In the last few years, there has been a revolution in how we eat. We are realizing that there are consequences that come with the food we ingest, including effects on our health, the environment and even on how people live in developing countries where some of our food is grown. All of these factors are creating a growing movement encouraging people to eat locally. Few communities have embraced this movement more than Burlington, Vermont, and it is the perfect place to take the family for a weekend to get in touch with the concept of eating local.
This small family-friendly city is only a 90-minute drive south of Montreal, and despite its size, it offers more than enough activities to make for a full and rewarding getaway.
A perfect place to begin the journey is at Shelburne Farms, just a few kilometres outside of Burlington. This historical 1,400-acre estate was originally built as a fully functional farm in 1886 by a member of the Vanderbilt family and her husband. After falling into disuse, the estate was turned into a non-profit organization in the 1970s with the purpose of educating the community, especially children, about sustainability. Today, the farm is a living campus where children can experience how their food goes from “farm to plate.” Nestled between Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains, the large stately farm barn has been turned into an educational centre that houses goats, sheep, cows, chickens, a donkey, a 700-pound sow and even a cheese-making workshop, where children can see how milk is transformed into rich, creamy bars of cheddar.
The dynamic staff at the farm works hard to help children understand why the food they eat should come from a healthy and natural environment. They organize daily activities including a chicken parade, where more than 20 species of chickens are let out of the coop, strutting down a ramp onto the estate grounds. Children can also try milking a cow or a goat, and can collect freshly laid eggs, spin wool and enjoy a tractor ride. There are several walking trails on the grounds to enjoy the scenic surroundings of the farm.
Even accommodations in Burlington are going local and Hotel Vermont, the city’s first boutique hotel, is embracing everything the area has to offer. It is conveniently located a few blocks away from bustling Church St., a quaint pedestrian mall full of shops, restaurants, outdoor terraces and buskers, and just up from Lake Champlain, offering a splendid view of the lake and the mountains hovering in the background. The hotel used local designers and furniture makers for its modern, rustic interior that mixes elements of wood and flannel with clean, sleek lines. Even the small touches, such as the citrus-scented body gel mixed by a local aroma-therapist and the soap dishes made by a local glassblowing artist, aim to showcase Vermont talent and support the local economy. There are two restaurants that serve mainly locally raised meats, Vermont cheeses, in-season vegetables, and even home-brewed spirits for adults.
Just a short walk from the hotel is City Hall Park, which hosts a farmers’ market from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday. Patrons can sample fresh breads, tasty hummus, homemade root beer, and whoopee pies. As the first state to approve labelling foods to indicate if they contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), this Vermont farmers’ market takes the meaning of organic seriously.
And what better way to end the trip than with a pit stop to the Ben & Jerry’s factory in nearby Waterbury, where kids can see firsthand how one of their favourite foods is made. Despite becoming one of the biggest ice-cream producers in the world, Ben and Jerry's still holds a strong place in the community, so it is not surprising that the company uses completely GMO-free ingredients. A factory tour takes approximately 30 minutes and visitors get to see the inner workings of ice-cream production. A sample is included in the tour and, outside, children can visit the Flavor Graveyard to see which ice-cream flavours have gone to a better place.
Hopefully, kids will come back curious to learn more about where their food comes from and with a deeper appreciation of all that is involved in getting food onto their plates.
Kelly Di Domenico was a guest of Hotel Vermont. This article was not reviewed or approved by the hotel.