It’s the size and shape of an ice cream truck. And certainly kindles the same enthusiasm, “They’re here!” shout the kids of a North Troy day care, as the big white truck lumbers down their long dirt road. Yet it’s not ice cream sandwiches and popsicles, they’re giddy about, it’s The Lunch Box Mobile, which delivers small-farm produce to communities with limited access to fresh food. In other words: the kids are giddy about vegetables.
As part of Green Mountains Farm- to- School, a program whose mission includes supporting and sharing healthy foods to keep kids healthy, the Snap On Tool trailer turned mobile farmers’ market and commercial kitchen visited some of the remotest communities in the Northeast Kingdom throughout the summer. And as if kids running toward a truck containing carrot sticks and pickles wasn’t astonishing enough, the Lunch Box ramped up the miracle factor—providing meals to anyone under 18 for free.
I caught up with 28 year old Meghan Stotko, the driver of the Lunch Box(–in all meanings of that word) in Irasburg, during her final week, before students all went back to school. She and her intern, Grace Costin were serving up tacos with locally sourced beef and tomatoes. There was also locally grown flour, honey, syrup, pickles, and a range of vegetables for sale. And if I’d brought foodstamps, Meghan was all set up to accept them. The Irasburg Common was just one of several regular weekly stops, and by summer’s end she’d hosted a total of 39 markets, many of them in places like the Border Motel in Derby, where locally grown produce is not available otherwise. In addition to ensuring Vermont’s North Country kids have access to healthy meals The Lunch Box also provides a local service to small -scale growers, acting as a mobile outlet for 15 different farms.
Though the free lunches and regular markets have concluded for the summer, the eye-catching white truck will continue to lumber in and out of farm driveways and hunker down in the middle of town. In addition to some “on farm dinners” scheduled in October where the big truck will serve as the central kitchen, Meghan is currently steering her truck and culinary prowess to Newport this weekend for Chilifest. All day Saturday, she’ll be parked across the street from her benevolent nemesis and competitor, the Montgomery Café. As the chili contest judges test her concoction, they’ll be tasting the produce of eight different Orleans County farms: sweet corn from Bloomingfield Farm, kale and cilantro from the Garden of Eurbin, garlic from Irasburg Organics, red onions from Heartwood Farm, chicken from Apple-Ledge Farm, beef from Springhill Angus, more beef from Tangletown Farm, and heirloom tomatoes from Peace of Earth Farm. Even if the judges confer the Best Chili Award to another chef, there’s over a thousand people here in the Kingdom that Meghan and The Lunch Box Mobile have fed, and who would agree: she’s our winner.