From Field to Fork: A Visit to the Farms and Cafeterias that Partner with Just Cut
CAE’s social enterprise, Just Cut, works with regional farmers to provide ready-to-use produce to institutional kitchens throughout New England. In 2021, Just Cut purchased vegetables from 19 regional farms, processed 175,629 pounds of root and storage crops, and sold those to 28 institutions in Vermont and New Hampshire!
This summer our Just Cut production team got out of the kitchen and onto the fields to see how the vegetables they slice, dice, and package are grown, and how they get onto plates around Vermont and New Hampshire. Just Cut Program Manager, Lotty, and Production Manager, Fawn, coordinated visits to Honey Field Farm and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. The team got a first hand look at the reach Just Cut Products have, and how they positively impact the farms who grow for the program and the institutions who use those vegetables. Come along with us for a tour of the Upper Valley, a region of Vermont and New Hampshire along the Connecticut River, as we introduce Honey Field Farm and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, through the lens of Just Cut. Produce. Prepared.
The team started the day with a visit to Honey Field Farm in Norwich, Vermont. Farmers Eli and Valerie have been farming for decades. “We spent one of our first dates together planting cabbage and giving pig belly rubs, and we’ve never looked back. We started farming together in 2013 at River Berry Farm in Fairfax, VT where we began our part-time incubator business, Shadow Creek Farm. For 5 seasons we worked day jobs and farmed during our nights and weekends, focusing on certified organic wholesale vegetables like hot peppers and cucumbers. We always had a dream of starting our own farm to share with the community.”
After spending five years looking for land to buy, they ended up taking over the old Killdeer Farm and Greenhouse in Norwich in the spring of 2020. In only their third season on the property, they already grow 15 acres of organic vegetables and distribute to over 25 regional partners. They also have a robust farmstand, CSA, and farmers market presence, selling vegetables as well as a huge selection of annuals and perennials. About 50% of their income comes from flowers, veggie starts and greenhouse products, and the remaining from vegetable sales. The majority of those sales are wholesale to restaurants, programs like Just Cut, and through their CSA. In 2022, Honey Field Farm is growing just under 4000 pounds of red and green cabbage for Just Cut. This is their third year growing for the program. Valerie appreciates working with the Just Cut team saying “they are friendly, they are approachable, and they check in throughout the season to make sure things are going as planned since so much is out of our control as farmers.”
Our group toured the fields and greenhouses, had a snack with the farm team during their morning break, and then got to work harvesting garlic. It was a nice change of pace to get our hands full of dirt, loosening garlic bulbs, harvesting them, and cleaning them for storage. The team had a great time, and we look forward to visiting the farm again.
Our next stop was to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), which buys from Just Cut as a convenient way to support the regional economy and get more local vegetables into their food. Just Cut has partnered with DHMC for 10 years, providing 31,189 pounds of vegetables in 2021. Just Cut cabbage can be found in slaws and braised cabbage dishes, potatoes in home fries, and frozen carrots in gravies, chowders, stews and pot pies.
DHMC serves an average of 3,500 meals a day. The mission of the Dartmouth Health system is to “advance health through research, education, clinical practice and community partnerships, providing each person the best care, in the right place, at the right time, every time.” Director of Food and Nutrition Services Katie Bradford interprets that mission as “please people, and keep people healthy.” The department takes their mission seriously and reminders can be seen across the building, from the “Good Food. Good Mood” sticker on Katie’s office window, to a sign “Live Well/ Work Well” above the kitchen door. They want everyone in their community to be able to eat healthy nourishing meals - including patients, entry level staff, surgeons, and visitors. To that end, they keep the retail cost as low as they can, selling entrees, snacks and drinks at well below market prices. That mission is also reflected in the food they choose to serve. Years ago chicken fingers and french fries used to be the biggest sellers in the cafeteria. As they switched to a healthier menu and removed fries all together, they focused on flavor, and local sourcing. Now their crowd favorites include fresh cod from Gloucester, MA and miso ginger salmon on Mondays.
Katie and Purchasing Manager, James Rice, gave us a tour of the kitchens, where we compared and contrasted our size of operation and set-ups, and admired their walk-ins and dry storage, as well as the volume of food they produce. We had a chance to enjoy lunch in the cafeteria and can attest to the delicious food.
It’s powerful to experience first-hand the full circle of the food cycle, to go from the field where cabbage is grown to a dining room serving that cabbage to the community. Just Cut is an important part of that story, and our team in the kitchen works hard to take those local veggies and prepare them for the institutions. Thank you to our hardworking and dedicated Just Cut team; Lotty, Fawn, Josh, Maureen, and Malayna. This was our second year visiting a partner farm, and we look forward to visiting other farm and institution partners next summer. hoto: A meal at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center featuring Just Cut Cabbage, photo by Elizabeth Rossano)