• 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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Getting Everyone to the Table

Brattleboro’s Community Food Security Project

Liz Sheehan of the Community Food Security Project and Amy Frost from Circle Mountain Farm at the Westgate Farmers’ Market
Liz Sheehan of the Community Food Security Project and Amy Frost from Circle Mountain Farm at the Westgate Farmers’ Market

Written By

Angela and Richard Berkfield

Written on

September 01 , 2009

Food has the unique potential to bring families and communities together like nothing else. But food, or access to food, also has the potential to illustrate how communities are segregated. In our society there is a distinct, yet often overlooked, separation between low, middle, and upper classes, and between people of different races, with the bulk of economic and educational privileges reserved for white, middle-income and upper-class folks. Unfortunately, food reflects this societal separation.

While some people in Vermont have committed to eating fresh, locally produced food as often as possible, many residents of our state are struggling just to put food on the table. A key theme that has emerged from our first year of work on the Community Food Security Project in the Brattleboro area is that many families just aren’t earning enough income to buy staple foods, not to mention fruit and vegetables, and buying local and organic is simply out of the question.

Breaking Down the Barriers

As part of the vibrant local food movement of Vermont, the citizens’ groupPost Oil Solutions (POS) has been working toward food sustainability since it was founded in 2005 to help build a self-sufficient, post-petroleum society. We joined POS in the spring of 2008, as students at the SIT Graduate Institute, and we soon began working with POS Executive Director Tim Stevenson and fellow SIT student Liz Sheehan to design a food security project that would reach out to all community members. We felt it was important to address basic food security issues in light of the fact that more than 10 percent of Vermonters are hungry.

The result was the Community Food Security Project, whose mission is to increase access to locally produced food for people of all incomes around Brattleboro. We took our inspiration from the nationwide Community Food Security Coalition, which defines community food security as “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, and nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.” With this as our goal, we collaborated on and initiated a variety of projects: several new community gardens, including one at the Oak Grove Elementary School; self-watering container garden projects with several partners, including the Southern Vermont AIDS Project; a partnership with the Vermont Food Bank’s Salvation Farms Gleaning Network to bring gleaning to the Brattleboro area; a two-acre farm at the SIT Graduate Institute; cooking classes and community meals; community-wide education and outreach on food justice and food sovereignty; and the Westgate Housing Community Farmers’ Market.

Many of our activities, such as the community gardens, were fairly easy to organize in an atmosphere that supports local food. However, one of the greatest challenges of our work is that it focuses on a generally overlooked segment of society—people who are often subject to the decisions of policy makers and nonprofits, but who are rarely at the decision-making table. Being very aware of our own white, middle-class privilege, we felt a need to break down personal and societal norms and barriers that kept us from listening to the voices of others in order to build true community. We recognized that if we were going to truly bring all community voices to the table, we had to be intentional about building community across race and class.

This is why we initially conducted a Rapid Community Food Assessment in which five focus groups from diverse perspectives—including people of low-income, farmers, policy-makers, and nonprofit staff—came together to discuss food security in the Brattleboro area. This was a chance to learn together about the barriers to food security and what is currently being done about them, while also discussing what needs to be done to make the area more food secure. Based on the data collected in the focus groups, we produced a report called “Healthy Food Is a Human Right! Community Food Security for the Brattleboro Area,” which includes many recommendations for future actions.

The Westgate Housing Community Farmers’ Market

One of the ideas that came out of the assessment was to create a farmers’ market at the Westgate Housing Community, a 98-unit low- to middle-income community in West Brattleboro. We met with residents multiple times, including during a potluck with a nearby farmer, Amy Frost from Circle Mountain Farm. She was interested in selling some of her produce to Westgate residents, so she gave a projected picture of what a weekly “market basket” would contain and at what price. A small group of customers agreed to participate for the season. 

The project started with 10 baskets, and more folks have joined each week. At the time of this writing, there are 15 market baskets purchased every week, and folks—especially the kids—are excited to walk down to the market outside their building, talk to Frost, and pick up their fresh veggies. Frost relies on her regular CSA shares and retail sales at the Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market for the majority of her income, and therefore is able to offer residents the reduced rate of $15 for a full weekly market basket and $7.50 for a half-basket.

“As a farmer, I am low income, and to be able to make a living and serve other low-income neighbors is refreshing,” Frost says. “And I am honored to be able to spend time with my neighbors and to grow food that is affordable for people who don’t fit into the traditional market model of retail prices. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Jesse Kayan, Westgate’s community services coordinator who helps organize the pilot project, notes that “While many lower income folks continue to be frustrated by how unaffordable it is to access local food, the Westgate market basket program is one step toward bridging that gap and making good food affordable to everyone.” A key component of the pilot project is that folks can use their food stamp benefits using EBT cards.

Lessons Learned

By intentionally working with low-income housing sites such as Westgate, we crossed a barrier that opened up space for new interactions and learning. Each site presented its own unique set of opportunities and challenges, which shaped the potential collaboration. In many cases, our ideas of what to bring to a community were altered after meeting with community leaders and residents. One site said that they were surprised, and honored, that we were taking the time to work with them. Another site never contacted us again after our meeting with them.

A valuable lesson came out of one particular community. In the early stages of our project, we brought a middle-class perspective to our work by promoting community gardens there, instead of working with the community to discover their food security needs. Our initial meetings were promising, but the momentum was gone by the time spring rolled around. When the housing authority proposed garden space to the residents, nobody signed up and the project was dropped. Instead of giving up, we proposed to at least work with kids in the community to grow a pumpkin patch, and eventually we planted a Three Sisters garden and some flowers with the children. While we succeeded in starting a garden, though, it was not a successful community-building project, as there was little community involvement. The lesson was that we need to support projects that come out of communities, instead of doing what we think is needed or wanted. We hope that next season we can learn from our mistakes and build on the work of our first season.

There is much work to be done to mobilize more community support and participation in achieving community food security in Vermont. We hope you, too, will join the community food security movement. For more information, visit our blog at http://my.opera.com/foodsecurityproject/blog/ or e-mail the authors: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The Post Oil Solutions website, where the Rapid Community Food Assessment can be read, iswww.postoilsolutions.org.

Photo by Barbi Schreiber: Liz Sheehan of the Community Food Security Project and Amy Frost from Circle Mountain Farm at the Westgate Farmers’ Market

About the Author

Angela and Richard Berkfield

Angela and Richard Berkfield

Angela and Richard Berkfield are community organizers with the Community Food Security Project of Post Oil Solutions. Angela studies social justice and Richard studies sustainable development at the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro. They and their son, Birch, live at Amazing Planet Farm and Justice Center in Williamsville.

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