Super Senior: Carol McQuillen

Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 1:59 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s springtime in Vermont, and while there’s snow in mountains, down on the farm it’s looking green.

“This is beautiful!” said Carol McQuillen, as we survey a farm field in South Burlington. McQuillen is all about the veggies. “This is health. We are looking at health!”

She’s the volunteer director of Common Roots, a South Burlington-based nonprofit with a mission to feed people with quality food. “I love my life. I get up early up in the morning and I’m ready to rock it,” she said.

On this day she’s rocking it along with Vt. Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts. “What do you have for greens, what are they?” asked Tebbetts.

The long-time teacher is one of the pioneers of the Farm to School movement. She has focused for decades on how good food makes good students. She helped take tater tots and pop tarts off the menu in the city’s schools. “We can do better. If we continue to feed children this kind of food, it’s the miss-education of our children,” McQuillen said.

She may be retired from the classroom, but not from spreading the gospel of good health. Outside, it’s an open-air classroom where the sky’s the limit. “These programs all started in my classroom basically,” she said.

For over a decade, kids have come here to learn by getting their hands dirty. Common Roots is a hybrid, selling produce at their farmstand in this solidly middle-class neighborhood, but also giving some of it to area food shelves. “Yes, there is the affluence in South Burlington, but still one in three children get free lunch,” McQuillen said. “We’ve sent home 13,000 meals that they’ve prepared with recipes for their families.”

They have another location a few miles away. “Does it get any better than that? We’ve got to have events on this land,” McQuillen said.

At the Wheeler House, they’re serving up food to make money through events including Farm to Fork Tuesday and Flat Bread Friday. No tax dollars are used to keep the organization in the green.

Reporter Joe Carroll: What is harder, to raise food or to raise money?

Carol McQuillen: Ah, each have their challenges.

Teaching children has been McQuillen’s passion. The deeply spiritual woman who’s a click away from 70 has looked for God throughout her life. “I would spend a lot of time quiet and praying and reading and crying and laughing and figuring it out, but it all led to very significant things,” she said. including becoming a nun. But before she took additional vows, she left the convent and eventually married, raising two daughters with her husband Kevin. But helping others is still her calling.

Reporter Joe Carroll: So, you’ve always given of yourself.

Carol McQuillen: Yes.

A song she wrote tells about the harmony in her life. “We have one life to live, so let’s make it count. Doing good deeds will sprout happy seeds....happy seeds,” she sings.

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