Fairgoers pass on fried food in favor of home-grown meal

NEW HAVEN — This was not what most people think of as typical fair food.
There was no cotton candy, no fried dough.
Nevertheless, regulars and newcomers alike packed the long tables in the Addison County Fair and Field Days dining hall Tuesday evening to share “The Taste of Vermont” dinner and chow down on hearty fare produced right here in the Green Mountain State.
Officials noted the dinners are a 23-year tradition of local eating.
“This was about local products before the rest of the world was about local products,” said Dave Sharpe, a Bristol Democrat and state representative who joined a number of other Addison County legislators as volunteer servers at the dinner.
Cara Mullin, Field Days business manager, said the phone had been ringing off the hook earlier in the day with people trying to get last-minute tickets to the dinner fund-raiser, which this year raised money for the Mount Abraham-Vergennes Football Co-op. Mullin said she’d already had to turn many away from the event — there were four seatings of 90 people each. On Tuesday morning there were just a few tickets left for the early and late seatings.
“You wouldn’t think one dinner would make such a difference, but it does,” Mullin said.
Once the doors opened for the 5:30 p.m. seating, legislators, food producers and football players and their parents served up Addison County food for the line that snaked around the room and out the door.
Each year, area producers and cooks donate food and time to the dinner. This year the long menu included savory venison pie from LedgEnd Farm in Middlebury, turkey breast from Misty Knoll Farm in New Haven, vegetables from the Middlebury Farmers’ Market and Vermont Green Meadow, croutons from Olivia’s Croutons in New Haven, cookies from Vermont Cookie Love in Ferrisburgh and milk from Monument Farms Dairy in Weybridge. The Swift House Inn cooked hams, Waybury Inn roasted up vegetables, Greg’s Meat Market provided brownies, the Middlebury Inn offered scalloped potatoes, and American Flatbread served up their signature wares.
Lisa Rowell, dinner organizer for the second year, said it’s never a challenge getting people to donate food or to volunteer to cook and serve.
“They all seem to be proud that it’s something local,” said Rowell.
Rowell, an Addison resident, took over organizing the event in 2010, when she was looking to raise funds for the football co-op, in which her son participates. The co-op allows Vergennes Union High School football players to play with the Mount Abraham football team; VUHS does not have a team.
Last year, said Rowell, the event raised nearly $1,100. This year, she said she hopes for closer to $1,500 due to an increase in demand for tickets. And Lena Steele, whose son is also a member of the football co-op, was raffling off a football quilt as part of the fund-raiser.
“It’s just something I can do to help out,” said Steele.
Out in the crowd, the murmur of conversation took a backseat to full plates of food.
“It’s always fun to support local producers,” said diner Janet Cassarino of Monkton, who said she and her husband, Joe, are regulars. “And all our neighbors are here.”
Linda Taylor of Addison was there with daughters Kylie and Emily.
“It’s the first time we’ve been — we wanted to try out the local food,” said Taylor. “I’m impressed!”
In a break from serving, freshman lawmaker Paul Ralston, a Democratic representative from Middlebury, said he was excited to be volunteering at his first Field Days dinner. As owner and founder of the Vermont Coffee Company, Ralston provided coffee for the event.
“This has been one of my great ambitions,” he said. “There’s nothing better on a hot summer night at the county fair.”
Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton and Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, agreed.
“It’s a good way to spend a day at the fair,” said Jewett.
“It’s really good interaction, and this is also good for Vergennes!” said Lanpher.
And Chris Bray came to help serve food as well. When he was a state representative, Bray introduced legislation commissioning the Farm-to-Plate strategic plan, which seeks to guide and support Vermont’s agricultural economy.
“This really reflects the energy that inspired Farm to Plate,” said Bray. “People like to buy from their neighbors and eat fresh, local food.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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