Editor's Note Summer 2010


Written on

June 01 , 2010

There’s so much about modern American culture that our farmer ancestors could never have imagined. The popular Facebook game FarmVille comes to mind. That’s where you sit at your computer “harvesting” corn and squash from your virtual farm while studying spreadsheets to make sure your farm is profitable. Yes… your farm… your computer farm.

Old-time Vermont hill farmers would scratch their heads and chuckle. But some cultural developments might truly fascinate them. One is the recent arrival here of immigrants from Africa and Asia, many of them refugees. Unlike most FarmVille players, a number of these immigrants used to till the soil in their native lands; now that they’re farming in Vermont they’re growing crops never seen here before (see New to America).

Another cultural development: Vermont stores and farmers’ markets are selling more foods that are popular in foreign countries but that can be made with Vermont-grown produce: kimchi, tofu, salsa. Farmers from long ago would be surprised, for example, that Vermont cabbage is being turned into one of Korea’s most popular foods (see Buried Treasue).

And the undocumented Latinos from abroad who work on Vermont’s dairy farms? Yes, another cultural development that would surprise folks from the past. The stories of these workers are harrowing. They are hard-working people who live isolated and vulnerable lives, as novelist Julia Alvarez has learned firsthand (see Farming by Writing available in print version only; click here to order the issue online). Some farmers, however, are trying to learn more about where their workers come from, and why they need to come here to work (see Mami and Papi).

But just as dairy does not comprise the whole agricultural picture in Vermont, undocumented Latinos on dairy farms do not comprise the whole immigrant picture. In this special issue of Local Banquet, we introduce you to a variety of immigrants and what they’re growing and cooking here. We also take a look at halal slaughter and share some recipes for foreign dishes that can be made with Vermont ingredients.

The immigrant picture in Vermont is about hard work, courage, determination, and adaptation—traits our farmer ancestors knew a thing or two about. Maybe they wouldn’t be so surprised by our new immigrant neighbors after all.

—Caroline Abels

A note from the cover photographer, Ned Castle:

“For several years now I have followed the growth of the New Farms for New Americans project [see New to America]. It has gone from a pilot refugee agriculture project with a handful of farmers to a well-established farming and micro-enterprise program with dozens of participants from a range of countries. The Association of Africans Living in Vermont and, more specifically, Josie Weldon of the New Farms for New Americans program, have done a tremendous job designing and implementing a project that provides unique opportunities for its participants and meaningful collaborations with stakeholders throughout our community. I am always excited when Josie invites me to the farm to capture people at work—which was the case the day this cover photograph was taken of Dina Uwimana, a refugee from Burundi, preparing her plot for planting. Visit www.nedcastle.com to check out more photos of the project and other interesting things happening in Vermont and elsewhere.”

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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 ties into larger questions of sustainability and the future of our food supply.