Regional Spotlight: New England
Staying the Course
By Amanda Faison
If there’s one thing about New Englanders, it’s that practicality and optimism are a way of life. Three percent of the Good Food 100 participants hail from New England, an area defined by the Bureau of Economics that includes Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. In large part, the challenges to the area’s good food system are similar to those of the rest of the Country.
The number one concern is labor. “Unemployment is very low and we don't see as many people applying for open positions,” says Doug Paine, executive chef at Hotel Vermont (six links) in Burlington. “I think that the hospitality and agricultural industries have relied in the past heavily on immigrant, refugee, and migrant workers. Those numbers have been restricted, tightening the labor market considerably.” He has seen the cost of these shortages manifesting in reduced operating hours for restaurants and farmers who are unable to harvest and process their crops to capacity.
Just eight miles to the south, Jim McCarthy, executive chef of the Inn at Shelburne Farms (six links), also sees labor as an issue but he attributes it to the farms’ proximity to Burlington and its microclimate. “In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a huge influx of nice restaurants opening in Burlington so people look there,” he says. “We’re also seasonal [the inn is only open May to October] so when we close we let you go. We’re not getting longtime career cooks because we’re a training ground but not a career path.”
Another challenge Shelburne Farms has felt keenly is climate change. The summer of 2018 was so dry that the 1,400–acre farm couldn’t produce its own hay. The farm had to purchase it instead, which kicked the price of its beef (Shelburne produces beef cattle, lamb, and cheese) up by 25 percent. Although this summer the weather has been more normal, Jim sees the farm’s mission as a resource for sustainability education as more important than ever.
About three and a half hours south of Burlington in Cambridge, Massachusetts, chef-owner Peter McCarthy of EVOO (six links) is also conscious of sustainability. Despite begin located on the coast, Peter is constantly on the hunt for sustainable seafood. “We always go to Seafood Watch to see what we should be using,” he says of the 21-year-old restaurant. “We’re in New England but at certain times we’re selling Alaskan sockeye salmon rather than Atlantic halibut because it isn’t sustainable.”
Despite the challenges, all three chefs are quick to say what’s going right. “The spirit of collaboration is strong,” says Paine. And much of the collaboration comes from championing what is grown, produced, and available to each local community. “There is a seemingly endless supply of good food here,” says Jim. “Vermont is a food hub.” After 21 years in business, Peter has had the benefit of watching how the local movement has changed over the years. “The availability of great local ingredients is so much easier to come by now,” he says. “There’s a demand.”