On Sunday, May 12, Weybridge House will host its spring feast on the lawn at 28 Weybridge Street starting at 5 p.m. Having chosen a Mad Hatter Garden Party theme, organizers of the feast promise a bounty of local fare and what they hope will be an impressive array of headwear.
“I don’t know where to find a hat,” admitted Weybridge House resident Jeannie Bartlett ’14. “Regardless of what I find, my expertise on the Mad Hatter Garden Party theme stems from when I played the ‘Head Flower’ in my second-grade play of Alice in Wonderland.”
Yet the feast is not only about Lewis Carroll’s wild garden vision; it will also provide an opportunity for relaxation and further enjoyment of local food for many in the community.
“Feast is a great opportunity for people to relax towards the end of the semester,” said Christian Cain ’13.5, the senior Community Advisor for Weybridge House. “Though we’re a little late with feast this year, we’re hopeful that people will push off finals prep just a little bit longer, throw on a hat and get down to Weybridge for a giant dinner.”
According to Cain, there are typically between 200 and 300 feast-goers each semester, representing the largest celebrations of local food on campus to date. The only requirement for the event is that participants bring all of their own utensils and preferably don’t take them from the dining hall. While Dining Services goes to great lengths to provide local food on a regular basis, they are faced with the challenge of serving over 7,000 meals a day on a fixed budget. With funding from the SGA, Weybridge is able to offer these feasts once a semester to celebrate eating food that is locally grown (in a 100-mile-radius), in season, and highly nutritious.
The “farm liason” for Weybridge House, Melissa Shapiro ’13, has worked a great deal in the past weeks to source food from long-time Weybridge providers in the area, including Elmer Farm and Gildrien Farm. In this way, Weybridge members are able to help distribute more of the college’s food dollars to local growers, particularly to those that typically don’t produce the volumes that Dining Services would be able to purchase.
“It’s going to be an incredible local meal this year,” said Cain. “Due to budget conservation in the fall, we’re actually going to be able to incorporate some meat into the entrees, unlike in past years.”
As animal products like meat and cheeses are often among the most expensive items to buy locally, they are rarely found in the Weybridge kitchen during the year; special events like the feast offer the house an opportunity to celebrate the carnivorous side of local eating that many wish was more accessible.
“I always look forward to these special events with meat,” said Weybridge resident Conor Wakayama ’14. “I mean, I like the food we have at the house, but it sure is better with a little bacon.”
Another new feature of this Mad Hatter Garden Party is music. Playing in their traditional bluegrass style, Nest ‘O Rebels will perform on the lawn while feast-goers move through the buffet line and fine their place to sit. This will be the band’s second performance after playing at Brooker, Meeker and Porter’s Rowdy Roast in April.
“We’re very excited to have music this year,” said Cain. “Local tunes, local fare — that’s the kind of vibe we’re going for. I can’t wait to bust out a few moves on the lawn. I don’t just like to dance, I love it.”
In preparation for feast, the 18 Weybridge House members will set aside a great deal of time to prepare the quantities of food needed to feed such a gathering. Reaching out to Dining Services and other interest houses in the area, Weybridge residents, commonly known as “Weybeans,” plan to fan out to various kitchens across campus to prepare all of the food.
“Cooking for 300 people in just a family-sized kitchen like ours is not that feasible,” said Weybridge resident Katie Michels ’14.5. “Cooking for 30 to 40 people during the week is alright, but for feast we really rely on support from other places on campus with kitchens.”
One of the main dishes of the meal will be a savory flat bread prepared by Weybridge enthusiast Clare Donohue-Meyer ’16 and Weybridge resident Bekah Wilson ’14.
“I am so excited to try out a flatbread recipe based on a famous recipe of some baker friends at home,” said Donohue-Meyer.
“The recipe will incorporate thin potato slices and goat cheese into a delicious cheese experience.”
The meal will also include bread, salad and other entrees along with a number of desserts like frozen yogurt with fruit.
“As God is my witness, we’ll have local coffee,” added Cain, “even if I have to coax it out of the ground with my bare hands.”
Despite Cain’s determination, his comment illustrates the challenges of providing an all-local meal: some staples simply cannot be sourced in a 100-mile-radius. Whether it is coffee, bananas or oranges, there are a number of familiar food items that won’t be found at feast due to Vermont’s cold climate.
“What we do want to do is celebrate the incredible bounty we have available in the area,” said Michels. “While farmers haven’t begun to harvest most of their produce for the season, there are still a number of spring greens available; and as always, we have Vermont meat and dairy to enjoy!”
“When it comes down to it, my favorite part of feast is that there’s sun and food and music and we all lounge happily on the lawn with so many smiling faces,” said Bartlett. “I just hope the cooks get to eat first.”