• 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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  • Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    On summer evenings in the garden in Weathersfield, I know it’s nearly time to call it a day when the train whistle blows; over the river, Amtrak’s Vermonter is about to cross the highway in Cornish. As I stand up, knees cracking from too-long bending over the rows of carrots that want thinning, I think about the train on its trek north to St. Albans, and how tomorrow it will head south to Washington, DC. Back and forth, more than 600 miles, each day, every day.

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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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  • Taking it Slow in Italy

    Taking it Slow in Italy

    Getting together, the listening to and exchanging of ideas— that is the miracle of Terra Madre.”

    With this, Slow Food International founder Carlo Petrini welcomed us to the 2010 Terra Madre conference and set the tone for our four days in Turin, Italy. He addressed an audience of 5,000 representatives from 161 countries—small-scale farmers, producers, educators, and observers—who had traveled to Italy to meet with their peers and discuss global issues of food, culture, and justice. We came to take part in the conversation, too, along with two dozen other Vermonters. The experience renewed our appreciation for the value of gathering around a table to break bread and to exchange ideas.

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  • Cookbooks, Culture,  and Community

    Cookbooks, Culture, and Community

    The case for local nuts. No, I’m not talking about your odd mother-in-law, your bizarre ex-boyfriend, or that whacko who expresses herself, extensively, at town meeting. And I don’t mean aficionados or extremely enthusiastic people. I mean those portable nuggets of nutrition, held aloft by tree limbs. A nut, technically speaking, is a big seed enclosed by a hard shell. And even though you’re now fantasizing about almond and macadamia instead of weirdo and diehard, I’m here to tell you about what nuts we can grow in Vermont, and why.

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  • Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    A strong regional food system—one in which the people of a region are participating in their own food production in both sustaining and sustainable ways—is community based. As much as this system grows food, it grows people, encouraging relationships of collaboration and mutual aid, respect and care. No longer at war with nature and each other, unburdened by that ancient power relationship of us over them, and having given up the self-destructive effort to control life, people actively work with life in a community-based food system. In this way, they practice “relational agriculture,” building the social fabric that leads to a truly sustainable food system for all.

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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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  • New to America,  Old Hands at Agriculture

    New to America, Old Hands at Agriculture

    There’s something exciting happening at the Intervale. “So what else is new?” you might say. “There’s always something interesting happening at the Intervale.” But not every day do you see families from more than four different countries, speaking a mix of different languages, planting lenga-lenga, molukhia, or Asian mustards side by side in a lush valley in Vermont. This summer that will be the scene at the gardens at Ethan Allen Homestead, a field at the Intervale Center in Burlington, and on farmland in Shelburne.

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  • 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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  • 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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  • A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    When Joseph Kiefer and Martin Kemple founded Food Works in 1987, phrases such as “food security” and “local food system” had yet to come into common parlance. It was ambitious—maybe even radical at the time—to think of using gardens and locally grown food to address the root causes of childhood hunger.

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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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  • 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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  • 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.

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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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