The title of Ben Hewitt’s book is a grabber. The Town That Food Saved. But it’s misleading. The subtitle comes closer to what it’s about. How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food.
It’s a DestinySurvival Pick. I’d guess its rating is because other readers had unmet expectations concerning what the book appears to promise.
Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t recommend it if I didnb’t think it was worth your time. But it wasn’t the light reading I had hoped for a weekend.
Oh, sure, it’s easy enough to read, and Hewitt’s presentation is personable. But he raises a lot of heavy questions about local food production. It causes me to raise a few questions of my own, such as the one in this post’s title.
Hewitt writes about Hardwick, Vermont, a place I suspect may be suffering like much of New England today in the wake of difficult economic times and storms that occasionally pummel the area. The book was originally published in 2009, after the economy had left storm damage of its own.
A number of people in Hardwick made it their business to grow and market food locally. While this is happening in many other places around the country, Hewitt puts a magnifying glass to the town of 3,200 partly because he and his wife operate their own 40 acre farm in the area.
Though he’s a journalist and doesn’t make a living from his farm, he’s obviously familiar with his subject. He freely shares his own opinions, yet he manages to stay fairly balanced when considering the issues.
Throughout the book he gives a good overview of the down side of our industrialized agriculture. If you’re already a proponent of sustainable or organic farming, this will be preaching to the choir.
Many of us today wonder how long our current system of factory farms can last. Modern agriculture says to farmers, “Get big or get out.”
What can be done to combat that? The answer seems to be to offer value added products. Commodities have to be turned into specialties. As an example, it means selling something other than an ordinary side of beef. Instead, sell grass fed beef.
Admittedly, most residents of this small town in Vermont get their food from supermarkets. It’s residents aren’t wealthy. Nonetheless, hewitt sets up Hardwick as one model of a community that’s moving toward a decentralized food system.
He seeks to inspire readers to thought and action by profiling several individuals and their businesses. One man operates a Community SupportedAgriculture (CSA) operation. Another man oversees a business that produces compost. Another has an heirloom seed company.
A husband and wife team have a mobile livestock slaughtering business. Another family makes soy milk. Yet another produces cheese.
There’s a thriving food co-op in town. A restaurant features locally grown food as key elements of its menu.
All of this was true at the time of writing.
But there’s more to the story. Philosophical considerations are woven throughout the book.
Hewitt is open about the disagreements among farmers in the area. There’s not a unified vision of what the future should look like and how to get there.
For example, what business model should participants in the food movement follow? What is small scale agriculture? What is appropriate scale for food production? Is there such a thing?
Does locally grown food truly cost more, or is that a perception? After all, we’re used to buying food that’s grown cheaply by our industrialized agricultural system. Can consumers be persuaded to keep their food dollars in the local community regardless of what the rest of the economy is doing?
The Town That Food Saved is the author’s exploration of what a decentralized food system looks like and whether it’s feasable. He notes a number of pros and cons.
He lays out simple criteria for such a food system, but he also admits it could take years or generations for widespread decentralization to take hold.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? What if we don’t have that long? What if wild weather and a spiraling economy bring about food shortages as early as this year? Who of us is ready for that?
Won’t extreme conditions and the need to plan for survival dictate what’s practical? What should we expect of a local food economy?
Shouldn’t a community focus on feeding itself? Is this possible? Will what works in one place work in another? Should it?
Hewitt’s book doesn’t address government regulation. If you follow such things, you know producers of raw milk and cheese aren’t popular with Uncle Sam these days, to put it mildly.
How small does a farm have to be to stay under the radar? Can it at least be self sufficient? Can it be large enough to have an income without getting busted? Where should barter fit into the picture?
To get The Town That Food Saved, click on its title wherever you see it in this post. That takes you to the page where it’s featured. Get more info and place your order there.
While Hardwick, VT, may not be a food self sufficient community, a number of people there have blazed a path in a good direction. Thus, it’sworth reading this book and drawing conclusions and inspiration for yourself.