
Amanda was a private chef for a family in Dallas, Texas for seven years before coming to the Farmer Training program. After working for individuals and in restaurants, she decided she wanted to learn more about how to grow organic vegetables on a production-scale. Food is her creative medium. She has always been one to create “something out of nothing” and loves the idea of making a beautiful meal with few ingredients. Throughout the program, she was constantly inspired by what we were harvesting on a given week. Seconds (marred produce that we couldn’t necessarily market) were brought home and turned into sauces and stews, jams and jellies, soups and stir fries.
Farmer Training students have classes where they learn about various social justice and food policy issues that affect farmers, immigrants, and low-income families across the country, not to mention families right here in Chittenden County. After taking a field trip to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, she realized she wanted to do more than talk about what was happening all around her. She realized she could use her passion for food to learn more about these issues and fully immerse herself in taking action.
It was at the Food Shelf that she connected with Emmet Mosley and Ashley Hermanowski. Emmet and Ashley run Burlington’s Good Food Truck. The Good Food Truck is a program of the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf that delivers free meals to those in need. The truck stops at partner organizations and meal sites throughout Chittenden County. Working with Emmet and Ashley, Amanda began to create a plan.
Putting a Plan into Motion
As a final assignment before graduation, each student in the program is required to present an independent project. The topics presented are always varied: from aquaponics to urban farming to rooftop growing to the dairy industry to seed saving. The students’ range of interests covers a broad list. Amanda decided early on that she wanted to coordinate a fundraiser dinner for her final project.
Once given the thumbs-up to proceed, Amanda began to brainstorm, network, and coordinate. In collaboration with Emmet and Ashley, Amanda was sourcing food donations from local farms, devising a menu (she planned on a 5-course meal!), reserving tables and dishes, preserving Catamount Farm produce (pickled green tomatoes and husk cherry tomato jam), advertising and marketing the event, and, as the actual event approached, prep cooking in the food shelf’s kitchen.
The actual dinner happened on a Saturday evening in early October. Many of the other students in the Farmer Training program volunteered to help with the dinner—from site-prep to decorating to cooking to serving. The other students rallied behind Amanda’s idea. The evening would not have been possible without their support. The dinner guests were a mixed group. Farm staff, family members of students, other area farmers, and community members filled up the tables in the hoop house.
The design of the ticket system allowed people to purchase tickets or “pass-it-on.” The pass-it-on feature gifted tickets to those who were interested in coming but could not afford it otherwise. This also allowed people who were not able to attend to donate to the cause while allowing many wonderful families and individuals from many different lives to “break bread” together.
The meal itself was incredible. Amanda and Ashley and Fabio Ritmo (another student in the Farmer Training cohort) pulled off a five-course meal out of a food truck. The evening started with a pumpkin soup shooter (literally a small glass of pumpkin soup topped with a coconut and lemongrass whipped cream).
We moved on to a cheese and charcuterie platter that included home-made jams and vine dried grapes. A Caesar salad with sourdough croutons and shaved cured duck eggs came out as the second course. This was followed by chickpea falafel along with smoked baba ganoush and chopped Greek salad. The main course featured Maple Wind Farm chicken with sides of maple glazed carrots and beets, sautéed kale, and roasted garlic potatoes. The evening ended with apple galette topped with cinnamon crème made with Catamount Farm’s own apples. Every aspect of the meal was a mouthwatering experience.
When all was said and done and the numbers were tallied, Amanda—and the team of people who helped make it happen—raised $1,500. Two-thirds of that total will go toward the Good Food Truck’s budget. The remaining third will help to subsidize CSA shares for individuals and families who would like to join the Catamount Farm CSA but need help in covering the cost of a share. Amanda hopes this was the first of many charity events at Catamount Farm highlighting the relationship between the farm and the community.
***Amanda wanted to extend particular thanks to Nick Tsichlis. Not only did Nick document the evening with his incredible photos (which are included in this post), he also devoted quite a bit of muscle and sweat in helping Amanda prepare for this event.
-Amanda Luchtel is a 2018 UVM Farmer Training program graduate. Rachel Stievater is co-director of the Farmer Training program.
Learn more about UVM Farmer Training.