Hot days announcing summer’s arrival in Hamilton have given me just the excuse I’ve needed to read under a fan or in the park. I (Lynda) just gobbled up The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food by Ben Hewitt. It is a fabulous look at how the small town of Hardwick, Vermont created a comprehensive, functional and vibrant local food system, proving “what advocates of a decentralized food system have been saying for years: that a healthy agriculture system can be the basis of communal strength, economic vitality, food security, and general resilience in uncertain times.”
Hardwick is a blue-collar community with a median income 25 percent below the state average and an unemployment rate 40 percent higher. It’s a town that boomed on the granite industry but by the 1920s was in severe decline due to new concrete technologies, dealing the town a tremendous blow. Yet despite this historic and the more recent world economic crises, Hardwick has breathed vitality into its economy through an enviable number of food-based businesses built by a group of entrepreneurs who support each other by sharing advice, equipment, and capital. Hewitt questions the popular (and his own) perception that local food is a luxury for those with time and money “to ponder the carbon footprint of their milk and meatballs.” He digs into the stories behind Vermont Soy, Jasper Hill Farm’s cheese caves, Pete’s Greens, and Claire’s Restaurant and Bar among others.
The book is not about cooperatives per say – it’s about food as a means not only to sustain life but also community, about the joys and challenges of working for social change, and about rethinking our entire food-supply chain. Yet at the centre of Hardwick village lies the Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op. Existing since 1975, it serves “the critical purpose of providing Hardwick’s new generation of farmers with a market” for their produce and goods. Hewitt also notes that it provides people with a ‘third place’: a place to come together that’s neither work nor home but is still connected to them, a cornerstone of community life where people gather and ideas are born and debated as people check items off their grocery lists and head to the cash register. “In this sense, the co-op is really just a microcosm of the larger Hardwick ag movement … it is rooted in food and provides an outlet for communal engagement and citizen democracy (all co-op members have input and voting rights).”
The Hamilton Public Library has multiple copies of this thoughtful look at the future of our food system – so sit under a fan or in a park, and read! And imagine and participate with us in building our community, our economy, and a thriving local food system here in the hot and humid Hammer!