If I learned one thing from speaking with Laura Brace, it was that she is a powerful force for change. Twenty-five years ago, Laura began her work as a nutrition assistant for Porter Medical center, and over the next eight years she moved around trying her hand at nearly every position in the kitchen, until 2000 when she took on her current title as the Director of Nutrition Services. Wanting to make sure she had all the tools to take on her new position, Laura completed a culinary arts program from the Hannaford Career Center, but she didn’t stop there. Over the years, she has become a certified master gardener through the UVM Extension, completed a family herbalist program through the New England Academy of Herbalism, as well certification as a Certified Dietary Manager and Certified Food Protection Professional through the University of North Dakota. Along with her vast acquired knowledge, Laura’s can-do attitude has enabled her to bring the food programs at Porter Hospital to new heights.
A large portion of Laura’s efforts to make the hospital healthier and more sustainable comes from her desire to support Addison County. Laura has transitioned much of Porter’s food for its staff and patients to locally sourced food. Porter currently serves over 100 different local and sustainable products! She has also allotted much of her time to making the food she serves healthier. Porter, along with UVM Medical Center and several other surrounding hospitals and medical centers, joined the Healthy Food in Healthcare program to utilize the buying power of these organizations to support food that is environmentally sustainable, nutritious, and supportive of producers that treat workers with human dignity and justice. She also partnered Porter with Middlebury Community Gardens. This organization is an organic gardening program that offers plots of land on Porter’s grounds for members to grow their own organic food and form a stronger sense of community around their food. She also works with many other programs such as Vermont Fresh Network, Farm to Plate, HFHC Vermont Working Group, and ACORN that all work to improve health and/or sustainability in Vermont.
Middlebury Foods was actually lucky enough to be introduced to Laura through her work in ACORN when one of our managers, Charlie Mitchell, presented about Middlebury Foods at an ACORN meeting. With her incredible enthusiasm, Laura worked with us to set up a delivery at Porter Hospital for the hospital employees and has endlessly campaigned for Middlebury Foods to help spread the word. Laura orders from us herself and had an endless supply of incredible recipes that she makes with her Midd Foods orders. Two of the meals she has cooked form her Midd Foods orders have been the “My Heart Beets for You” fettuccini special from last month with a garlic butter, pepper, and lemon juice, and a broccoli salad with bacon and cheddar cheese. I would continue with her various recipes, but she had way too many delicious ones to cover them all.
However, while I was speaking with Laura, I could not help but wonder what drove her to, and how she managed to, achieve all of these huge milestones: tirelessly supporting the community, steering Porter towards healthier and more sustainable food, getting the schooling she needed to do her job the best she could, and the list goes on. One of the main reasons she attributes to Porter’s administration’s strong support of her endeavors. Porter works to help Laura implement many of her new ideas and experiments, but even beyond that, Laura grew up with a food-focused family. She was actually born in Porter (!) and grew up in Bristol where her mother always cooked large family dinners and grew food in their garden. These strong ties to food along with the community and family bonds that can come out of good food are part of what still drives Laura today. As someone once told her, “food is medicine,” and Laura absolutely does her part to make sure that the people in Porter and Addison County have access to this medicine.