Peter Allison Brings Local Food to Others
In 1977, the Peter family of Connecticut bought a lot in Quechee and built a vacation home for their family of four children and their wider circle of active friends. Margot and Latham (Lee) loved skiing, tennis, hiking, as well any other sport that looked like fun. Their children followed suit.
Peter Peter, their third child, said his parents wanted a casual home, with an open feel and no grass to mow and many beds. His mom liked the opportunity to have family members and guests share in the cooking. Now it’s the next generation who enjoy the home in a key location near the clubhouse.
Well years later, it’s Peter, a part-time Quechee resident, in the kitchen. His father thought he was a very lucky man to find work he loved in Vermont and be able to support his family as well. After some years working elsewhere, Peter was drawn to a life in Vermont.
Peter, left, with family.
Bringing hands-on education to local schools
In 2004, Peter began consulting with DSM Environmental in Ascutney, Vermont, when he and his young family joined Cobb Hill, a co-housing community in Hartland. In 2007, when an ad appeared in the paper for someone to spearhead a new initiative—Farm to School, which would begin in the Hartland elementary school, Peter grabbed the opportunity. It was a part-time position allowing him to continue his work as an independent consultant on other environmental efforts, including helping coordinate the Woodstock Trails Partnership, which started the annual “Trek to Taste” event at the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park. The Farm to School project that ensued was a delight to students and faculty, as well as the local farms that opened their properties and operations for hands-on education. They included gardens at schools, food tastings, field trips and so much more. Peter described one extended project, which turned into a moneymaker for the students. They grew pounds and pounds of tomatoes from 36 plants donated from the greenhouses at the Windsor Correctional Facility, with so much to spare they needed a plan for immediate consumption. So they made tons of their locally sourced salsa recipe, developed labels and sold many, many jars. Their profit was $800. The varied projects of the program were geared to enhance the children’s awareness of growing food, eating healthy food and using locally grown food. The “Let’s move” mantra of Michelle Obama was in full force, as well.
The reality of what is known as “food insecure” is that one in four Vermont children live in homes that have to choose between spending money on food and paying rent, gas and other expenses each month. The school meal programs are aware and address this deficiency. In Vermont there are key organizations that help to ameliorate the problem. Education regarding resources such as food banks, Vermont FEED, social services and others is part of the Farm to School program objective.
The Upper Valley Farm to School Network
In the next year, Peter jettisoned this small grant-supported program into the Upper Valley Farm to School Network involving more schools. He directed the network until 2014, when he handed off the management of this expanded organization to another non-profit, Vital Communities. The ideal happened, The Upper Valley Farm to School Network was now situated in a well-known and stable organization. “And they are doing a terrific job,” says Peter. He is now on the project’s advisory board.
Peter with sons.
Next and currently, Peter again expanded his reach to include all of New England. In 2011, he was asked to be the network director of the start-up Farm to Institutions New England (FINE.) Using his more than 35 years of experience in promoting local food sourcing, food education, food growers’ concerns, and in his knowledge of urban and environmental policy, he has been instrumental in forwarding the goals of the organization to a wider audience. “As one in four people in New England eat meals at schools, hospitals and on college campuses, it is clear that institutions are an important market for farmers. FINE has begun to work with large food service companies, as well as the local farms. Healthy eating, and just as importantly, the economy of the region are vital to the goals of FINE. Increasing local food production, and including expanding the use of fish, from the coastal states (all but Vermont), is their challenge,” he says. Peter explains that a recent study from American Farmland and Trust concludes that 30 percent of farmers in New England are likely to exit farming over the next decade. They cite that the outstanding majority have no one to take over. Yet with the bold food vision for New England: “50 in 60”—50 percent of food we consume will be produced in New England by 2060. Who knows? Maybe more city folk will be drawn to the life of a farmer or to some other facet of food production, especially with the added support they might enjoy.
In his spare time
Peter is the perfect young candidate to live in Vermont. He is fit and athletic and well educated. His sons—19 and 14—are, as well. They ski, hike, bike, play soccer and lots of other sports. Peter and his boys just hiked the over 4800-foot Mt. Moosilauke in New Hampshire on Father’s Day.
Peter rides in the 100-mile Point-to-Point Bike Race, an annual charity fundraiser for the Vermont Food Bank, which originates and ends at Harpoon Brewery. And even more, he substitutes as a bike guide in Vermont for Great Freedom Adventures, a company his college roommate’s sister started. It’s a nice change of pace to round out his active life.
“The participants are always surprised with the length and frequent occurrence of hills. They don’t expect it to be so hard, he says and adds, “Biking in Vermont is some of the best anywhere.”