• Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Although this magazine is young, we who put it together each season are beginning to notice a thread running through it: that of the old. In many of the stories that have appeared in our first three issues, there are references to our Vermont farmer ancestors and to the various agricultural pursuits and culinary experiments they engaged in. To be honest, this wasn’t planned.

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  • Biodynamics and Me

    Biodynamics and Me

    I have never thought of myself as a “spiritual” person. Although I have much admiration for the values and ethical traditions associated with the secular Judaism I was raised in, I have tended to eschew the organized aspect of religion. My secular upbringing did not prevent me, however, from noticing that the world around me was spectacularly complex and beautiful. The littlest things (a spider’s web!) inspired my utmost appreciation and respect. Later, I channeled this appreciation in the direction of science, trying to understand life processes through the study of biology and botany, microbiology and biochemistry.

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  • Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    If you’re reading this magazine, you’ve probably seen one of those lists that explain all the great reasons to buy local food. I’ve seen them so many times I can recite the reasons by heart: local food tastes better, it keeps family farmers in business, it’s better for the environment. But here’s an item I’ve never seen on one of those lists: local food costs less. That’s because many people—myself included—assume that buying local food means spending more money per item. We believe there must be a higher cost to something that represents an investment in our health, the environment and the local economy.

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  • A Community Buys a Farm

    A Community Buys a Farm

    Robin McDermott is gazing towards the Mad River across a field dusted with early November snow. The frozen grass crunches beneath our feet as we walk past an old milking barn, standing huge and empty now for 40 years. Several acres of good agricultural soil, once carefully maintained, now lie fallow. “We need more farmers here,” McDermott says simply. As a founding member of the Mad River Localvores, she should know.

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  • Pete's Good Eaters

    Pete's Good Eaters

    In the garage-sized farm stand where summer customers palmed pudgy tomatoes and grabbed up bunches of basil, the red manure spreader was parked for the winter. It was mid-November, and the plumes of celosias and sprawling nasturtiums that had been growing on the farm stand’s eye-catching “living roof” were a black, tangled thatch. But despite these concessions to the season at Peter Johnson’s farm in Craftsbury Village, there was lettuce growing in the greenhouse, workers making sauerkraut in the barn, and purple sacks on a cart, waiting to be picked up by local CSA members on their commute home.

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  • Beyond Maple Syrup

    Beyond Maple Syrup

    On Sunday mornings during my childhood in Burlington, my father would make heaping stacks of pancakes on the wood stove. My sister and I eagerly awaited the moment when we would pour dark amber maple syrup on our plates to make our doughy boats float in a pool of sweetness. As a child, I took for granted that maple syrup, that quintessential Vermont ingredient, was an important part of the culture in my state. But today, a shift in ecological conditions thought to be triggered by global warming is pressuring ecosystems to move northward. If the southerly range of sugar maples migrates northward into Canada, a vital part of Vermont’s culture and economy will relocate with these valuable trees.

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  • Three Square—Winter 2008

    Three Square—Winter 2008

    Growing up in Vermont, I ate chokecherries, dandelions, venison, and tempura day lilies. When I returned recently, to live here full-time, I began to notice how often the conversation in Vermont turns to food. What’s for dinner? For the next few issues of Local Banquet, I’ll visit a variety of people at home, peer into their iceboxes, and find out what they’re eating and why. And because these can often be personal subjects, I’ve omitted last names.

    Mike likes to eat everything. “Meats, potatoes, vegetables. I like all vegetables. Me, I’m not a fussy eater.”

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  • Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Before I moved here, I always thought of Vermont as Holstein cows dotting a green rolling hillside, dairy barn in the middle ground. Say the word “Vermont” and I could smell maple syrup. Before I ever set foot in the Green Mountains, I associated them with food. Good food. And now, as I prepare to leave Vermont, my home for the past three and a half years, it is food I will miss.

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  • The Underground Garden

    The Underground Garden

    My good friend Robert King, who lives on Putney Mountain, built a root cellar in the 1970s on the hillside just south of his home. Easy access came from the gravel road, where he could drive his truck right up to the root cellar. The site was protected from the north wind and snow drifts. The door opened to the east, not the south where it would have received too much sun. Robert used the Scott Nearing simple stone construction method. First, pour concrete footings and then, using movable wooden frames, fill them with cement and rocks and let them dry. Then move the frames above the first-poured section and start again. It’s simple and practical.

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  • RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    Raw milk cheeses aren’t the only “live” foods getting attention in Vermont these days. In January, Rural Vermont, a non-profit working for economic justice for Vermont farmers, plans to introduce legislation in the Statehouse that would enable farmers to sell more than 24 quarts of raw milk a day.

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  • Survival of the Rawest

    Survival of the Rawest

    Sometimes the food world offers bona fide drama made for “reality” TV. Survival of the Rawest is the working title for my imagined submission to the networks. This virtual “hit-show” is actually in production right now on small farms in the Northeast. And the subject is the clash of live foods with dead ones.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Beets are one of the mightiest of all vegetables. Steamed, roasted, pickled, or raw, beets add color, flavor, and nutrition to any meal.

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Good Bye Rubarb Pie

Barn in winter

Written By

Janisse Ray

Written on

December 01 , 2007

Before I moved here, I always thought of Vermont as Holstein cows dotting a green rolling hillside, dairy barn in the middle ground. Say the word “Vermont” and I could smell maple syrup. Before I ever set foot in the Green Mountains, I associated them with food. Good food.

And now, as I prepare to leave Vermont, my home for the past three and a half years, it is food I will miss.

Little did I know, when I moved my family from Georgia to Brattleboro, how large a part food would play in our lives. Like a blind hog who sometimes finds the acorn, I landed in Vermont during an extraordinary epoch.

Call it rebellion against industrial food. Call it reform on behalf of small farmers. Call it revolt for the sake of health. Call it a riot against Big Petroleum. Whatever, we found ourselves somewhere at the lip of a big wave, a cultural revolution in the republic of the stomach.

What better movement is there than one centered in human pleasure? And with the goal to make life even more pleasurable?

As gardeners, my husband and I had always prided ourselves on the foodstuff we ripped away from bugs and raccoons and coyotes to bring to our own resplendent table. Now all we had to do was go one step further. We had to draw a circle on the map 100 miles around Maple Street and, for one week in August, try to eat only what grew or was raised in that circle.

My only regret about that first Localvore Challenge was that I wasn’t a filmmaker, because the week’s events would have made a fabulous documentary. The kickoff was a breakfast where every ingredient had been obtained locally–the pancakes sourdough, the yogurt homemade. The next evening, in a finished hayloft at Fair Winds Farm, during the first of the nightly potlucks, people served themselves from a long table: carrot salad, potato salad, mashed potatoes, steamed greens, cucumbers with goat cheese, sliced tomatoes with lemon basil and Monterey Jack. Someone baked a custard using blueberries, yogurt, maple syrup, and eggs. Our contribution was a home-grown salad: leaf lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, grated kohlrabi, radishes, Johnny-jump-ups, nasturtiums.

I learned a few great things from my Localvore experiences in Vermont. First, I learned how much satisfaction I get from producing food–making kefir and cheese and sauerkraut and cider. I learned that humans really do long for community, just as the theorists say, and that the experience of it is every bit as happy as predicted. I found that my life was made infinitely richer by the relationships I gained from direct contact with food sources. I also learned that a large group of people have astonishing power; I saw Vermont culture and economy transforming before my eyes.

But not everything is positive about eating local. I saw the elitism, for example. One day when we had the sign out, a woman stopped for eggs. When she learned that we charge $2.50 a dozen, she handed the carton back, shocked. “I can’t afford that,” she said. I, of course, understand the need for farmers to make a decent living, and I understand the evil part that agricultural subsidies play in forcing us to consume bad food, but we have to figure out ways to make healthy, local food affordable for everyone.

We could start with our co-ops. An elder friend of mine has stopped shopping at her food co-op, billed as “the people’s store.” “It caters to the wealthy,” she said. “It’s too expensive.” Angrily, I agree. Why aren’t basic foods, like organic brown rice and pinto beans, sold at little more than cost?

I want to say this: if my husband and I didn’t produce much of our food, we couldn’t afford to be Localvores. And if we both didn’t work at home, we wouldn’t be able to do the cooking that eating local requires. We in this movement need to get realistic about the overworked, landless, nutrient-starved people around us who deserve to consume fresh salad mix and organic potatoes.

While we’re being honest, I’ll also admit that, during the first Challenge, my family’s use of fossil fuel quadrupled. We, like many others, were running around trying to locate food sources–driving up to Dutton’s farm stand, over to Green Mountain Orchards, back to the dairy, up to the Intervale in a search for grain.

Lastly, in this movement, I’d like to see more resistance to corporate food. Getting together with progressive friends to eat an all-local meal is fun–it’s pure pleasure–but what about impeaching Governor Douglas for vetoing the Farmer Protection Act, which would have protected farmers from lawsuits over genetically modified seeds? Why not a Boston Tea Party that would dump GMO food in the street? Why not a boycott of bottled water?

In the end, though, happiness trumps the challenges. One day in December my husband and I woke about the same time and lay in bed, thinking of leaving this place that has been such an excellent home to us these past few years. “Goodbye apples,” I said, thinking of the orchard where we pick, where we buy cider. “Goodbye community garden,” Raven said. “Goodbye sugaring,” I said. “Goodbye Rescue,” said Raven, thinking of his volunteer EMT work and all the friends he’s made there. Our list became a eulogy, a litany of things that we’ll miss because they either don’t exist or will be hard to find in the south Georgia pineywoods home we’re returning to.

Goodbye hills. Goodbye neighbors. Goodbye cheese.
Goodbye impeachment parades. Goodbye peonies.
Goodbye lavender. Goodbye spring water.
Goodbye rhubarb pie.

 Last week, I went to the organic dairy for milk. At a certain point in the road the view opened, and the farm lay below me in late afternoon light, a cluster of barns and milk parlor and house and greenhouse, all surrounded by pasture, covered in snow and dotted with yellow lights. I couldn’t hold back the tears. This is a poignant time. We will miss the beauty–beautiful cows on beautiful hills, tended by beautiful people.

When I pulled into the farmyard, the farmer, who has become my friend, was doing evening chores, and we had a short and wonderful conversation, standing on the porch of the milk parlor. I will miss that. Later, as I drained milk into my glass jars, I leaned my head against the cool stainless-steel tank and wept.

Where we will live in south Georgia, where we are returning to, there is no organic dairy. There is no organic anything. Not yet.

Goodbye milk.

About the Author

Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray is the author of “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” and other books about community and the Southern landscape. She will return to Vermont in June by train to teach nature writing at the Wildbranch Writing Workshop in Craftsbury Common. And yes, she gave that woman a free carton of eggs.

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What we do

A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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