From the Valley News. See the full article here!
“THETFORD — At Camp Billings, nearly all of the campers, counselors and staff know where their next meal is coming from.
The few who didn’t before the camp’s annual farmers’ lunch last week learned from head cook Casey Huling, a former camper and counselor himself.
Huling needed to shout over the din in the wood-paneled dining hall overlooking Lake Fairlee to give a shout-out to the suppliers of most of the root vegetables and salad fixings, as well as the meat in the shepherd’s pie awaiting them in the adjoining kitchen.
“Give me two minutes,” Huling said. “I know you’re excited and hungry. … A lot of the food you’re about to eat comes from the neighborhood.”
Among those neighbors is Phil Mason (another camp alumnus) and his team from Crossroad Farm, just west on Route 244 in Post Mills, and Marc and Lee Robie, who bring beef and pork from Robie Farm in Piermont.
“In recent summers, I’d say we’ve brought over about 500 pounds of lettuce a season, 1,000 pounds of potatoes, 500 pounds of tomatoes,” Mason said. “Casey buys whatever we have to offer. If we have a bumper crop of something, I know Casey will put it to good use.”
Four-year veteran counselor Elliot Shoemaker gave thumbs-up to the bumper crop of kernels that Huling and his team scraped from cobs fresh from Crossroads to mix with the meat course.
“The corn! The corn!” Shoemaker exulted. “I could taste the sweetness in the shepherd’s pie.”
Shoemaker, a 2017 graduate of Woodstock Union High School, grew to appreciate the local ingredients, and Huling’s imaginative use of them, while attending the camp for eight summers in a row before becoming a counselor.
“The food was definitely part of the reason I kept coming back,” he said. “The food’s always great.”
It almost never was when Huling, who grew up in Thetford and teaches social studies at Thetford Academy, started attending the camp in the mid-1980s.
“Terrible!” he recalled during a break between cooking and serving. “And there was never enough, especially when I was a counselor for the older boys, who could eat 4,000 or 5,000 calories in a heartbeat.”
In those days, Huling continued, fewer campers came each summer, so budgets were tight, limiting menus to processed food and government surplus “just because we had to.”
When, after a brief hiatus, Huling returned to Camp Billings as a cook in 2006, he started looking in earnest for nearby suppliers not only because they were local, “but also because the food was less processed. It was more that we wanted to cook from scratch as much as possible.”
Huling supplements the fresh stuff from Crossroad and Robie Farm with supplies from area distributors such as Black River Produce and Upper Valley Produce, and kitchen staff members as well as campers put half gallons of milk from Thomas Dairy in Rutland on every table at mealtimes.
Counselor-in-training Mia Deraiche noticed and appreciated the difference the first time she came as a camper from Montreal in 2013.
“It was so good,” Deraiche said while demolishing her share of the shepherd’s pie. “Not what you’d expect from camp food. It feels like home.”
That’s pretty much what a family friend who came to Camp Billings “year after year” from Wales told Beau Davis, until she decided to attend herself, as a counselor-in-training.
“One of the things he talked about was the food, and now I see why,” Davis said. “Food is such a big part of someone’s day.”
All three meals are big at Camp Billings, where 175 kids at a time — around 550 come over the course of a summer — mingle and sing, as they did through Friday’s farmers’ lunch.
“It’s a bonding point for the day,” Deraiche said.
David Corriveau can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3304.”