Local Agricultural Community Exchange
Written onSeptember 01 , 2007
When the Farmers Diner left Barre for Quechee last fall, it left a “local food gap” downtown that is being filled by a new nonprofit initiative called LACE. The name stands for Local Agricultural Community Exchange. It’s a local-oriented grocery store, cafe, and educational center located in the former Homer Fitts Co. department store in downtown Barre. LACE’s founder, Ariel Zevon, has made it her mission to help the Barre community reconnect with local farmers and provide healthy food to the people of central Vermont.
The bread and butter of LACE is a store which sells Vermont-made natural foods and supplies, as well as local produce. You’ll find such things as a stick of pepperoni from Vermont Smoke & Cure in Barre for $3.59 and a 16-ounce tub of yogurt from the Vermont Milk Company in Hardwick for $1.50, plus a fresh vegetable section stocked with items from Vermont farmers. (Although all the produce is grown naturally, the vegetables aren’t exclusively organic because LACE didn’t want to exclude growers who are not certified organic.)
Photos and descriptions of local farmers are posted throughout the market, and once a month the community has the opportunity to meet a farmer at the store. An adjacent restaurant serves healthy, locally grown foods. Additional space features Vermont-crafted non-food items, such as handmade soaps and cleaners.
“It seems illogical to rely on mega-industrial food suppliers from thousands of miles away when there are family farms all around us struggling to make ends meet,” Zevon said. “By using local resources our community will become more self-reliant; by learning more about the food we eat everyday we will become healthier in mind and body; by channeling our money back into the land that feeds us we will boost the local economy and preserve our rural farming landscape.”
LACE also has a farm-to-community kitchen which residents are able to use to can their own food or turn local crops into value-added products, such as pickles. There are plans for a root cellar and meat storage locker, as well as cooking and agricultural classes. Barre librarian Heather Herzig currently comes to LACE to read food-related stories to children, who then go into the kitchen and prepare the food. It’s called Cook-A-Book story time.
Zevon is the daughter of the late singer and songwriter Warren Zevon and god-daughter to close family friend Jackson Brown, the popular guitarist and singer. Brown gave a concert in support of LACE on June 13 at the Barre Opera House, raising $60,000. The audience was treated to great music and produce from Vermont farmers.
Zevon said LACE has been well received by the Barre community. And since affordability is often a challenge for stores that sell locally grown produce and Vermont-made goods, Zevon is attempting to serve the whole community by providing leftover food to the needy after lunch and at the end of the day.
“One of my goals is to reach across the gamut from gourmet foodie types to low-income families and to make sure that everyone feels welcome,” she said.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and Ariel Zevon is a mother whose invention was conceived out of necessity. When Ariel, a resident of Barre, realized that she was pregnant with twin boys, Gus and Max, she began to re-evaluate what she was eating. These two new lives depended upon her choices, and the importance of finding the healthiest food available suddenly became paramount. But Ariel couldn’t find everything that she was looking for in one location, so she set her mind to creating it. Her vision became LACE, a market in Barre that sells only locally-grown, Vermont-produced food items.
Ariel knew there could be difficulties in trying to offer fresh, local foods throughout the year yet still be affordable. But then she discovered that other retailers accomplish this by processing and packaging their own line of foods. (Trader Joe’s is one example.) Ariel realized that, by having a commercial kitchen at LACE, local produce and other perishable items could be prepared and preserved in various ways that could make them available during the winter months. This method would keep the price down, since many of the items being “put by” would have already been paid for, as part of the weekly supply for the market and cafe. Additionally, all preparation and packaging would be handled by LACE, as would the picking up of food from farms. This would also allow Ariel and her husband Ben Powell to get to know farmers and provide a service for them at the same time. Once a truck was found, and utilizing Ben’s ingenuity, they turned it into a vehicle powered by vegetable oil, eliminating significant fuel and environmental costs.
Ariel is a visionary beyond her 31 years but acknowledges that one of the biggest challenges still lies ahead: will the community choose to buy their groceries from LACE instead of the larger stores they’ve become used to shopping in? Ariel is hoping that area residents discover the inherent benefits of buying close to home.