• Publishers' Note Fall 2009

    Publishers' Note Fall 2009

    There’s a quiet revolution going on.

    On a late afternoon this past July, we visited the Westgate Farmers’ Market in West Brattleboro. Never heard of this one? That’s not surprising, as the market is in its first year and it’s not your typical farmers’ market. It’s a small one by current standards—there’s only one farmer—but its potential is evident in the delight of the children. How often do you hear a squabble over how many bunches of kale to buy or, “Should we get the green beans or the broccoli?”

    Continue Reading

  • How to Start a Community Garden

    How to Start a Community Garden

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

    Continue Reading

  • Horsepower: Taking the Reins

    Horsepower: Taking the Reins

    So much of what I love about agriculture is exemplified by draft horses. Like small farms, they have continued to exist, sometimes in spite of us, and often despite what is popular. They accept the seasons and adapt to them, growing heavy coats in the winter and glistening ones in the summer. True localvores, they eat what the land produces and find pleasure in the small yet important things, like the taste of new grass in spring.

    Continue Reading

  • Getting Everyone to the Table

    Getting Everyone to the Table

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

    Continue Reading

  • Set the Table with Winter Squash

    Set the Table with Winter Squash

    A couple of years ago, as the gardening season at the Westminster West Elementary School came to a close, my fellow Master Gardener and school garden coordinator, Albin Zak, and I joined the 30 kids and their teachers for a squash-tasting event. First and second grade teacher Alison Taylor had made up recording sheets for the children to fill out as they sampled the various squashes we had prepared—they could circle the smiling faces for the squash they liked, and the frowning faces for those they didn’t.

    Continue Reading

  • A New (Old) Source of Local Food

    A New (Old) Source of Local Food

    I hear the dull thump of heavy stones against the trees from far through the rustling wood, where boys are ranging for nuts.
    —Henry David Thoreau

    In this journal entry from October 24, 1857, Thoreau was referring to boys who were “chestnutting”—rattling the trunks of American chestnut trees to loosen the green, spiny husks that held sweet, glossy-brown nuts.

    Continue Reading

  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Autumn

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Autumn

    When autumn arrives in Vermont, it’s as if the searing heat of summer is absorbed by the maple trees and expressed through their blazing foliage. This signals the fiery death of another growing season, and the rapid retreat to winter’s dormancy. Ann Robinson Minturn remarked on this bittersweet transition in a letter to her husband, Lloyd, in September 1866: “The country never could be lovelier in September, I am sure, than during the present one—but it is always a melancholy month for me.”

    Continue Reading

  • Women’s Agricultural Network—WAgN

    Women’s Agricultural Network—WAgN

    We all know that the number of farmers in America is declining and their age is increasing. Given that farming is often associated with men, we may interpret this to mean that fewer men are going into farming. But the word farmer isn’t gender specific. The number of women in agriculture is actually growing, according to experts in the field.

    Continue Reading

  • Communities on the Corner

    Communities on the Corner

    The local foods movement can claim its roots in Vermonters’ earliest enterprises. Long before ski vacations and the Golden Dome, there was boiling down maple sap and digging root crops for the winter. But food isn’t the only part of our local economy with a long pedigree. Our country stores have a history that stretches through the centuries, close on the heels of those first farms. And like those farms, today’s country stores are both celebrated by their community and challenged to find a viable business model to carry them into the future.

    Continue Reading

  • Farmers' Kitchen—No Ordinary Cheese Puffs

    Farmers' Kitchen—No Ordinary Cheese Puffs

    The day-to-day swing of life at Orb Weaver Farm is determined by the season. Spring, with its lengthening days, finds us ending our cheese-making and cow chores and looking forward to the summer growing season. Beginning in June our cows are literally “put out to pasture” for the warmer months, and our efforts turn toward our market garden, which for the past 29 years has supplied our local food co-op with a variety of organic produce.

    Continue Reading

  • Last Morsel—A Farmer Forages

    Last Morsel—A Farmer Forages

    During cross-country excursions in college to nuclear reactors, desert lettuce fields, the Glen Canyon dam and other heartbreaking landscapes, I decided the best way not to perpetuate the hell of modern life would be to learn to grow my own food. To that end, I spent my 20s working as an apprentice on small organic vegetable farms and dairies, then eventually purchased six acres in Craftsbury on which to exercise my dissent. For the past five years I have been raising milk and beef cows, lambs, meat and laying hens, turkeys, and vegetables, in addition to teaching and writing.

    Continue Reading

Getting Everyone to the Table

Brattleboro’s Community Food Security Project

Liz Sheehan of the Community Food Security Project and Amy Frost from Circle Mountain Farm at the Westgate Farmers’ Market
Liz Sheehan of the Community Food Security Project and Amy Frost from Circle Mountain Farm at the Westgate Farmers’ Market

Written By

Angela and Richard Berkfield

Written on

September 01 , 2009

Food has the unique potential to bring families and communities together like nothing else. But food, or access to food, also has the potential to illustrate how communities are segregated. In our society there is a distinct, yet often overlooked, separation between low, middle, and upper classes, and between people of different races, with the bulk of economic and educational privileges reserved for white, middle-income and upper-class folks. Unfortunately, food reflects this societal separation.

While some people in Vermont have committed to eating fresh, locally produced food as often as possible, many residents of our state are struggling just to put food on the table. A key theme that has emerged from our first year of work on the Community Food Security Project in the Brattleboro area is that many families just aren’t earning enough income to buy staple foods, not to mention fruit and vegetables, and buying local and organic is simply out of the question.

Breaking Down the Barriers

As part of the vibrant local food movement of Vermont, the citizens’ groupPost Oil Solutions (POS) has been working toward food sustainability since it was founded in 2005 to help build a self-sufficient, post-petroleum society. We joined POS in the spring of 2008, as students at the SIT Graduate Institute, and we soon began working with POS Executive Director Tim Stevenson and fellow SIT student Liz Sheehan to design a food security project that would reach out to all community members. We felt it was important to address basic food security issues in light of the fact that more than 10 percent of Vermonters are hungry.

The result was the Community Food Security Project, whose mission is to increase access to locally produced food for people of all incomes around Brattleboro. We took our inspiration from the nationwide Community Food Security Coalition, which defines community food security as “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, and nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.” With this as our goal, we collaborated on and initiated a variety of projects: several new community gardens, including one at the Oak Grove Elementary School; self-watering container garden projects with several partners, including the Southern Vermont AIDS Project; a partnership with the Vermont Food Bank’s Salvation Farms Gleaning Network to bring gleaning to the Brattleboro area; a two-acre farm at the SIT Graduate Institute; cooking classes and community meals; community-wide education and outreach on food justice and food sovereignty; and the Westgate Housing Community Farmers’ Market.

Many of our activities, such as the community gardens, were fairly easy to organize in an atmosphere that supports local food. However, one of the greatest challenges of our work is that it focuses on a generally overlooked segment of society—people who are often subject to the decisions of policy makers and nonprofits, but who are rarely at the decision-making table. Being very aware of our own white, middle-class privilege, we felt a need to break down personal and societal norms and barriers that kept us from listening to the voices of others in order to build true community. We recognized that if we were going to truly bring all community voices to the table, we had to be intentional about building community across race and class.

This is why we initially conducted a Rapid Community Food Assessment in which five focus groups from diverse perspectives—including people of low-income, farmers, policy-makers, and nonprofit staff—came together to discuss food security in the Brattleboro area. This was a chance to learn together about the barriers to food security and what is currently being done about them, while also discussing what needs to be done to make the area more food secure. Based on the data collected in the focus groups, we produced a report called “Healthy Food Is a Human Right! Community Food Security for the Brattleboro Area,” which includes many recommendations for future actions.

The Westgate Housing Community Farmers’ Market

One of the ideas that came out of the assessment was to create a farmers’ market at the Westgate Housing Community, a 98-unit low- to middle-income community in West Brattleboro. We met with residents multiple times, including during a potluck with a nearby farmer, Amy Frost from Circle Mountain Farm. She was interested in selling some of her produce to Westgate residents, so she gave a projected picture of what a weekly “market basket” would contain and at what price. A small group of customers agreed to participate for the season. 

The project started with 10 baskets, and more folks have joined each week. At the time of this writing, there are 15 market baskets purchased every week, and folks—especially the kids—are excited to walk down to the market outside their building, talk to Frost, and pick up their fresh veggies. Frost relies on her regular CSA shares and retail sales at the Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market for the majority of her income, and therefore is able to offer residents the reduced rate of $15 for a full weekly market basket and $7.50 for a half-basket.

“As a farmer, I am low income, and to be able to make a living and serve other low-income neighbors is refreshing,” Frost says. “And I am honored to be able to spend time with my neighbors and to grow food that is affordable for people who don’t fit into the traditional market model of retail prices. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Jesse Kayan, Westgate’s community services coordinator who helps organize the pilot project, notes that “While many lower income folks continue to be frustrated by how unaffordable it is to access local food, the Westgate market basket program is one step toward bridging that gap and making good food affordable to everyone.” A key component of the pilot project is that folks can use their food stamp benefits using EBT cards.

Lessons Learned

By intentionally working with low-income housing sites such as Westgate, we crossed a barrier that opened up space for new interactions and learning. Each site presented its own unique set of opportunities and challenges, which shaped the potential collaboration. In many cases, our ideas of what to bring to a community were altered after meeting with community leaders and residents. One site said that they were surprised, and honored, that we were taking the time to work with them. Another site never contacted us again after our meeting with them.

A valuable lesson came out of one particular community. In the early stages of our project, we brought a middle-class perspective to our work by promoting community gardens there, instead of working with the community to discover their food security needs. Our initial meetings were promising, but the momentum was gone by the time spring rolled around. When the housing authority proposed garden space to the residents, nobody signed up and the project was dropped. Instead of giving up, we proposed to at least work with kids in the community to grow a pumpkin patch, and eventually we planted a Three Sisters garden and some flowers with the children. While we succeeded in starting a garden, though, it was not a successful community-building project, as there was little community involvement. The lesson was that we need to support projects that come out of communities, instead of doing what we think is needed or wanted. We hope that next season we can learn from our mistakes and build on the work of our first season.

There is much work to be done to mobilize more community support and participation in achieving community food security in Vermont. We hope you, too, will join the community food security movement. For more information, visit our blog at http://my.opera.com/foodsecurityproject/blog/ or e-mail the authors: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The Post Oil Solutions website, where the Rapid Community Food Assessment can be read, iswww.postoilsolutions.org.

Photo by Barbi Schreiber: Liz Sheehan of the Community Food Security Project and Amy Frost from Circle Mountain Farm at the Westgate Farmers’ Market

About the Author

Angela and Richard Berkfield

Angela and Richard Berkfield

Angela and Richard Berkfield are community organizers with the Community Food Security Project of Post Oil Solutions. Angela studies social justice and Richard studies sustainable development at the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro. They and their son, Birch, live at Amazing Planet Farm and Justice Center in Williamsville.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest. Optional login below.

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.

Connect

Sign up for quarterly notifications and issue highlights.
Please wait