After a whirlwind tour of various farms around Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s mobile quick freeze unit has a home at Green Mountain College and the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL), with support from the Poultney-Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District (PMNRCD), until December of 2012.
The freezer’s extended stay in Poultney is a case study for the potential of mobile and stationary quick freeze units across the state. These units are expected to increase the ability of farmers to market seasonal products throughout the year. The quick freeze unit was designed and built for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in 2008 and traveled throughout Vermont before making its temporary home at Cerridwen Farm at Green Mountain College in July of 2010.
Philip Ackerman-Leist, director of the GMC Farm & Food Project, noted “We are quite grateful to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture for their willingness to partner with us in exploring the potential both of how best to utilize quick-freezing technologies and of the merits and challenges of putting these technologies into a mobile unit. The farm at Green Mountain College is perfectly situated to accommodate the quick freeze unit and facilitate its use by farmers and students.” GMC has upgraded the kitchen in the “Solar Harvest Center,” a newly renovated farmhouse recently purchased by the College, in order to meet commercial kitchen standards and certification.
The College is also able to provide the quick freeze unit and its users with the necessary power and water supplies, both of which proved to be challenging on small farms as the unit traveled through the state. Many local producers and processors can take advantage of the convenient location directly off a main road, as well as possible use of cooler and freezer space on campus. Green Mountain College also uses the quick freezer as an educational tool for classes that focus on food and agriculture. Additionally, the quick freeze unit is used to trial the feasibility and desirability of certain vegetables and fruits for institutional food service providers by working collaboratively with the College dining hall managers and staff.
The quick freeze is also a tool to help beginning and experienced farmers understand the potential of quick freezing. Showcasing the unit promotes new markets for local frozen products and potentially decreases the need for processors and food service providers to source produce from out-of-state during the off-season. RAFFL uses the quick freeze unit as a tool in promoting the success of new farmers in the area, and RAFFL and GMC use the unit to preserve donated bounty to distribute to those in need throughout the year. RAFFL collects donations of fresh produce from farmers’ markets and through gleaning events, and distributes these items to charitable organizations of Rutland County throughout the growing season. According to Tara Kelly, Executive Director of RAFFL, “We’re hoping that through use of the quick freeze unit RAFFL can to provide those organizations with fresh-frozen local foods throughout the year, including through the winter when they are most needed.”
The research and use of the quick freeze unit by Green Mountain College, RAFFL, and PMNRCD will reveal the logistical challenges and needs in using quick freeze technologies and infrastructure, while also exploring potential markets and avenues of use. The combined effort of these organizations will ultimately demonstrate the quick freeze unit’s role in building the capacity and strength of the Rutland area food system and the local agricultural economy.
The quick freeze unit is best suited for large volumes of any product in need of freezing, particularly berries, corn, tomatoes, rhubarb and other produce that does not require blanching or other pre-cooking. The unit can also accommodate processed foods like veggie burgers and other specialty products.
Farmers and processors are encouraged to contact Garland Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to schedule a time to use the quick freezer.