They have created an agricultural system from the ground up and it has become a Mecca for young farmers who are farming differently, and excelling at it. I like that organic and grass-fed farms are good for the environment, I like that they treat the animal better, but what I like best is that farmers can make a living. I have seen too many farms closed and sold because farming is not life-sustaining. It was inspirational to see farms doing well in a time when family farms are an endangered species. They have created a dynamic and thriving system that works.
We need some of that magic in Upstate New York.
What Makes the Northeastern Kingdom Unique? A Community Committed to Creating Smart Solutions
It comes down to community support of farmers but also services and infrastructure that help farmers process their animals, buy specialized feed, and sell their products. There have been big interests at work systemically closing small processing plants, markets and other avenues that connect customers with producers. In Vermont the community is a force by opening restaurants and markets that help, not hurt, farmers. This is all happening in the Northeastern Kingdom of Vermont. Inspiring ,isn’t?
What makes Vermont’s Northeastern Kingdom so remarkable is that non-commodity farms are excelling to the delight and benefit of the region. Andrew Meyer, The president of Vermont Soy, spoke to us about how the region was hoping to become the Sonoma Valley of excellent artisanal American food. Andrew admitted that his product costs more than other products, but emphasized that it was benefiting the community and the health of his customers. Until our public policy makes things fairer for small farmers, we can’t expect them to be competitive in the price arena. In the meantime, small entrepreneurs and farmers need to create niche products to survive.
I have wrestled with the issue of cost on my blog. I know that grass-fed meats can be cost-prohibitive, and for many of my readers unattainable. If you are one of those people, I hope to ease your pain a bit. When you can support local farmers, do it. Better yet, plant a few tomatoes, get a chicken or two, and maybe even learn to can. Be inspired, not guilty: cook more, savor your food, sit down to dinner, have your kids or partner help you cook, learn more and ask more of your public officials. I know many of you are already doing this because money is tight. The less prepared food you buy the better, because thinking about where your food comes from is essential. I feel a collective awakening in America about food. It is exciting, and I know that change is coming. Believe me, there are farmers waiting to feed us when the playing field is made fairer.
When Clark Wolf pointed out how Americans spend as much money on food as Europeans, I was not surprised. People speak of how low food prices have become, but this is not totally true. We are inundated by ads and messages that make us feel as if we cannot cook, that prepared food will bring smiles to our children’s faces and make our lives easier. If you go to any supermarket, prepared food is expensive, and there are large interests making a pretty penny by intimidating us into buying products we could easily make ourselves. The same is true of chain restaurants who feed us terrible quality food at extremely high prices.
If you go to your local Friday’s or Red Lobster you are not getting good food and you are definitely not getting a good deal. Nor is your community. In Hardwick, VT they have a charming restaurant called Claire’s, which is a community-supported enterprise that nourishes the earth and the community. Claire’s has made a commitment to spending 79 percent of every dollar on local ingredients. I had the pleasure of eating there for my birthday, and I got a perfectly cooked Maine lobster with a glorious ramp pesto finish that was served with a burnt butter basil sauce, roasted potatoes and the most fantastic sautéed spinach. It was possibly the best lobster I have had and definitely the best restaurant meal I have eaten. And get this, it was reasonable!
When food representatives talk about how sustainable foods cannot feed the masses they are right, but not in the way they want us to believe. Their argument is that industrial food is more efficient, and because of this, cheaper. This is not true; their food is cheaper because of subsidies, free federally- funded irrigation, and corporate policies that have promoted consolidation. The system is rigged to make it easier for corporate Ag to feed us. Why have the big packers bought and then closed small slaughter plants? This is not because it is efficient, but because they know that fewer plants benefit their industrial system, not one where local farmers can process their animals close to home and sell to markets and their neighbors. In fact, small farms are more efficient. Vermont is proving this to be true, and I cannot say enough good things about the region and what they can teach America about a vibrant rural economy that creates amazing food!
More to come on the farmers, chefs and most importantly the food of Vermont’s Northeastern kingdom!