• 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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Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

Organizing a Community-Based Regional Food System

2010 No Gardener Left Behind event at the River Garden, Brattleboro
2010 No Gardener Left Behind event at the River Garden, Brattleboro

Written By

Tim Stevenson

Written on

September 01 , 2010

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.

In order to build this necessary social infrastructure, however, we must be empowered to take charge of our diet. We must increasingly remove ourselves from the dangerous dependency we currently have on a government-subsidized, industrially run, petroleum-based, profit-driven food system that provides our sustenance through cellophane-wrapped packages that magically appear on grocery chain shelves from who knows where. But the removal of ourselves from this system necessitates that we accept responsibility for feeding ourselves, growing our own food, practicing root cellaring and putting food by, extending the growing season, and sharing resources and labor as neighbors, while at the same time supporting our local and regional farmers through CSAs, farmers’ markets, and farm stands.

Post Oil Solutions, a citizens’ group serving southeastern Vermont, was founded in 2005 to assist and empower people in their efforts to re-localize. During the past five years, the group has launched a number of high-impact projects related to local food. The core organizing group of a dozen citizens, our AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, and the countless number of local residents who have worked on individual Post Oil projects from Brattleboro to Bellows Falls are truly building a regional food system that has the potential to sustain people, animals, and land seven generations from now.

The Three Rs:

Re-localization, Resiliency, and Redundancy

As its name suggests, Post Oil Solutions is informed by a vision in which we recognize both the end of our petroleum-fueled civilization and the need to transition to the new world we’ve already entered. In this way, we are part of a larger movement, both in Vermont and elsewhere, that believes this transition can only be successfully accomplished through re-localization. The process of re-localization happens when communities increasingly come together in collaborative ways to meet their needs around food, energy, transportation, education, the local economy, wellness and health care, and everything else in our lives that is now dependent upon black gold.

Post Oil Solutions’ initial efforts were aimed at helping people re-localize around food: organizing community gardens, a winter farmers’ market in Brattleboro, CSAs, an Eat More Local pledge campaign, workshops on how to eat out of a garden 12 months of the year. We largely concentrated our efforts on food because it is second only to water in maintaining life, yet our present food system is based entirely upon fossil fuels, from seed to plate. By focusing on food, we were also working with what, in community organizing, is known as a felt need. We found that food was the issue that many people were responsive to, and one they could be organized around. There are a variety of ways to hold conversations about food and the need to re-localize its production. You couldn’t invent a better community-organizing opportunity!

Our successful food-organizing efforts were more spontaneous than strategic during the first two years. This was not entirely a problem, of course. As a community-organizing project that recognizes the importance of people acting on their lives, and doing so in concert with one another, we pushed for a more action/less talk approach. Getting people moving, helping them to follow through on their good ideas, tackling the low-hanging fruit, holding meetings in which people talked about what they were doing and what they’d accomplished, and building on modest, albeit important, successes—these were essential steps in moving Post Oil to the next level in its efforts to build a community-based regional food system.

After two years, however, we began to recognize the need for more strategic thinking. It had become apparent that if we were to be a people who could feed ourselves, we would need to have a system that was not only re-localized, but resilient and redundant. Since we fully expect the post-oil transition to be a rocky one, full of unexpected events along the way that could suddenly disrupt systems—including those that we presently depend upon for our food—we realized that we needed our food system in southeastern Vermont to be highly decentralized, consisting of overlapping, redundant components, any one of which would be able to replace or fill in for another if it were suddenly not available. This, in turn, would make our food system resilient.

This understanding led to the birth of our Regional Food Sustainability Campaign in the summer of 2007. It consists of five areas that we’ve identified as essential to a viable community-based food system: infrastructure (as reflected in the plans for the Great Falls Food Hub in Bellows Falls); home gardening (Post Oil has hosted a number of instructional gardening workshops); acquiring land for farming (we are exploring the idea of creating an incubator farm); access to local food for all (see next paragraph); and the kind of re-localizing projects that Post Oil started out doing and continues to do (see postoilsolutions.org for more info). The common thread that links all of these efforts is the Three Rs, with no one component viewed as more important than any other.

One of the most dynamic projects in the campaign, the Community Food Security Project (CFSP), was successfully launched when Post Oil successfully applied to AmeriCorps for VISTA volunteers to staff the project. With a mission to “increase the access of locally produced food for all people regardless of income,” the project was founded upon the growing understanding that the localvore movement was largely a white, middle class phenomenon, peopled by those of us whose income and race allow us to access local food. While in no way wishing to disparage or diminish the vital role that localvores have played in building a community-based food movement, the CFSP sought to serve people in our society who are often excluded from local food because of race and class. We realized that until this issue was addressed, it rendered moot the realization of both community and sustainability.

Post Oil has been on a learning curve here (see Angela and Richard Berkfield’s “Getting Everyone to the Table,” Local Banquet, Fall 2009) but the project has made our efforts at developing a true community-based food system more of a reality. By developing the CSA Market Basket program at a low-income housing unit in Brattleboro, expanding the Farm to School program in the area, conducting a Rapid Community Food Assessment, initiating a gleaning project, starting school gardens, and doing container garden workshops and cooking classes in low-income communities, the CFSP has been instrumental in teaching Post Oil members what we’ve needed to learn most of all: how to go beyond ourselves and listen to people so that we engage with them effectively. After all, the bane of human existence—ego—is something we’re all afflicted with and need to be as mindful of as we can. This is a lesson that is basic to successful community organizing but one that we must learn over and over again.

Community Organizing

Although Post Oil initiates projects, we don’t own them. The CFSP’s Market Basket program was started at the Westgate community in 2009, but people from that community are in charge of it today. The Great Falls Food Hub Interim Working Committee runs its own show now, not the Post Oil organizers who began it.

We also choose to collaborate, rather than compete, with others. We were only too happy to be invited to be part of the very successful Brattleboro Farm-to-School program, with whom we co-sponsored a terrific farm-to-school conference this past spring. In addition, we are working with Transition Town Putney to develop a pilot neighborhood greenhouse project (seven neighborhoods have expressed interest in having a shared a greenhouse). We’ve also partnered with the Vermont Foodbank around a gleaning effort, and with the UVM Master Gardeners program through our 9 x 12 garden workshops.

In a time of great urgency—“the long emergency,” as author James Howard Kunstler refers to the age of the end of oil—when we believe that what we’re doing today to address issues of sustainability should have been done yesterday, there is a tendency to devalue anything (or anyone) who is not moving forward with the alacrity we deem necessary. But while community organizing recognizes the virtue of action, there is also wisdom in the advice that, at times, we should not just do something, we should just stand there. Part of the art of community organizing is listening, observing, and learning, so that we can understand where people are at and what they want done. In this way we build relationships of integrity—and strong regional food systems, too.

Photo by Sherry Maher

About the Author

Tim Stevenson

Tim Stevenson

Tim Stevenson is a community organizer and one of the co-founders of Post Oil Solutions. He lives with his wife, Sherry Maher, in Athens, where they collaborate with their neighbors to raise chickens and to eat out of their gardens 12 months of the year.

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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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