Fresh & Local
The Town That Food Saved: The Pursuit of Happiness
Column #44, Published July 20th, 2012)
There is currently a food revolution going on. Locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat, and the way we think about food.
Theodore Dalrymple, writing about the permanent British underclass, once observed, “It is a mistake to suppose that all men want to be free.”
The last two weeks I have written about a book titled, “The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food.” The book is about the northern Vermont town of Hardwick, which has attracted a large number of locally grown food producers and support businesses, and become an important economic hub for local food in the region.
You would think that the economic success of these locally grown food producers – and the large number of jobs that success created – would make everyone in Hardwick happy. But surprisingly, there are quite a few people unhappy about it.
Some of the unhappiness is from people who don’t like all the publicity Hardwick is getting. As one person put it, “One of the beauties of this place is that it has always been ignored.”
Some of the unhappiness is from long-time farmers who have lived in Hardwick all their lives, and who resent all the attention the new-comers and “agrepreneurs” are getting. The New York Times wrote a front page dining section story on Hardwick that ignored the people who have been there all along. The new people are now seen as self-promoters.
Then there is the dispute over which Hardwick businesses are really producing “local” food. Take Vermont Soy for example. They make tofu and soy milk out of soybeans. That sounds fine until you realize that it snows in Vermont eight months of the year, and soybeans don’t grow well in Vermont. So the soybeans that Vermont Soy processes really come from outside Vermont.
And how many people in Hardwick eat tofu and drink soy milk? Not very many, so most of what Vermont Soy sells goes to Boston and New York City. So what is really “local” about Vermont Soy?
And then there are people who hate all these new businesses because they are businesses. In Chapter 8, there is a lady that I will call Crazy Suzanna who tries to browbeat the author Ben Hewitt into not saying anything nice in his book about the agrepreneurs. In her mind, there is no difference between the locally grown food producers and industrial agriculture. What would Crazy Suzanna like to see? “The only way six billion mouths can be fed is if 12 billion hands are allowed to work to produce food.” The word “allowed” is a euphemism here because no one is being prevented from producing food if they want to. What she really means is “forced.”
Crazy Suzanna would prefer to see a tyrannical government force everyone into growing their own food. That is truly reprehensible. Has she ever heard of our inalienable rights, and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? It is true: Not all men want to be free.
And lastly, some people think some of these businesses have become too big and too successful. They fret about “appropriate scale.” Eliot Coleman, who I mentioned last week, was interviewed about this. He replied, “I’ve seen a lot of incompetent farmers go under. That’s not exactly helpful, is it?”
All in all, this is an interesting book.
Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org