• Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Although this magazine is young, we who put it together each season are beginning to notice a thread running through it: that of the old. In many of the stories that have appeared in our first three issues, there are references to our Vermont farmer ancestors and to the various agricultural pursuits and culinary experiments they engaged in. To be honest, this wasn’t planned.

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  • Biodynamics and Me

    Biodynamics and Me

    I have never thought of myself as a “spiritual” person. Although I have much admiration for the values and ethical traditions associated with the secular Judaism I was raised in, I have tended to eschew the organized aspect of religion. My secular upbringing did not prevent me, however, from noticing that the world around me was spectacularly complex and beautiful. The littlest things (a spider’s web!) inspired my utmost appreciation and respect. Later, I channeled this appreciation in the direction of science, trying to understand life processes through the study of biology and botany, microbiology and biochemistry.

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  • Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    If you’re reading this magazine, you’ve probably seen one of those lists that explain all the great reasons to buy local food. I’ve seen them so many times I can recite the reasons by heart: local food tastes better, it keeps family farmers in business, it’s better for the environment. But here’s an item I’ve never seen on one of those lists: local food costs less. That’s because many people—myself included—assume that buying local food means spending more money per item. We believe there must be a higher cost to something that represents an investment in our health, the environment and the local economy.

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  • A Community Buys a Farm

    A Community Buys a Farm

    Robin McDermott is gazing towards the Mad River across a field dusted with early November snow. The frozen grass crunches beneath our feet as we walk past an old milking barn, standing huge and empty now for 40 years. Several acres of good agricultural soil, once carefully maintained, now lie fallow. “We need more farmers here,” McDermott says simply. As a founding member of the Mad River Localvores, she should know.

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  • Pete's Good Eaters

    Pete's Good Eaters

    In the garage-sized farm stand where summer customers palmed pudgy tomatoes and grabbed up bunches of basil, the red manure spreader was parked for the winter. It was mid-November, and the plumes of celosias and sprawling nasturtiums that had been growing on the farm stand’s eye-catching “living roof” were a black, tangled thatch. But despite these concessions to the season at Peter Johnson’s farm in Craftsbury Village, there was lettuce growing in the greenhouse, workers making sauerkraut in the barn, and purple sacks on a cart, waiting to be picked up by local CSA members on their commute home.

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  • Beyond Maple Syrup

    Beyond Maple Syrup

    On Sunday mornings during my childhood in Burlington, my father would make heaping stacks of pancakes on the wood stove. My sister and I eagerly awaited the moment when we would pour dark amber maple syrup on our plates to make our doughy boats float in a pool of sweetness. As a child, I took for granted that maple syrup, that quintessential Vermont ingredient, was an important part of the culture in my state. But today, a shift in ecological conditions thought to be triggered by global warming is pressuring ecosystems to move northward. If the southerly range of sugar maples migrates northward into Canada, a vital part of Vermont’s culture and economy will relocate with these valuable trees.

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  • Three Square—Winter 2008

    Three Square—Winter 2008

    Growing up in Vermont, I ate chokecherries, dandelions, venison, and tempura day lilies. When I returned recently, to live here full-time, I began to notice how often the conversation in Vermont turns to food. What’s for dinner? For the next few issues of Local Banquet, I’ll visit a variety of people at home, peer into their iceboxes, and find out what they’re eating and why. And because these can often be personal subjects, I’ve omitted last names.

    Mike likes to eat everything. “Meats, potatoes, vegetables. I like all vegetables. Me, I’m not a fussy eater.”

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  • Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Before I moved here, I always thought of Vermont as Holstein cows dotting a green rolling hillside, dairy barn in the middle ground. Say the word “Vermont” and I could smell maple syrup. Before I ever set foot in the Green Mountains, I associated them with food. Good food. And now, as I prepare to leave Vermont, my home for the past three and a half years, it is food I will miss.

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  • The Underground Garden

    The Underground Garden

    My good friend Robert King, who lives on Putney Mountain, built a root cellar in the 1970s on the hillside just south of his home. Easy access came from the gravel road, where he could drive his truck right up to the root cellar. The site was protected from the north wind and snow drifts. The door opened to the east, not the south where it would have received too much sun. Robert used the Scott Nearing simple stone construction method. First, pour concrete footings and then, using movable wooden frames, fill them with cement and rocks and let them dry. Then move the frames above the first-poured section and start again. It’s simple and practical.

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  • RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    Raw milk cheeses aren’t the only “live” foods getting attention in Vermont these days. In January, Rural Vermont, a non-profit working for economic justice for Vermont farmers, plans to introduce legislation in the Statehouse that would enable farmers to sell more than 24 quarts of raw milk a day.

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  • Survival of the Rawest

    Survival of the Rawest

    Sometimes the food world offers bona fide drama made for “reality” TV. Survival of the Rawest is the working title for my imagined submission to the networks. This virtual “hit-show” is actually in production right now on small farms in the Northeast. And the subject is the clash of live foods with dead ones.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Beets are one of the mightiest of all vegetables. Steamed, roasted, pickled, or raw, beets add color, flavor, and nutrition to any meal.

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Survival of the Rawest

Peter Dixon

Written By

Roberto Gautier

Written on

December 01 , 2007

Sometimes the food world offers bona fide drama made for “reality” TV. Survival of the Rawest is the working title for my imagined submission to the networks. This virtual “hit-show” is actually in production right now on small farms in the Northeast. And the subject is the clash of live foods with dead ones.

By live foods I mean unprocessed, organic, freshly-picked fruit and vegetables, as well as raw milk and cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. Raw milk comes straight from cows, goats, and sheep and is not subject to pasteurization (heating to remove bacteria); it therefore retains a lot of the “good” bacteria lost in the pasteurization process—bacteria that many people believe brings good health. Among dead foods, I include pasteurized milk and cheese made with such milk. As a way to sell milk in huge volumes under the banner of food safety, pasteurizers kill a living food in large quantities. Some consumers only want to buy pasteurized milk, and that is their choice. Although I recognize the possibility of contamination in raw milk, many folks, like me, believe there are fewer risks associated with raw milk if gotten from conscientious, small-scale farmers. The Campaign for Real Milk articulates the reasoning behind this point of view; check out www.realmilk.com.

The composers of governmental regulations are busy writing the theme song to this “raw” battle between live and dead foods. In the hot seat are raw milk cheeses, which are one of the last remaining examples of genuine food in this world. According to reports, the food industry and government agencies in the U.S. and Europe are pushing for “risk profiling” of raw cheeses to eliminate potential trouble-makers. A risk profile provides a scientific methodology to assess food hazards. It enables a rational management of risk and is used to protect public health. Such profiles are regularly made for poultry, red meat, seafood, ice cream, eggs, rice, and fresh cheese. But using these risk profiles on raw milk cheeses could lead to demands for their elimination. Because of the dangers inherent in industrial agriculture, there is pressure to make pasteurization the norm, even in non-industrial agriculture. Consider what’s happening to our nuts: in September 2007, the Almond Board of California approved mass pasteurization of nearly a billion raw almonds. If they can mess with our nuts, what’s next?

As the march towards sterilization intensifies, the work of Peter Dixon of Westminster is becoming increasingly vital. Dixon, who has worked as a local, national and international dairy foods consultant and is currently making cheese at Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlett, recently kicked off an important pilot experiment called “The Farmstead Cheese Risk Reduction Project.” Early in 2007, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northeast SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education division), Dixon offered free informational seminars to farmstead and artisanal cheese makers about a food safety system originally developed by the Pillsbury Company and the U.S. Army. The system, called HACCP (“Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points”) helped NASA assure safe-to-eat meals for astronauts in outer space in the 1970s. This simple system identifies and prevents hazards that could cause food-borne diseases. Teaching it to small-scale cheese makers, many of whom use raw milk, means the producers can prevent problems long before they occur and enable the safe inclusion of the kind of “good” bacteria beneficial to traditional cheesemaking—and to our health.

Dixon’s pilot project entered its second phase in the summer of 2007. A group of 22 licensed cheesemakers from New England and New York began to develop HACCP plans for their own cheese making operations under Dixon’s guidance. The project intends to incorporate HACCP protocols on these 22 farmsteads and help the participants advertise the fact that they use this system; they will form a cheesemakers’ association which will present the cheese risk reduction and monitoring program as having value in the marketplace. Finally, the core 22 cheesemakers will administer the program they developed and provide technical assistance to fellow members.

Dixon’s project hopes to improve milk quality and overall sanitation on farmsteads and in cheesemaking facilities so that cheese makers can prove they’re above board. I believe the HACCP program will help head off the government’s potential argument that certain raw milk cheese makers should be shut down. If the agencies took the ultimate step and prohibited the use of any raw milk to make cheese, many farmstead operations would have to close, as regulations would force farmstead cheesemakers to outfit themselves with sophisticated, industrial-scale equipment and facilities that only large-scale producers can afford.

I love raw milk cheeses because I consider them to be genuine foods made by the distinct hand of the maker. Raw milk cheeses generally have fuller “taste profiles” and pay homage to a culture that is eager to express its roots. Now that I’m getting to know Vermont as a promised land of artisanal cheese, I’m hoping that frustration with the food-borne illnesses and toxic outbreaks that occur within our mega-industrial food system doesn’t result in the disappearance of raw milk cheeses made by small-scale producers.

About the Author

Roberto Gautier

Roberto Gautier

Roberto Gautier, a former cheesemonger, studied the marketing of artisanal products and agritourism in Italy and has consulted for Italian organic producers in search of U.S. markets. In addition to managing Fresh Air Tourism (F.A.T.) and cooking classes through Roberto’s Trattoria Club, he is developing a curriculum/internship for sustainable hospitality students in southern Vermont.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

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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