Tags » Editors Choice


Cashing Out

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

So, it appears that the physical paper dollar, that crumpled, bacteria-ridden, piece of filth that resides in your pocket—along with all its grubby cousins, coins—will one day, perhaps one day soon (!), go the way of the wampum, the animal pelt, the tobacco leaf as a form of tradable currency. That’s what David Wolman ’96 would like you to believe, and after reading his fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable book The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers—and the Coming Cashless Society (Da Capo Press, 2012), I’m right there with him. Good riddance to the greenback, I say.

All I needed to know to come to this conclusion can be found in one sentence on page 28: “Traces of the bacteria staphylococcus have been detected on 94 percent of all U.S. dollar bills.” Never mind that, on the very next page, a friend of Wolman’s at the Centers for Disease Control essentially says that for people to become sick from dollar bills, they would need to be “sucking on banknotes or inserting them in their noses” to even put them at risk of becoming sick, to which I say, close enough. And indeed, Wolman joins me in being disgusted by food handlers who take a sweat-stained dollar from someone and then use the same contaminated fingers to drop a lemon into someone else’s drink. Gross, right?

Wolman’s case for the end of money goes far beyond the ick factor, though. As he points out, there are all kinds of reasons to get rid of cash. It’s the currency of crime, for one (think: robbery, counterfeiting, and drug dealing); it’s insanely expensive—and we’re not just talking about what it costs to actually make the currency but the cost of inefficiency associated with cash and cash transactions (or non-transactions); and it’s dangerous for reasons we don’t often think about (eco-costs, for example).

Throughout the book, Wolman finds fascinating characters to shed light on the inadequacies and toxicity of cash, and he spends just as much time talking about what will (and should) replace cash in the coming years.

Wolman is a contributing editor at Wired magazine, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find him spending a fair amount of time addressing the number of digital alternatives—and their inventors, champions, and pioneers—to cash transactions. (Some seem a little screwy to me, but others induce that familiar feeling of “of course,” followed by “why didn’t I think of that?”)

The most fun, though, might be the vicarious thrill of tagging along on Wolman’s Plimpton-esque journey of going cashless, himself, for a year. I won’t spoil anything, but there are some humorous moments where the rule of the given realm is still cash money.

I should acknowledge that David Wolman is a friend of mine. We’ve published his writing in this magazine, and I’ve been an avid reader and champion of not only his magazine journalism but also his previous books (A Left-Hand Turn around the World and Righting the Mother Tongue). Yet all these connections aside, The End of Money is just the type of book that curious readers, like me, would naturally gravitate toward. And I wasn’t disappointed.

You won’t be, either.


Fans of Eudora Welty, who died in 2001, will joyfully immerse themselves in yet another aspect of the much-loved and complex author, and lovers of gardens will discover a kindred spirit (or three) within One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place (University Press of Mississippi, 2011), by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown ’75.

Playing off the title of another Welty favorite—One Writer’s Beginnings, her 1984 memoir in which she chronicled her life along with some instruction on how to write—Haltom and Brown have delivered an equally evocative narrative of a family garden, a fading Southern culture, and a span of time and history from the 1920s to postwar America.

For those who know Welty’s work, 1119 Pinehurst Street in Jackson, Mississippi, is as familiar an address as one’s childhood home. It was from here, after all, that she wrote so many of the stories that have earned a lasting place among modern short stories. But this beautiful book unearths a different and deeply rich glance into the Welty home that many have not seen before.

Haltom first became engaged in the project as a local gardener in Jackson, when she approached the aging Welty with an interest in revitalizing the family garden. The Welty home and surrounding gardens had been a celebrated centerpiece at the hands of a younger Eudora and her mother, Chestina, who had designed the original garden in 1925. Tended with care by Eudora for decades after that, it had fallen into disarray in her later years. With Haltom’s help, she began to re-imagine the once vibrant sanctuary, recalling the flowers and plants that had flourished under her mother’s hands.

Private papers released a few years after Welty died in 2001 affirmed that the garden had indeed offered both solace and inspiration for her. Haltom and Brown have included several writings that were previously unpublished, including literary passages and excerpts from her private correspondence. They highlight not only the connections to Welty and her writing, but also to the time period in which she lived. Divided into four parts, the book covers the gardening seasons and also illuminates four decades of radically evolving Southern culture—from the 1920s to the postwar 1950s. Through Haltom and Brown’s writing, we see the role of garden clubs and yardmen as social norms, and the way gardens were upheld as the ideal antidote to all that could possibly fail one—the healing quality of combining work and introspection. The writing is colorfully interspersed with handwritten notes, garden maps, local advertisements, and plenty of photos—both historical and contemporary. Appendices tucked into the back include wonderfully cataloged information, such as planting lists over the decades, a breakdown of roses and annuals, a partial list of plant names that occur in Welty’s works, and even a discussion guide for book club goers.

Those familiar with Welty’s writing will remember how she often included images of Southern flora in her writing—“The Worn Path,” and “Flower for Marjorie”  are but a few—and the authors of this book help draw those connections, giving one a better understanding of the role that flowers and gardens play in her works. One passage reads as follows:

References to flowers and gardens colored her fiction and correspondence. Their consistent presence in her writing reveals that the flower garden lay at the heart of her inner world, sustaining her creativity and stirring her imagination.

Complementing the authors’ well-tended prose is a rich collection of full-page images by noted landscape photographer Langdon Clay, who captured the revitalized garden at all its current seasonal highpoints.

This is truly a book to be relished over time and enjoyed for many years to come. The pages are silky smooth; even the type is carefully laid out. The heft of the book itself encourages long leisurely reading by a sunlit window.
—Blair Kloman, MA English ’94


Lessons from Liberia

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Eight months and 3,000 miles southeast of my final game in Middlebury’s Pepin Gymnasium, I stand on the sidelines of a different court. With my eyes closed, they sound almost identical: shoes squeak, shots echo off the rim, players grunt, whistles trill.

But in the middle of Liberia’s capital city, only a few blocks from where Charles Taylor oversaw an unfathomable reign of terror, it’s strange to consider that a game like basketball could exist, much less flourish.

To an outsider, “flourish” may seem like an odd word choice. There is no roof on this gym. Garbage and sewage are swept into gutters on the sidelines, and paint peels off the concrete floor and wooden backboards.

Yet three times a week for the two hours before dark, the LPRC Oilers—a team in the Liberia Basketball Association—get to forget about life beyond the end lines and a community struggling to heal deep wounds, and they become enveloped in the coalescent and transitory power of basketball. I am their assistant coach.

On this day, the final practice before the beginning of the LBA’s Championship series, I recognize the quiet, focused energy of athletes on the verge, an intensity I lived for during my time playing basketball at Middlebury. It’s unnerving to feel it with another team, and in this environment, a bit out of place. But as incongruous as the feeling is, it is equally reaffirming—a testament that basketball isn’t about cameras, fans, or rankings, but about the guy next to you.

And the Oilers understand this better, perhaps, than any team I’ve ever seen.  Growing up amid some of the cruelest conditions on the planet, basketball represents something special to these athletes. For them, the game offers an escape from their common experience. Their wins are tangible evidence of the power of dedication, and their championship run an immutable statement to teamwork. While basketball is woven into my life, inseparable from everything else, for this team the game is discrete. It provides an alternative to a jaded reality that has been consistently marred by senseless violence. As Liberia looks to redefine itself as a functioning democracy and a model for post-conflict societies, smaller communities are increasingly important.

Paradigm shifts begin at the bottom, and this team is a shining example. And their example is spreading. For our final games of the season, LPRC’s local refinery has arranged for buses to ferry workers to the games. In an environment with precious little to root for, the Oilers have inspired a community.

Liberians still have a long, difficult road ahead of them: in my three months as an assistant coach, I have witnessed bribery, extortion, vandalism, ineptitude, and corruption; I have seen brawls break out over bad calls and games delayed by monsoon rains. But the attitude of the Oilers—their determination and teamwork—provide exactly the right place to start.  In so many ways, my experience in Liberia has been nothing like my experience with the placid dependability of Middlebury. But in important ways, it has been—you just need to close your eyes, shift your focus, and appreciate that the power of basketball knows no borders.

Andrew Locke was a tri-captain of the 2010-2011 Middlebury College basketball team.

Academy Honors

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

For over 200 years the American Academy of Arts & Sciences has been electing leading “thinkers and doers,” from George Washington to Albert Einstein. Recently the Academy announced its 2012 class and among those honored is volcanologist Katharine Cashman ’76, the Philip H. Knight Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Oregon.

Cashman’s research over the years has led to great insight into what triggers volcanic eruptions and has helped to predict those events. With a two-year Fulbright scholarship in New Zealand, where she earned a master’s in geology from Victoria University, and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins, she has spent her career researching volcanic hot spots on all seven continents. But her love for geology began at Middlebury. “I wouldn’t be a geologist if I hadn’t gone to Middlebury. First and foremost in terms of inspiration was Professor Peter Coney. From the very start, he treated all of his students as peers and professionals and truly challenged us to think for ourselves. Although sometimes frustrating, it was also exhilarating to be handed a problem and then have to figure it out.”

Another professor helped further Cashman’s interest in the study of volcanoes. David Folger, who had left Middlebury to work in Wood’s Hole, Mass., hired her as a research scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey in 1979. He then encouraged her in a transfer to the Cascades Volcano Observatory after the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State. Although she had studied active volcanoes in Antarctica, this was a turning point for her. She arrived at Mount St. Helens just months after the eruption. “The opportunity to work with the USGS team at Mount St. Helens convinced me that this was the direction that I wanted to pursue—I love studying geologic processes that happen on human time scales and that affect human populations because it means that I can indulge my love of solving scientific puzzles with the feeling that maybe something I do will ultimately help to reduce volcanic risk.”

Her impressive body of work has done that and more. And her accomplishments caught the attention of the Academy of Arts & Sciences. While normally Cashman would have gotten the notification of her election while at the University of Oregon, she is spending a three-year leave at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom as an AXA research chair and professor of volcanology. (AXA is a French insurance company that has recently started sponsoring research into environmental hazards.) So she received word she’d been chosen as a Fellow by the University of Oregon communications director. She says she felt “stunned” by the news—but obviously honored.

“It’s very humbling to be joining an honor society that includes so many people in my field, who I’ve looked up to all my career. The fact that my ‘class’ includes people like Hillary Clinton, Judy Woodruff, Andre Previn, Clint Eastwood, and Paul McCartney just seems surreal!”

As for opportunities that may open up for her, it’s too early to tell. But the Academy is also a leading center for independent policy research. For now, Cashman says, the announcement has led to some enjoyable personal benefits. “It reached several of my high school friends, from whom I’ve received a flood of e-mail. It’s been fun to reconnect with them after so many years.”

Kathy Cashman, along with sisters Susan ’72 and Patricia ’72, received an honorary doctor of science from Middlebury in 2008.

The Avocado Windfall

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Originally posted on April 12, this story was updated April 26.

When Tony Jackson first heard that the College was getting 10,000 pounds of avocados this spring, he wondered, “How the heck are we going to go through all of those?”

When most people see avocados, they think: guacamole.

A veteran chef with 29 years in Dining Services, Jackson knew he’d have to come up with something more than basic guacamole, so he started scouring the Internet for avocado recipes. There were avocado salads, avocado soups, avocado dressings, avocado dishes galore. And for a chef like Tony Jackson with access to a vast array of fresh foods, the possibilities seemed endless.

He was not alone in the quest; all the other chefs on campus have been digging into their recipe boxes because a tractor-trailer load of refrigerated Ettinger avocados arrived in Middlebury direct from southern California on March 30. There were 400 cases of avocados with about 25 avocados per case, or about 10,000 avocados in all.

The avocados are a gift from a Middlebury parent who wishes to remain anonymous. Suffice to say that the parent’s business interests include the sourcing of avocados in large quantities. “I see it as a win-win,” the parent told middmag.com. “The Ettinger is not as marketable as the Hass avocado, which is really the coin of the realm among avocados today. So we are pleased to put some smiles on the faces of the students at Middlebury, and introduce the uninitiated few to the pleasures of eating avocados.”

Pleasures indeed. How about avocado cheesecake? Yes! Avocado frittata? Absolutely! Avocado coconut frozen yogurt? Delicious! Avocado fries with chipotle dipping sauce? Mmmm! All of these dishes have been served in the dining halls this month.

The Ettinger avocado is a large, green, pear-shaped fruit with smooth skin and a big seed. Weighing about a pound each, the Ettinger is not to be confused with its more-popular first cousin, the Hass avocado with its black, pebbly skin. High in Vitamins B, C, and K, and rich in potassium, the Ettinger is just as nutritious as the Hass, with a slightly milder flavor.

Last Thursday morning Tony Jackson was putting the finishing touches to the lunch he prepared for the language tables in the Redfield Proctor Room. The first course would be avocado crab soup made with chicken stock and cream, and for the entrée students could choose from three dishes, two of which featured avocado. There were grilled pork chops with avocado black bean salsa, and tofu avocado sauté with broccoli and red onion. Within minutes the room was filled with students speaking Italian and Portuguese and Chinese and German—a Tower of Babel with avocados on the menu.

They're great in Mediterranean salads

Since then the dining staff has served avocado cream cheese with smoked salmon (for Passover), Mediterranean avocado salad with artichokes and dill (an original recipe by Dawn Sumner in Proctor), avocado and tomato wraps (a big hit in Ross Dining Hall), and baby spinach salad with smoked salmon (and, you guessed it, slices of fresh avocado).

Yes, the sky’s the limit when it comes to avocados, especially when you have five tons of them to work with.

“Now, when students walk into the dining halls, they are on the lookout for the latest way that the staff has presented the avocados,” explained Robert “Bo” Cleveland, Middlebury’s executive chef.

“To say we are pleased with the efforts of the staff would fall far short of our feelings,” he added. They have “rallied around ways to present the fruit beyond the obvious” uses of avocados, and that has made it fun for everyone. “It has been a pleasure for us to work with such a prized commodity.”

Inside Proctor Dining Hall located right next to the apples, oranges, and bananas is a self-service station (below right) to peel and slice raw avocados. And although the Ettingers have been “on the menu” for barely a week, hardly a minute goes by before another student steps up, selects a ripe avocado from the basket, cuts it open, and goes back to a seat.

Avocados, like bananas, mature on the tree but ripen off it.

The director of dining services, Matthew Biette, worked directly with the donor to effect the shipment of avocados, which were harvested in mid-March, packed, cooled, and shipped straight to Middlebury.

“It is one of the most novel gifts I have ever heard of,” said Biette, “but avocados are such a valuable food source and so nutritious, how could we turn them down?”

The College has donated several cases to the high school culinary arts programs in Middlebury and Rutland, and is considering donating a few cases to the area food shelf for low-income families.

Meanwhile back in the Proctor kitchen, chef Richard O’Donohue and his staff are busy peeling and chopping avocados by the dozen. Will it be another gourmet dish, a grilled avocado with sweet relish perhaps? No, not this time. Thursday is Mexican Day in Proctor and—in addition to fajitas, refried beans, and vegetarian chili—guacamole will be on the menu.

Update: In response to questions raised by some readers of this story (below), the donor of the avocados explained that most major avocado packers, including Calavo, Mission Produce, Del Rey Avocado, IndexFresh, West Pak Avocado, and others, do not market “pollinator varieties” like the Ettinger. Instead, the pollinator varieties, called “Type B” avocados, are grown in fields with the more popular “Type A” avocados (such as the Hass) to increase production. When they mature, Ettinger and other Type B avocados are harvested and generally sold at California farmers’ markets and are not shipped great distances.

Before accepting the donation of avocados, Dining Services looked into the source of the fruit, researched uses for Ettinger avocados, and received a few cases so its own chefs could determine whether they would be of value to the College. Satisfied that the avocados from the anonymous donor would keep for weeks under refrigeration, that the chefs in Dining Services could create dishes using them, and that they would be well-received by students, the College accepted the 10,000-pound donation, which included the harvesting, packing, and shipping of the fruit.


Shirt Tales

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Bill DeaconIt’s a phenomenon by no means limited to Vermont: College students everywhere spend a staggering amount of time watching inane comedies with friends and quoting them to each other at parties, in class, or on the athletic field. But Bill Deacon ’91 has made a career out of it.

“We had one guy on my hall in Battell South who was wealthy enough to have a TV with VCR and videotapes,” says Deacon. He laughs at the thought of how quickly things changed, how today everyone can push a DVD into a laptop. “So we watched movies constantly; they were always playing.” Films like Top Gun, Raising Arizona, and Caddyshack “provided the soundtrack to my college years,” he adds.

Deacon, who grew up in Gardner, Massachusetts—one of those “just outside of Boston” origins—is the founder and CEO of Muze Clothing, which sells T-shirts bearing movie quotes. Muze makes 200 varieties of shirts and is constantly adding new ones, with everything from “Hickory 15” (a Hoosiers reference) to “Make me a bicycle, clown” (Wedding Crashers) emblazoned on the chest. Muze manufactures all of its shirts in Arizona, near company headquarters, and boasts a strong line of celebrity endorsers, including Ryan Seacrest, ESPN’s Erin Andrews, and NFL quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tony Romo.

The company’s next step involves expanding beyond apparel, and the executive team is confident, thanks to watching Muze sales double for three consecutive years. Deacon will launch a “movie-quote database” website that he hopes will become the online authority in what is already a competitive market.

 My Boy Is Wicked Smaht
—Good Will Hunting

That an English major from Massachusetts ended up the CEO of an apparel company in Scottsdale, Arizona, was a surprise to many. After graduating from Middlebury, Deacon planned to attend law school at Arizona State University. “That was that; we all expected him to be a lawyer,” says his sister Sandra, a professor at Boston University’s undergraduate business program.

But when Deacon arrived in the Southwest—quotes from Raising Arizona swimming through his head—he decided to defer law school for a year in order to establish residency, believing it would make his three years at ASU much cheaper. That was the plan, at least. Soon enough, though, bartending and waiter gigs at the Phoenician hotel led to a role there as director of restaurant sales. “They were looking for a young, hungry kid willing to put in hours and hours a week for very little money,” he says. In turn, that led to a marketing job at Morton’s Steakhouse.

At Morton’s, Deacon’s easygoing attitude made him a hit with the restaurant’s clients and partners. After a few years, he had created a network of people that he figured might support him in a business venture. In 2000, 31-year-old Deacon left Morton’s and opened his own restaurant, Foster’s.

Foster’s, a New England-style seafood restaurant, had a strong, six-year run. The place attracted regulars, created a real culture, and served up clam chowder to tanned Arizonans. But it was exhausting work. “If you want to work twice as hard for half as much,” says Deacon, “you work in a restaurant. It really is grueling.” In late 2005, Deacon sold the building that housed Foster’s. His plan was to start Foster’s again in a new location, but there was something else on his mind as well.

Deacon and Mark Dimond ’89, once a sales manager with the “Life is good” brand, had tossed around the idea of creating an apparel company, and they were searching for a designer. During a round of golf with Michael Sims ’00, Deacon learned that Sims’s brother Sean, a Syracuse graduate, was a prominent T-shirt designer in New York. Making him the Muze designer was a no-brainer. Deacon had found his core team. In 2006, he flew to Boston to meet with Dimond and the Sims brothers. That weekend, they came up with the company name and chose the first 20 movie quotes they’d put on shirts.

 If You Ain’t First, You’re Last
—Talladega Nights

Long before that trip, Deacon had contemplated the idea of marketing movie quotes. “Every time I watched SportsCenter,” he recalls, “I’d hear them saying six of the same movie quotes my friends and I loved from college, and I always thought, why isn’t anybody acknowledging this?” In 2004, the brainstorming began in earnest when Deacon and his friend Jeremy Roenick, a hockey legend who played in the NHL for two decades, were hanging out in California at the World Series of Golf. “We were just playing games, drinking, having fun like we usually do,” says Roenick, who adds that he and Deacon are “big golf guys and big movie buffs.” The conversation turned to business, and they sketched out what would later become, in 2006, Muze Clothing.

In addition to Deacon, Dimond, and Sims, another alum, Matt Bonner ’91, is involved and will head up the new website business, moviequoter.com. That partnership was conceived at the classmates’ 20-year reunion last summer as the two sat in Adirondack chairs outside Mead Chapel. Deacon told Bonner about the success he was having with Muze. Then, says Bonner, “I played a gig at 51 Main, drank a bunch of beers with Bill, and we decided to meet at Logan Airport after the reunion.” They met outside security in Terminal E before Deacon’s flight back to Phoenix. They realized they had a perfect fit: Muze was looking to carve out a space online beyond the retail site, and Bonner had worked with Web start-ups in music development. “It was like somebody fired a starting gun,” Bonner says.

Moviequoter.com will enter a private alpha phase in early 2012 and within the year will launch to the public. “If movie quotes are a language,” says Deacon, “we want to be the Oxford English Dictionary of when and how to use them.” He stresses that he wants Muze to do more than throw funny quotes onto shirts, but also to be an authority in how and when to use certain quotes, when it’s funniest to cite a line from The Hangover (which he calls an “instant classic”) and when to go with Good Will Hunting.

Muze wasn’t immediately profitable—“Launching any brand right before the economic Armageddon of 2008 was not the best situation,” Deacon admits—but Deacon is pleased with where the company is headed. He points to the sales figures for the past three years, of course, but also to the partnerships that he’s made with a number of charities, including the Wounded Warrior Project, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the ALS Association. Says his sister, who invites Deacon to speak to her business management class at BU each year: “He’s a great model to [my students] . . . [showing] that you can create a company, but it’s a major challenge, too. The celebrity involvement is obviously interesting to them, but also the charity piece. It’s so important to teach them about business ethics and giving back.”

As for law school, well, let’s just say that that idea is still on hold.

Daniel Roberts ’09 is a staff reporter at Fortune magazine.

Thank You, Mr. Neuberger

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I did not know Fred Neuberger well. In fact, at his packed memorial service at Mead Chapel, I was surprised by the many things I had never known about him: that he had been wounded in World War II, that he was a POW. He was a wood-worker, a practical joker, an advocate for diversity at the College. He was a man who took chances—that I did know about him.

It was a brief encounter in the late summer of 1969. I had been attending the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and was a few weeks away from returning to the Connecticut College for Women for my junior year. Until Bread Loaf, I had never been able to live, breathe, talk about writing 24/7, and as the conference drew to a close, I started having withdrawal pains.

And so on my last afternoon on the mountain, I came down to Middlebury’s Admissions Office. It was a lazy summer day, and the only person around was a man who introduced himself as Fred Neuberger. He asked me what he could do for me, and then listened as I told him about my two weeks at the conference, about my love of writing, about how I wanted to transfer to Middlebury. I was 19 years old, smitten with Frost country.

What I did not tell Mr. Neuberger was that I had applied to Middlebury as a senior in high school; that I had not gotten in; that it was just as well because my strict, immigrant Latino papi would not allow his daughters to go to coed schools. I didn’t tell Mr. Neuberger these things because none of them mattered anymore. I had found fertile ground for my imagination, and I was not about to let mere facts get in the way of a dream.

Mr. Neuberger handed me an application. I had plenty of time: the deadline was four months away.

“No, no, no,” I explained.  I didn’t want to come to Middlebury a year from now; I wanted to come now.

“Young lady,” he said in that tough-guy, mock macho style of his. “Them’s the rules.”

I was close to tears; partly heartbroken, partly ashamed. Who did I think I was putting myself forward this way?  “Okay, then I’ll just move here. I’ll get a job. At least I’ll be close to Middlebury until I can come here.”

Mr. Neuberger sighed. “How soon can you get this application back to me?”

I bolted up from my chair, as if I was about to fill in the blanks right then and there.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” By now I was hopping up and down.

“I’m not making any promises,” he reminded me.

But he had already given me so much: he had listened. He had heard the sound of a young person connecting with her calling.

Until Bread Loaf, I hadn’t listened to it myself. Two weeks later my family was packing the car to take my older sister back to college. I had had a standoff with my papi and mami: I was not going back for my junior year. I wanted to go to Middlebury.

The phone rang. Fred Neuberger was on the line. “Young lady, do you still want to come to Middlebury?”

I screamed. Even my parents were impressed, which was why, when we finally did drive up to Vermont from Queens, and my father looked around at a campus crawling with boys, he let me stay. This school had recognized his daughter’s talent, and that meant a lot to a man who had put aside his own talents to fight a dictatorship.

When I returned to Middlebury 17 years later to teach, I would tell Mr. Neuberger this story at every occasion. Then I’d let loose with a renewed sally of thank-yous. After the fifth time, he’d just sigh and shake his head.  Enough with the thank-yous.

Not quite. Mr. Neuberger, thank you, one last time.

Food For Thought

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Food. It’s not just what’s for dinner (that is, if you’re one of the planet’s lucky ones)—it’s also a powerful learning tool.  At an October 14 gathering during Fall Family Weekend, a panel of students, faculty, and parents in the food field discussed with a large audience how a proposed new food studies minor could enrich the liberal arts at Middlebury.

Moderator Pier LaFarge ’10.5, now a Washington D.C.-based climate analyst, asked those filling the Orchard Room at the Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest to consider how food creates connections. “It connects the problems of growing population and increasing pressure on resources; it also connects people with each other and with their landscape,” he said. LaFarge noted how Middlebury’s agrarian location and its commitment to projects such as local food procurement and the student-run organic farm made the study of food a natural fit. The panelists then amply illustrated his point.

Professor Helen J. Young, one of the faculty members shepherding the establishment of the new minor, emphasized that students had initiated and driven this interdisciplinary idea. Young, a botanist on the biology faculty, added that food-related course offerings could span anthropology, public policy, economics, biochemistry, literature, “and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” She further explained that the minor would comprise five courses, among which an internship or research project would be essential.

English professor Daniel Brayton gave a sampling of food references in literary works, noting their subtle ability to denote social class. As a lifelong sailor, Brayton sees particular potential in teaching food studies through what he termed “greater Midd”—Middlebury’s additional sites, including its graduate school, the Monterey Institute for International Studies, located at one of the world’s great ocean ecosystems.

Two students spoke from personal experience about food’s potential to teach. Kate Strangfeld ’12 took inspiration from a J-term class on food justice in Vermont to help found Crossroads Café, a student-run restaurant in the former McCullough Juice Bar. “It’s been the biggest learning experience ever,” Strangfeld said. “I’ve seen how restaurants can affect health, culture, and the economy.” As for the value of running a restaurant while holding down a heavy liberal arts workload, she said, “I’m so happy I didn’t go to a big school with a nutrition major. Here I see food’s many impacts.”

For Janet Rodrigues ’12, helping build an organic garden at a South Bronx middle school showed how food can nourish children and their communities in the face of social inequalities. In planting and harvesting she, her three Middlebury classmates, and the school’s students and teachers had to handle issues such as soil quality and invading rats from an adjoining business.

“I never thought I’d be speaking on this kind of panel,” she said, commenting on food’s power to take someone in a new direction. Rodrigues and friends helped kids grow fresh vegetables they otherwise wouldn’t have had while offering them new ways to learn about plants and insects. It was also important, she noted, to reach kids through foods they enjoyed, that their families could afford, and that resonated with their cultures.

The two parent panelists drew from their own careers to offer insights on what kind of education is relevant in the business of food. Chris Granstrom ’74 (P’07, ’13) and his family turned from growing apples and strawberries to helping pioneer Vermont’s wine industry. Their Lincoln Peak Vineyard, just up Route 7 from Middlebury, has established an enviable reputation for fine wines via new, hardy grape cultivars. While Granstrom credited success in farming to a personal curriculum that includes “some construction, some wiring and plumbing, business planning and marketing,” he credited the liberal arts with being fertile ground for food careers. “A lot of the new, dynamic food businesses, farms or otherwise, are being started by liberal arts grads,” he said, adding that a study program should stay abreast of food-related issues and recognize positive case studies.

Echoing the fit between the liberal arts and food and agriculture enterprises, Ted Andrews (P’13) credited his formal education with bestowing an essential farming tool: “I learned how to learn,” he said. Andrews is the CEO of HerbCo, an organic herb farm in Duvall, Washington that will produce $50 million in sales this year. Throughout its growth, the company has continually innovated to maintain the safety and wholesomeness of its crops—part of the learning curve Andrews has mastered.

Granstrom and Andrews’s participation on the panel was part of Middlebury’s new “Parenting the Earth” series, initiated by the Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest. According to Dean of Environmental Affairs Nan Jenks-Jay, “Middlebury parents working in environmental and sustainability fields are invited to campus to share their knowledge and networks with students.  Some of these connections have even generated internship opportunities.”

Based on the questions and comments that followed the panelists’ comments, it was clear that these two farmers were not the only parents in The Orchard convinced that food studies merited a place in the liberal arts. As a fitting final course to the discussion, everyone moved into the lobby for a lovely spread of local food.

Please note: While the food studies minor is still in development, it will be essential for each student to undertake an internship. Anyone who might be able to provide a Middlebury student with such an opportunity should contact Lisa Gates, Director, Center for Education in Action at lgates@middlebury.edu.

Stay tuned to MiddMag for more Fall Family Weekend coverage, including links to the President’s address to parents, as well as audio and video coverage of panels and discussions.