Editor's Note Spring 2014

Sugaring 1974 Barre, VT
Sugaring 1974 Barre, VT

Written on

February 19 , 2014

Every now and then, I wonder what life would be like without any small farms. If Vermont’s diversified farmers were to pack up and sell out. If there were no longer a neighborhood farmers’ market to wander through on a Saturday morning. If those of us who regularly buy local food had to go back to fondling Chilean apples and freakishly large carrots at the grocery store.
I know, it’s a bleak scenario—but don’t put down the magazine! This isn’t going to happen anytime soon, if ever. Our farms are getting stronger by the day, with many great minds working on issues of farm viability, farmer health, soil regeneration, fair food policy, and land affordability. In many ways, it’s a very exciting time to be a farmer, with all the intellectual inquiry and support.
The problem is that the majority of the public may not be aware that threats to the small farmer are very real.
One major threat is low-profit margin, as farmer Mari Omland points out on page 22 of this issue. If farmers are unable to save for retirement, pay for their children’s education, or afford decent health care, will they continue to farm? Other threats include physical burnout, being able to stay on (afford) one’s land, navigating government regulations, and handling new challenges brought by climate change.
It seems to me that we who buy local food should be aware of what small farmers are up against; if so, we might think of some creative ideas for how we can support them, beyond just engaging in a monetary transaction. Farmers are the last people to ask for help and are the most resilient people in our communities. But remember the old-time “husking bees,” when neighbors turned out to shuck a farmer’s entire corn harvest? What fun, and what a contribution.
Greater awareness of what farmers are facing could also lead consumers to more easily accept some of the “high” prices and apparent inconveniences that come with buying local. We might even start dabbling in citizen lobbying or community organizing to spark policy change that strengthens the lives of small farmers.
We at Local Banquet are interested in addressing some of the thornier issues now facing Vermont farmers and the local food movement—issues that can get obscured by delight over August tomatoes or the sight of Jersey cows in a spring meadow. If the public doesn’t know what’s threatened, how can they be asked to safeguard it?
Of course, as the magazine looks at these tough issues more closely, we’ll keep bringing you the tasty stories, too, and the illuminating ones. Inspiration will always be our main ingredient.
It’s easy to take local food for granted, but at the end of the day, that food is on our plate because somebody decided to farm—and farm responsibly. Let’s do what we can to keep them farming.
                    —Caroline Abels

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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.