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Lift Review: The Town that Food Saved

THE TOWN THAT FOOD SAVED: How one community found vitality in local food. Ben Hewitt 2010

This is an account of how, over a period of about three years, the locals and some newbies transformed the town of Hardwick, Vermont, USA (pop. 3200) from a local economy in decline to a flourishing and largely self-sufficient community of real character.

Hewitt began researching the surprising growth of Hardwick’s agriculture in 2008, on an assignment for Gourmet magazine. The book starts rather slowly, but it’s worth persevering for the developing richness of detail and character. He entered the lives of the locals, and we become familiar with their respective histories, attitudes, aims, talents and weaknesses, and their relationships with one another. A key concept is ‘agrepreneurial’, a word he coined to describe ‘the agrarian entrepreneurialism that infuses many of the region’s food-based enterprises’. These include both new endeavours and greater development of existing ones, including such as Applecheek Farm, Jasper Hill Farm and Cheese Cellars, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Pete’s Greens, Vermont Soy, Claire’s Restaurant and Bar, Highfield’s Center for Composting, the Center for an Agricultural Economy, North Hardwick Dairy (farm), Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op, and others, whose endeavours are explored in great detail.

He describes the general system of food production as: “We've created a system that demands almost no engagement with our food; we've wrung all the responsibility and sweat equity from the process. It's not that we're getting something for nothing - after all, we do pay for our food, and we suffer the consequences of dining from the industrial trough. But charging a package of center-cut pork chops to your Visa is a hell of a lot different than facing down the source of those chops with a .22 in one hand and a well-honed knife in the other.” Then he gives his four specifics of a healthy decentralized food system:

1. It must offer economic viability to small-scale food producers.

2. It must be based on sunshine (not chemicals and petroleum).

3. It must feed the locals.

4. It must be circular (a seed producer, a composting operation, and vegetable and fruit growers)

Not all the people described agree with one another on how to live and prosper. One stand-out is Steve Gorelick, one of the directors of the famous film ‘The economics of happiness’. He draws attention to the effects, good and bad, of the media on such developments. His partner, Suzanna, points out another thing: “There are two currencies in our world: there’s the currency of money and the currency of nature. The currency of money is the one that’s failing us now.” Another unusual couple make their living killing animals for the farmers. All are inspirational in their own ways.

As I was reading, I kept finding passages that I wanted to quote in this review. If I had done so, it would have been ten pages long! For the humour, the variety of issues and ways of dealing with them, for the range of interesting people interviewed and described, for the ideas we can bring into our own lives here – you’ll just have to read it yourself.

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