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Hardwick VT: the town that food saved

Mar. 30, 2010

by intern Valerie Scott

We all know what local, sustainable food can do for the health of our bodies, but could it also be a cure for the health of ailing economies? Ben Hewitt’s book The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food delves into this question, exploring the growth of a vibrant local food economy in Hardwick, Vermont, population 3,200.

Hardwick is a lot like how it sounds – unemployment in the town is 40 percent higher than the state average; incomes are 25 percent lower. But in the last few years, Hardwick has returned to its historical roots in farming, with a new twist – local, sustainable agriculture. It’s growing a vibrant local food system that is restoring not only some jobs and higher wages, but a sense of community and food that’s connected to it.

A diverse network of “agrepreneurs” in Hardwick– High Mowing Organic Seeds, Pete’s Greens, Jasper Hill Farm, the Vermont Food Venture Center and so on - are producing organic and artisanal foods and seeking investors. Business owners share advice, capital and facilities. About a hundred jobs have been created.

Sounds great, but is the story of this one town’s thriving local food system unique, or is it a viable model for other communities? As I read, part of me hoped to find an easy-to-follow plan - just do it like we did! Farm this way, market that way, save the world, take a nap. Sadly, social change isn’t that easy, but while Hardwick doesn’t offer an exact blueprint, it is a thought-provoking example of a thriving local food economy.

Hewitt suggests that a couple of unique, and surprising, variables have contributed to the town’s growing local-ag economy: poverty and small size. Hewitt believes that Hardwick’s success is founded upon trust and collaboration which “are in no small ways social and cultural responses to economic hardship.” He also suggests that the population had a “just right” quality that was big enough to be ambitious, and small enough to be fast-acting and flexible.

The best lesson to be learned here is about cooperation and inspiration. The Town that Food Saved is a story about the ability of a group of likeminded folks to come together in pursuit of a passion for sustainable, local food– not without challenges, but with dedication to a bigger vision. That’s what Slow Food is all about too.

If you’re interested in learning more about thriving local food entrepreneurs, Slow Money, a non-profit dedicated to investing in local food systems and connecting investors to local economies.




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