• Set the Table with Switchel

    Set the Table with Switchel

    Long a staple in Northeast hayfields as a thirst quencher and restorative, switchel—alternatively called “haymaker’s punch” —was a colonial era proto-Gatorade, a source of both hydration and electrolyte replenishment. Recipes vary, but the most common ingredients were molasses, cider vinegar, and ginger, mixed to taste in a jug of very cold well water. While the concoction could have provided benefit to all manner of laborers and sporting folks, its use was particularly common among the workers of the hayfield and the children who carried the switchel jug to them.

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  • Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    When the Upper Valley Localvores took their first 100–mile diet challenge in August 2005, we came upon a serious stumbling block. No local salt! Tomatoes and corn–on–the–cob were abundant, but oh, we needed salt. Fortunately, one of our members had vacationed in Maine and brought back a precious supply of sea salt. It made us wonder what our Upper Valley ancestors had done for salt.

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  • Eat it on the Radio

    Eat it on the Radio

    In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben focuses on the importance of strong communities for the health and well-being of the planet and its people. He suggests that we can strengthen our home regions by producing more of our own food, generating more of our own energy, and even creating more of our own culture and entertainment. To achieve these goals, McKibben advises, we need to build or rebuild local institutions that draw people together, and one such institution that he cites in his book is a low-power radio station in the Mad River Valley: WMRW-LP Warren, 95.1 FM.

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  • A Passion for Artisan Soap

    A Passion for Artisan Soap

    My soap-making journey started a decade or so ago, when I was becoming more and more sensitized (allergic) to mainstream, detergent-type soaps. Eventually I just couldn’t use them anymore. As I researched the subject, I became alarmed at what was being used in cosmetic products on the market, not to mention all the harmful chemicals leaching into our waterways as a result of those products. I decided to start making my own soap, and the enthusiasm I had back then for soap making has now turned into a passion and a business for me. My only regret is that I didn’t start making them sooner!

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  • Halal in the Hills

    Halal in the Hills

    Art Meade is a 59-year-old livestock and poultry farmer with a thick Maine accent and a farm on Route 100 in Morrisville. He also happens to run the only state-licensed slaughter facility in Vermont that caters to Muslims who practice halal slaughter. This is the Muslim tradition of swiftly slitting the throat of a domesticated meat animal with a sharp knife; the animal is believed to be killed instantly and painlessly (though there is some debate about that). Muslims, who are directed by their religion to eat halal meat, can purchase such meat in Vermont stores, but some prefer to do the slaughter themselves.

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  • 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.

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  • The Story of Bread

    The Story of Bread

    Green Mountain Flour, a new artisan bakery in Windsor owned and operated by Zachary Stremlau and Daniella Malin, takes a unique approach to its craft: it uses local wheat, local milling, and local fuel to create its flours, breads, and pizzas. Here, woodcuts that comprise the bakery’s logo tell “the story of bread,” echoing a time in early New England when, according to Zachary and Daniella, “the farmers knew the miller, the miller milled with stone, and the baker baked with fire.”

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  • How to Get Grounded

    How to Get Grounded

    On a road in Cabot, not far from the land that Laura Dale and Cyrus Pond bought this past March, you can look out to the west at a horizon dominated by the undulating spine of the Green Mountains. For many young farmers in Vermont, the cost of land can seem as daunting and insurmountable as the largest of those mountains in the dead of winter.

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  • Tapping for Taste

    Tapping for Taste

    There are people in Vermont who prefer fake maple syrup—not just people who are looking for something cheaper but who actually prefer the stuff made of corn syrup. There are other people in Vermont who don’t talk to those fake syrup types. And there are Vermonters who stand by Grade B for all occasions and others who keep a little Fancy on hand.

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    In the not-so-distant past, eating locally was a way of life and a matter of necessity. For four generations, the Robinson family farmed in Ferrisburgh, at the place known today as the Rokeby Museum. The museum’s collection includes correspondence and household records detailing the family’s ways of farming, preserving, and eating. In the last of this four-part series, we take a look at how the Robinsons cooked, ate, and farmed in the late 1800s.

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  • Classy Wheat

    Classy Wheat

    Last year, I arrived at The Putney School as their new gardener and was tasked with getting the high school students at this Putney boarding and day school excited about gardening. Early on, the farm manager told me he had planted some wheat on the edge of one of the farm’s hayfields. I was intrigued.

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  • Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    As I downshift off the Putney exit of I-91, my husband, Jerry, is roused from his dozing by the hollow sound of several hundred jostling maple syrup jugs. It’s April, time to buy containers for our maple syrup at Bascom’s 10% container sale, and time to post Farm Camp flyers.

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  • The First Localvores

    The First Localvores

    I have always been fascinated by wild foods. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana we had a copy of Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I remember how exciting it was to read about eating cattails, making acorn flour, and brewing sassafras tea. As I recall, the cattail stalks tasted a bit like mild turnips, the acorn flour was tannic and needed a lot of processing before being edible, and the tea tasted like something just this side of root beer. Little did I know as a kid that wild edibles such as cattails and acorns were just a couple of the foods historically gathered and consumed by the first people to inhabit the state I would one day call home.

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  • Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    “The farming of our fathers was exceedingly simple, content to draw from a virgin soil the supplies of simple wants, instead of aiming itself for their increase. With the impoverishment of the soil, with the forests almost swept off the face of the country and the consequent climate change, with the multiplied wants of society and development of so many new industries, the highest intelligence and energies are required to remodel our system of agriculture so that it may fully meet the demands made upon it.

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Eat it on the Radio

Photo of Robin by John Barkhausen

Written By

Robin McDermott

Written on

March 01 , 2008

In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben focuses on the importance of strong communities for the health and well-being of the planet and its people. He suggests that we can strengthen our home regions by producing more of our own food, generating more of our own energy, and even creating more of our own culture and entertainment. To achieve these goals, McKibben advises, we need to build or rebuild local institutions that draw people together, and one such institution that he cites in his book is a low-power radio station in the Mad River Valley: WMRW-LP Warren, 95.1 FM.

For the past three years, I have hosted a show on WMRW that is all about food. The show is called The Dinner Hour and it airs live on Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., replays on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and is re-broadcast on WOOL-LP Bellows Falls, 100.0 FM, on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The Dinner Hour is the essence of what McKibben is talking about when he writes of a “local institution that draws people together.” Most weeks I have a guest on my show, and this allows me to introduce listeners to neighbors they might not otherwise meet: farmers, chefs, food producers, food lovers. Some of my guests have included Randy George, the owner of Red Hen Baking Company, Elizabeth Shepard, the former managing editor of Epicurious.com, Liz and Dan Holtz, founders of Liz Lovely Vegan Cookies, and Jon Steinman, who hosts his own radio show in Nelson, British Columbia, called Deconstructing Dinner. Some of the topics covered on my show have included backyard sugaring, how to make great soups with restaurant owner Michael Flanagan, the procrastinator’s guide to eating locally in winter, and understanding the organic standards with NOFA’s Nicole Dehne. Though the signal for WMRW reaches only slightly beyond the Mad River Valley, topics discussed on the show can be of interest to all Vermonters. (Past programs can be downloaded from our web site, www.dinnerhour.org.)

Compared to a national radio show that is impersonal and fast-paced, The Dinner Hour might seem homely and amateurish. Guests sometimes show up a little late because they had to clean up after the lunch crowd or finish feeding their animals. But it’s that lack of slickness that makes The Dinner Hour and other community radio shows authentic and human. It is refreshing in today’s world of Clear Channel Communications and satellite radio to know that there is a real person on the other end of the radio signal. And because I control the whole hour of my show, listeners are not subjected to advertisements or sound bites; guests are typically on for the full hour, and that gives us lots of time to have in-depth and meaningful conversations.

The real beauty of community radio stations is that they can operate on a shoestring budget. In the Mad River Valley, our annual operating budget is $7,000 a year, which we raise through donations. Our low overhead means that we are not beholden to corporate sponsors or advertisers like Archer Daniels Midland or Cargill, two huge global corporations that control much of our industrial food supply. As long as I am not violating FCC regulations, my guests and I can talk about whatever we wish, and this enables us to have frank and timely discussions about our concerns with the worldwide industrial food system and the importance of strengthening Vermont agriculture.

There are a handful of low-power community radio stations throughout Vermont, and most of them invite anyone from the community who wants to have a show to fill out an application. To become a radio programmer, no prior experience is necessary and the station will provide the training. A few Vermont stations already have food shows (for example, WVEW in Brattleboro has Local Sprouts and WGDR at Goddard College has Food for Thought), but wouldn’t it be great if every community radio station had its own local food show?

I especially like hosting The Dinner Hour in the summer, when people can listen to it on Saturday mornings on their way to area farmers’ markets. People always stop me at the Waitsfield market to comment on that week’s guest or to ask me about a recipe I discussed that uses a certain vegetable currently in season. Clearly the show serves many community needs, and this is exactly what Bill McKibben means when he advocates for “rebuilding institutions that bring people together.” Here in the Mad River Valley, WMRW-LP and The Dinner Hour are doing just that.

Photo of Robin by John Barkhausen

About the Author

Robin McDermott

Robin McDermott

Robin McDermott is cofounder of the Mad River Valley Localvore Project and, with her husband, Ray, works out of their home-based office in Waitsfield developing web-based training to support manufacturing quality and productivity.

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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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