POULTNEY - The Green Mountain College Farm & Food Project has been awarded $100,000 from Jane's Trust to research the market potential for flash-frozen products, using a mobile flash-freeze unit provided to the College and several regional collaborators by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
Last June, the Farm & Food Project was granted use of the flash-freeze unit for three growing seasons. Flash-freeze units are expected to increase the ability of farmers to market seasonal products throughout the year. The College is currently using the unit for research and education, in conjunction with the Farm & Food Project's new "Community Food Lab," a commercial kitchen facility on campus dedicated to teaching and research.
Green Mountain College uses the flash-freeze unit as an educational tool for classes focusing on food and agriculture and to test the feasibility of certain vegetables and fruits for institutional food service providers. The quick freeze unit is also a tool to help farmers understand the potential of quick freezing. Showcasing the unit promotes new markets for local frozen products and may reduce reliance on food service providers to source produce from out-of-state during the off-season. GMC and the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) currently use the unit to preserve donated produce and distribute to those in need throughout the year.
With the new funding from Jane's Trust, the College will expand the goals and use of the flash-freeze project, working in close collaboration with partners including (RAFFL), the Poultney-Mettowee Conservation District, and UVM Extension. The grant will fund a "flash-freeze specialist" position to transport the mobile flash-freeze unit to farms in Rutland County to process "gleaned" products, test flash-frozen products for use in schools, hospitals, senior centers, and the charitable food system, and develop market opportunities at regional food coops, farmers markets, and grocery stores. The grant will also support several research assistants and educational and outreach materials.
"Consumers benefit from flash-frozen local foods because they generally have a higher nutritional value than many foods preserved with high heat," explained Philip Ackerman-Leist, director of the GMC Farm & Food Project and principal investigator for the grant. "Culinary staffs often prefer to use lightly-processed frozen foods like this to minimize labor costs and staff training. Farmers benefit by getting a financial return on crops that they can't easily sell due to slight imperfections in produce or over-production of particular crops."
He explains that flash freezing can help farmers establish mid-scale agricultural production, a critical link to bringing the region closer to its full agricultural capacity. "This 'loss of the middle' is a nationwide dilemma, and it is manifested in the Northeast by our lack of regional fruit and vegetable products on a year-round basis," Ackerman-Leist said. "As Green Mountain College continues to educate the next generation of farmers, it is also committed to the development of an infrastructure essential to support small to medium scale agriculture in Vermont."