A photo to get you in the spirit: This beautiful snowy owl (I called him Solstice) spent some time in a grove of Shelburne Christmas trees in December 2020 and created some great zoom lens photo ops! We hope s/he is still safe and thriving out in the world during this holiday season. Photo credit: Kristin Haas
We are excited to share some holiday cheer in this light-hearted edition of Field Notes. We do this the way we know how to do it best – through good food! Keep reading if this piques your interest!
We are also pleased to “introduce” you to your Food Safety & Consumer Protection (FSCP) “town clerks”. It is no secret that Vermont’s actual town clerks are the best sources for municipal information. Similarly, Stephanie Parks, Ian Wilson, and Alma Greene are the FSCP public servants who quickly respond to and triage your inquiries and grant access into the Agriculture building during in-person visits. They are likely your first points of contact when you reach out to our Dairy, Animal Health, Weights & Measures, Agricultural Products and Meat Inspection programs. In this remote world we all continue to navigate, we want to attach some friendly faces to their names so you know who you are communicating with the next time you reach out to the FSCP Division. Stephanie, Ian and Alma are an essential part of our team!
The holiday season would not be complete without reindeer, right? Did you know that we are lucky to have a reindeer farm right here in Vermont? Keep reading to learn how you can meet these wonderful animals this holiday season without having to travel to the North Pole!
Finally, we have included some holiday themed regulatory paperwork - the kind we are sure you will appreciate!!
A Holiday Recipe to Challenge Your Culinary Skills and Tempt Your Tastebuds!
We have said it before, and we'll say it again: if you eat, we are your people!
That statement really resonates during the holiday season when many Vermonters are hunkered down around festive dinner tables with family and friends (albeit perhaps remotely on a virtual platform in this day and age) enjoying a good meal together! Prior editions of Field Notes have described the farm-to-fork roles that our Animal Health, Dairy, Meat Inspection, Agricultural Products, and Weights and Measures teams play in getting your favorite foods onto your dinner plates.
To recap, our Animal Health Specialists ensure livestock and poultry remain disease-free and are fully traceable during the pre-harvest phase; Meat Inspection and Dairy Teams inspect dairy, meat and poultry products, production facilities and equipment to ensure sanitation and humane handling of animals; our Agricultural Products Team verifies your fruits, veggies, eggs and other raw agricultural products are produced in a sanitary manner and properly labeled; and our Weights and Measures Team works very hard to make sure all of these food products sold at retail are accurately priced, weighed and labeled. To sum things up, there is a lot of FSCP equity invested in every meal you eat, regardless of your dietary preferences!
While it is virtually impossible to find a single recipe that incorporates every food commodity listed above, the one we challenge you with here comes very close. We are privileged to share with you an authentic Mexican holiday recipe straight from the kitchen of Alma Greene, one of our newest FSCP team members who you will "meet" in the next article.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to give this Greene family favorite dish a go sometime over the holiday season. Although traditionally consumed as a Christmas meal in some parts of Mexico, we think it is fine to put this culinary delight on your to-do list anytime over the winter. After all, we do leave our Christmas wreaths on our doors until April or ice-out, so why should we limit consumption of a scrumptious authentic holiday meal to a shorter period of time!?
Here is your playbook and a little bit of history behind this culinary delight: Oaxacan Tamales. Happy cooking!
Oaxacan Tamales. Photo taken from iStock Photos
Mexican cuisine is so rich and vast that you could spend your entire life exploring it without ever knowing all the flavors and variations of every dish in every region. Tamales are a pre-Hispanic food that has survived centuries of changes in Mexico: wars, famine, more wars, foreign invasions, political and cultural upheaval, and other disruptive events.
There are more than 200 kinds of tamales in Mexico. They can be savory or sweet, and they are eaten by persons from all walks of life. They are for everybody! Tamales are a popular meal for festive celebrations, including Christmas dinners, and the ingredients are a bit easier to find in the US as compared to other authentic celebratory main courses (see below for ingredient sources).
Oaxaca is a State located in southwest Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean side of the country. Alma's genealogy research has demonstrated that she has ancestors from this region of Mexico so her preference for Oaxacan tamales is the result of Nature and Nurture.
The ingredients (for 18-20 tamales):
4 pieces of banana leaves
Hoja Santa leaves (called Mexican pepper leaf or sacred leaf in English) This ingredient is used almost at the end of the assemble of the tamal. If you get it fresh, wash the leaves and let them dry in between some paper or cloth kitchen towels. If you get it dry, use it as it is.
For the meat:
water enough to cover the meat in a pot.
28 ounces of meat (chicken or pork shoulder)
4 garlic cloves
½ tsp salt
For the sauce:
1 Chile guajillo
2 pieces of Chile ancho
1/2 medium onion
1 garlic clove
cumin, cloves, marjoram (to taste)
For the dough:
53 ounces nixtamalized corn dough
11 ounces of lard (may substitute with 200-250 grams of vegetable shortening or vegetable oil, although it will change the flavor significantly)
salt - start with 4 tablespoons and ration to taste. Cooking will decrease the saltiness so it is OK for the raw dough to be slightly salty.
In a large saucepan, cover the pork with water and add 4 cloves of garlic, ½ onion, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
When it comes to a boil, cover and simmer for 40-60 minutes or until the meat is tender (the meat can be also cooked in a crock pot overnight).
Shred the meat and reserve the broth.
Grill the chiles in a hot pan for 4 seconds each side; place them in a bowl; cover them with hot water; let them rest for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, roast, peel, and puree the tomatoes
Roast the onion, garlic, cloves and spices. Take care to avoid over-roasting the spices. Otherwise the sauce will be bitter.
Drain the chiles and blend them with the roasted onion, garlic, marjoram, cloves and 1 cup of the reserved broth.
In a pan, melt 1 tablespoon of lard/shortening/vegetable oil and sauté the previous mixture for 4 minutes.
Add the tomato puree to the pan and continue cooking for 6 more minutes.
Add the meat, mix well and cover. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes.
Roast the banana leaf on direct flame of the range or grill for 5 seconds each side.
Cut the banana leaf into 6 x 6-inch squares.
Mix 2 tablespoons of butter with the dough for 5 minutes.
Grease one side of the banana leaf with lard/shortening/oil.
Place a 3-inch square of dough on the banana leaf that has been greased, and top with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the meat mixture.
Add a piece of hoja santa (if the hoja santa is big, just cut it to fit the square shape of the tamal).
Fold the opposite edges of the sheet to the center, and then fold the other two edges to form a closed square.
To secure the tamales, tie them with thin strips of the same sheet or a string.
Add 2 cups of the water to a pressure cooker with a steaming rack, cover the rack with banana leaves.
Place the tamales on top of the ‘banana leaves rack’ and cover them with more banana leaves. If you don’t have more banana leaves, just place a damp cloth on the top. Be sure to place the tamales in the pan flat/horizontally rather than upright/vertically!
Cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes or cook in a steamer for an hour or until the tamales are cooked. If you are cooking the tamales in a steamer, place a clean penny on the bottom of the pot. If you don’t hear the coin moving, it means you need to add more water!
If you want to also check the box on dairy and get a chocolate fix with your tamales at the same time, consider making a batch of champurrado, a traditional drink that is often paired with Oaxacan tamales. Find the recipe here!
Meet Your Wonderful FSCP "Town Clerks"
Stephanie Parks, Administrative Services Coordinator Extraordinaire, ready for anything anyone can send her way!
Simply put, Stephanie Parks is a force of nature! Currently in her 38th year with the Agency of Agriculture, there is very little that she doesn't know, herself, or doesn't know who to engage to get the answers you need! Although Stephanie primarily supports the Animal Health section in ways too numerous to count, she is well versed in other Agency programs and is always willing to pinch hit to fill the gaps. Stephanie has also mentored and trained many new employees over the years, and we are fortunate that she has been able to pay it forward and pass on her knowledge and expertise to her colleagues, for your benefit.
Stephanie is our guru when it comes to tracing livestock, whether for drills or real-life emergencies. While we certainly hope that Vermont does not experience a high consequence animal disease outbreak, we know that Stephanie's "contact tracing" skills will enable the Animal Health team to contain disease spread as quickly as possible, thereby lessening the impact to Vermont's animal agricultural industries, should we be faced with that circumstance in the future.
You will usually find Stephanie working her magic in our Montpelier office, and when asked what her most memorable phone call has been in almost four decades of state service, she says there are too many to even recall! She has enjoyed helping so many people (us and you!) over the years and working with a knowledgeable, dedicated, and great group of colleagues. Even after so many years of public service, Stephanie reassures us that she still finds happiness in the work she completes on a daily basis!
Sometimes, that work does get a bit messy, though. Stephanie recalls one time more than a decade ago when she was assisting the animal health specialists with sample collections on a Vermont dairy farm, and as is always possible in that environment, Stephanie found herself abruptly on the ground after stepping on a "slippery" spot. We probably don't need to tell you what constitutes a slippery spot in a dairy free stall barn, so let's just leave it that the cow pies softened Stephanie's fall, and the ride back to the office that day was completed with windows down! No administrative services coordinators were injured during the making of that memory, and Stephanie can still find humor in it to this day!
During her free time, Stephanie enjoys spending time with her family, including her grandchildren, who now live locally.
Thank you, Stephanie, for always being there for your FSCP team and the Vermonters we serve!
Ian Wilson enjoying one of his favorite hobbies: spending time in nature, likely in an undisclosed location on the coast of Maine! Ian's partner and pups are likely somewhere nearby but just out of range.
Ian Wilson celebrated his two year anniversary with the FSCP Division on December 16th, just a short time ago, and he has enhanced our team tremendously since he joined us! As a Dairy Administrator ll, Ian's primary responsibilities are completed in collaboration with the Dairy Program's specialists and managers, but like Stephanie, Ian is cross trained to efficiently cover a myriad of additional responsibilities.
Ian processes all of FSCP's Certificates of Free Sale, most commonly at the request of Vermont's maple and dairy businesses. Issuance of these Certificates enables Vermont businesses to access international markets and helps ensure that Vermont's signature food products are available to consumers world-wide. Ian is also taking on the responsibility of managing the documentation associated with our compliance and enforcement programs so those who find themselves engaging the FSCP Division in that manner may also find themselves communicating with Ian. He is the right man for the job, and Ian's calm, competent and professional manner is exactly what is needed in what can sometimes be stressful situations. For those of you who move livestock interstate, you may hear Ian's voice on the other end of the phone when you call to acquire a movement permit or inquire about movement requirements. Spring through fall is the busy season for livestock movement in Vermont, and Ian works closely with Stephanie to efficiently field the call volume, keeping your livestock in commerce!
Not long after Ian joined the FSCP team, the world changed dramatically, but he has rolled with the punches and maintained a high level of efficiency, professionalism and patience, despite having to onboard with the Agency under challenging (and remote) circumstances.
Ian notes that the cooperation and teamwork displayed by his FSCP colleagues have brought a sense of unity, kindness and efficiency to each day, and he appreciates the many moments during the Covid-19 pandemic where the whole team has been able to navigate varied degrees of difficulty in order to consistently move forward. Ian has also appreciated the kind words and smiles in the workplace and acknowledgments given. He is always quick to return that kindness, and we know that comes through in his communications with you, too!
Ian marvels at the entrepreneurial mindset of Vermonters, especially within our dairy industry, and has enjoyed triaging and troubleshooting Vermonters' questions related to novel business ideas. That creativity and perseverance is one of the things that makes Vermont special, and Ian is now able to experience that first-hand. We know that once you talk with Ian, you will appreciate his excellent customer service as much as we do - thank you, Ian!
Alma Greene and her 10 month old daughter. What better way to commemorate Alma's new position with the Meat Inspection section than with a photo of her beautiful daughter in a cutie-pie turkey outfit for Thanksgiving. Priceless!
In addition to Alma's culinary talents, which you have already gotten a "taste" of, she also is one of FSCP's newest employees, having started employment with the Agency of Agriculture in October of this year. Alma's tenure with Vermont state government has been a bit longer - 11 years - and we are fortunate to have crossed employment paths with such a talented and dedicated team member!
Since her arrival, Alma has been drinking from the proverbial fire hose. The Meat Inspection program is complex and operates under a mixture of state and federal laws, rules and directives, but Alma has been methodically working through those complexities to fully understand the program she supports while also embracing opportunities for cross-training. A strong work ethic and enthusiasm for the charge at hand are not trainable attributes - you either have them or you don't. Alma has them in spades, and her positive attitude and willingness to learn are infectious and inspiring to those who work with her. We are confident that any interaction you have with Alma will leave you in a better mood after as compared to before!
Make no bones about it - work can be stressful in the busy Meat Inspection section, but Alma I loves the team spirit of her work unit. She appreciates that everybody is willing to lend a helping hand and work together toward common goals to ensure safe food products. Alma also enjoys sharing her culture and traditions with co-workers and with all of you! If you choose to tackle the creation of Oaxacan tamales, Alma would love to know how you fare!
In her spare time, Alma enjoys sewing, playing piano, listening to jazz, reading, cooking, and swimming. In the summer she takes care of a small garden where she grows peonies, herbs and vegetables. And of course, Alma spends considerable time taking her daughter on rides to show her the beauty of Vermont. Sounds like a pretty great way to grow up!
We look forward to many more years with Alma on our team and know that you will be in fantastic hands any time you communicate with her. Welcome to the team, Alma!
Please reach the work units within the FSCP Division using the following:
Agricultural Products - (802)828-2433
Animal Health - (802)828-2421
Dairy - (802)828-2433
Meat Inspection - (802)828-2426
Weights and Measures - (802)828-2433
For other Agency of Agriculture contact information, visit the Agency website contact page.
We know you will be in great hands with any of the Agency's "town clerks"!
OK, Let's Talk Reindeer...
The Vermont Reindeer Farm, one of Vermont's most unique attractions! One of their famed reindeer is striking a pose here!
Photo credit: Pauline Broe
Do you have a child, or are you an adult who is "young at heart" and still certain that you can hear those hoofbeats and sleigh bells on your roof Christmas Eve, late at night, after everyone has gone to bed? I am the latter and proud of it! Even if you are neither and instead would just enjoy knowing about a really fun opportunity in Vermont this holiday season and beyond, keep reading!
Vermont has reindeer! In fact, Vermont has 8 captive cervid farms spread through our mountains and valleys, ranging from captive fallow deer, to red deer, to elk, to yes, one reindeer farm! Captive cervid farmers and owners must meet strict facility, animal ID, and disease testing requirements to minimize the potential of disease spread between these non-native species and native white tailed deer and to ensure our ability to mitigate disease spread should disease be detected. Our Animal Health Specialists inspect all captive cervid facilities and the animals they contain at least annually and more often if needed to confirm compliance with Vermont's captive cervid rules.
But, back to the reindeer...
Taking a break between visits...
Photo credit: Dee Jay Johnny
A visit to the Vermont Reindeer Farm, owned by the Broe family and located in West Charleston, should be on everyone's bucket list during the holiday season. While there, you can attend Reindeer School and learn about these wonderful animals, get up close and personal with Vermont's version of Santa's sleigh-pullers, and enjoy a seasonal snack to top off the whole experience! Vermont's reindeer are almost as busy as Santa's team this time of the year, though, so advanced booking for this experience is required. Walk-in visits will disrupt reindeer beauty sleep and are not allowed.
If you want to take advantage of the opportunity to meet these reindeer "around the town", there are multiple opportunities in coming days, none of which require an advanced booking and most of which are free. You can visit Vermont's reindeer at the following locations:
Thursday, December 23 from 12:00 - 3:00pm at Miller's Pub, Newport
Friday, December 24 from 12:00 - 3:00pm at Smugglers Notch, Jeffersonville
Monday, December 27 from 11:00am - 3:00pm at Echo Science Center, Burlington (admission fee to Echo required)
Friday, December 31, 12:00 - 3:00pm at Von Trapp Lodge, Stowe
Because things sometimes come up unexpectedly, please visit the Vermont Reindeer Farm's Facebook page for the most up to date scheduling information.
John and Pauline Broe with one of their prized reindeer, all decked out for the season! Photo credit: Dee Jay Johnny
Let's Not Forget the Most Important Part of This Whole Deal - Santa's Passage into VT!
Like all livestock traveling interstate, whether by land or by air, Santa's reindeer need a certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI) and a permit documenting where they are flying from and to, and attesting to the fact that they are fit for travel. We are pleased to let you know that we JUST completed the CVI, and Stephanie, Ian and Alma worked together to get the permit issued in record time. Even though Santa Claus is a bit of a procrastinator, the Agency's customer service was still spot on for this VIP visitor and his team of magical reindeer. Thanks to these efforts, Santa and his reindeer are free to enter Vermont, which means...
BRING ON CHRISTMAS!!!
December 23, 2021
It is my distinct pleasure and privilege to notify you, on behalf of Vermont Governor Phil Scott and Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts, that passage into and through Vermont on Christmas Eve 2021 is granted. I have worked with Alaska State Veterinarian Dr. Bob Gerlach to verify that your esteemed reindeer team is in good health and fit for travel at altitudes of 10,000 ft or less. As Vermont’s highest peak is under 5,000 ft, this allowance should be sufficient to ensure safe passage throughout the Green Mountain State. Please find your certificate of veterinary inspection attached.
There are several reminders I would like to offer that might help ease your travel and ensure your reindeer team maintains the strength needed to complete the task at hand:
Vermont has snow on its peaks, which should reflect Rudolph’s nose nicely, light the surrounding sky, and prevent accidents. The Christmas Eve weather forecast calls for partly cloudy skies so during portions of your travel, you may need to instruct Rudolph to turn on his high beams.
Although Vermont is the only land-locked New England state, we lay claim to Lake Champlain, which can provide a lovely water break should your reindeer team get thirsty while here. Although the ocean is certainly beautiful, we would always recommend fresh water over salt for reindeer drinking, and you will have plenty of it here, should you need it.
The Vermont landscape is dotted with beautiful farms, many with cozy barns warmed by the body heat of dairy cows and other livestock. If your team needs a breather at any point while in Vermont, I am confident that our farmers would open their barn doors to you for a short rest before you head out again. We even have a reindeer farm here in Vermont if Rudolph and his teammates would prefer to nestle down with other reindeer.
Not all Vermont households have had their chimneys cleaned yet this year. Please take care when entering Vermont houses that way. You might want to carry with you a few pairs of coveralls that can protect your bright red suit from unwanted soot accumulation.
The children and young-at-heart adults of Vermont are extremely excited about your arrival, and thank you for making your epic journey to spread joy again this year. Please do not hesitate to reach out if I can be of service to you or your team. Fly well, and we wish for you a nice long nap afterwards and many carrot rewards for your hard-working reindeer. Peace to you, Mrs. Claus, the elves and your reindeer team this holiday season and beyond!
Thank you, Santa!
Kristin M. Haas, DVM
Vermont State Veterinarian
Supporting cover letter issued to Santa - fly strong and shine brightly, Rudolph!
OK, that is a wrap on your 2021 holiday edition of Field Notes and on our inaugural year of Field Notes! On behalf of the Food Safety and Consumer Protection Division and the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, I want to thank you for subscribing to what we hope has been an informative and entertaining newsletter. We have loved having you along for this ride and look forward to continuing to educate you about the work of the Food Safety and Consumer Protection Division in 2022 and beyond. -Kristin
To peruse prior editions of Field Notes, visit our website.
If you have friends or colleagues who might benefit from receiving future editions of Field Notes, they can subscribe here.
Regardless of how you celebrate this holiday season, we hope it is filled with peace, health, and happiness!