Wake Robin Soars with Farm-to-Table DiningMay 26, 2023
Here at Vermont Fresh Network, we talk a lot about farm-to-table dining in Vermont’s restaurants. Did you know that many Vermont institutions are part of the network? Vermont Fresh Network builds farm and chef partnerships with schools, hospitals, universities, workplace cafeterias, and other institutions who prioritize working with Vermont partners, and bringing locally-grown foods and products to their communities.
“I feel strongly that whole food is better for all humans,” said Kate Hays, Director of Dining at Wake Robin. “So when we talk about eating for wellness, culinary medicine, sourcing whole foods, it's really important to stay away from processed foods for all people, but also vulnerable populations.”
Programming at Wake Robin encourages residents and staff alike to engage in the community’s dining scene, and the greater surrounding local food system.
“We have an open kitchen plan so that residents are able to hear the story of the food from the cooks who are preparing it directly,” Hays said. Residents also enjoy a weekly farmers market onsite, in partnership with Killeen Crossroads Farm in Shelburne. According to Hays, keeping so much of Wake Robin’s food local “really connects and anchors the community. That story is something that's really fostered on campus, connecting people, residents with the community and vice versa.”
Wake Robin’s dedication to local food impacts not only their residents, but also staff. By giving their chefs and food workers the opportunity to work with quality, local ingredients, Wake Robin has been able to hire a skilled and experienced team, many of whom worked in Burlington’s hospitality industry for years. Hays said, “You hit a certain age and you still want to have your hand in the game, but you might not necessarily want to be on the line cranking until 11 o'clock, and then have two hours of cleanup, two hours of decompression, and then rinse repeat for the rest of your life.” Culinary talent at Wake Robin receive good benefits, work-life balance and paid time off, and work schedules without late nights; but still get the opportunity to work with interesting, local ingredients in the food they prepare.
Sustainability is another factor that plays into Wake Robin’s dedication to working with local producer partners. “We have residents who want to make sure that the animal-based proteins that are served here are humanely raised and butchered,” Hays said. “We have relationships with lots of local farms, so that gives us that opportunity to serve food that matches the residents' values as well as Wake Robin’s values.”
With more than 30% of their annual food purchases coming from Vermont growers and producers, Wake Robin’s partners include VFN Members Black River Produce, Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Champlain Orchards, Champlain Valley Apiaries, Jericho Settlers Farm, Nitty Gritty Grain Company, O Bread Bakery, Shelburne Farms, and Vermont Salumi.
“As the Vermont Fresh Network introduces new partners, we see that,” Hays said. “If it piques our interest, we can reach out to them. We’re happy to be a part of it.”
Wake Robin is not the only Vermont Fresh Network institution member; VFN also works with Vermont First/Sodexo, UVM Dining, Champlain College, St. Michael’s College Dining, Husky Injection Molding, and National Life of Vermont. Learn more about the Gold Barn Designation here, and about membership with VFN here.