Today in the United States, 1 in 5 school aged children are considered obese according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity can cause serious diseases and chronic health conditions and has often been shown to lead to increased bullying and teasing […]
A vision of kneeling among the plants, picking ripe strawberries, walking to the chicken coop early in the morning to fetch fresh eggs, standing in the kitchen on a rainy afternoon making jam, spending weekend selling delicious foods and chatting with customers as the farmers […]
In recent decades it has come to the attention of Americans that our food system is broken. Commercial agriculture wreaks havoc on the environment and pushes out the little guys who try to compete and unhealthy food is abundant, affordable, and what Americans have been taught that they should be eating. These plus a host of other issues have led to economic weakness within the food system, threatened ecosystems, food insecurity, and rampant food-related health issues. Ben Hewitt, a Vermont farmer, and the author of the book, ” The Town That Food Saved” argues that the key to fixing these issues in our food system is by turning to local, small scale agriculture. He makes many good points throughout his book to support this conclusion. For instance, he talks about how eating local puts money back into the local community. He shows that local small scale agriculture is far better for the environment. He declares that eating locally grown food increases the amount of healthy food that people are eating, and therefore deals with issues of obesity and disease. And most importantly to him, he shows how local, small scale agriculture creates community. These are all great things, and to some degree it seems as if they have worked in this small, rural Vermont town. But what I wonder is, have they really worked for everybody? And is this model realistic for other parts of the country?
While Hewitt does meet and talk with a number of community members in his book, there is a clear lack of perspective from the lower class, blue-collar workers who make up a big percent of the population in Hardwick, VT. Mostly, Hewitt focuses his lens on the agraprenuers (his label for the modern agricultural entrepreneurs who are trying to rework the system) and the back to the land farmers who started their work in the 60’s and 70’s. While these groups do provide valuable information about what people are doing to change the system, they certainly do not speak for everyone. The group that Hewitt misses are those people who may not be able to afford local food, those who are not active participants in changing the food system, those who rely on the cheapest, easiest options that they can find. It is these people that he does not talk to, and it is these people and many others, who may not be well served by a local, small scale food system. In the system Hewitt is suggesting, food may well be more expensive and take more effort to buy and cook. Also in the system he is suggesting many people will have to start growing a lot of food for themselves. This requires a level of time, commitment, and skill that many people don’t have and aren’t necessarily willing to gain. So, while Hewitt’s ideas may be heading in the right direction for the community, many of the changes haven’t and perhaps won’t ever serve everyone in the community.
While I took issue with many of the things discussed above, the biggest question left in my head as I finished Hewitt’s book was whether a local, small scale food system would really ever work for America at large, and every time I thought about it the answer I inevitably came to was no. Vermont is an anomaly in Americas food system, certainly not the norm. The small number of people, high number of farms, and abundance of rural living makes Vermont a uniquely suited place for small, local agriculture. Perhaps in Vermont it could be possible to transition the population to eating all local food eventually. But I truly do not believe the rest of the nation will get there any time soon, if ever. America relies of large commercial agriculture to produce our food, and our entire culture has been based around that. This form of agriculture allowed us to diversify our economy, it allowed us to have abundant leisure time, and it allowed us to eat what ever we wanted when ever we wanted. These are aspects of our culture that have become engrained and they are aspects that we are not going to give up anytime soon. Moving to feeding the country from local, smaller farms would require a huge number of people to start farming again, and it would require huge changes in what that farming looked like. Furthermore, it would seriously limit the types of food that people could eat during different times of year. As wonderful as Hewitt thinks this system might be, and as many of our problems as it might solve, it is not a realistic solution for America at this point in time. I believe that it would be far more fruitful to concentrate our efforts on other changes we can make to the food system. For instance some of these changes might be making large agriculture more environmentally friendly, or working to increase urban gardens and decrease the prevalence of food deserts, or educating the population about making healthier food choices. I believe that these are more realistic first steps and that these steps will help benefit a larger number of people than turning to local, small scale food systems.
On the surface, the day-to-day tasks of working in the kitchen at the Parent Child Center tend to look simple, even menial. Typical jobs range from chopping carrots, to washing dishes, to gathering the number of kids eating that day. None of these tasks seem […]