• 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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Taking it Slow in Italy

Two young Vermont food producers break bread at the Slow Food International conference

Slow Food gathering in Turin, Italy
Slow Food gathering in Turin, Italy

Written By

Marisa Mauro
Jen Rose Smith

Written on

December 01 , 2010

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.

Slow Food International is an organization that was formed in 1986 in response to the expansion of McDonald’s within Italy. Since then, chapters have formed in 132 countries. They offer an alternative to our increasingly hurried lifestyles and industrial food culture by celebrating thoughtful pleasure and community, and food that is good, clean, and fair. Lovers of Slow Food from around the world first met in Turin in 2004, and subsequently the four-day Terra Madre conference (the name means “mother earth”) has taken place biannually. It is necessary to apply to be delegates to the conference, and we were fortunate to be accepted this year. We were joined by Vermonters from a variety of farms, restaurants, and institutions, including Green Mountain College, the New England Culinary Institute, and the Intervale in Burlington.

As a cheese maker and a baker, we are both artisans and business owners. We work to balance these two roles while sharing our passion for food with our fellow Vermont communities. While at Terra Madre, we attended workshops and forums where we listened to speakers from around the world via interpreters who translated through wireless headsets. At the end of these long days, we returned to our hotel and seated ourselves gratefully at long tables lined with bottles of wine. It was here that we discussed the outcomes of the workshops with other conference participants, and how those outcomes were related to our own lives. Over plates of pasta, Piedmont beef, Sicilian cannoli, and glasses of artisanal grappa, we told stories about our homes and recounted highlights of the days’ events.

Despite the unfamiliar flavors and faces, those meals were immediately reminiscent of how Vermonters gather around the table to share the bounty of their labors and the fruits of their own farms and kitchens. The dinners we shared in Turin were very much like the hunters’ breakfasts, potluck weddings, harvest festivals, pie fundraisers, and farmers’ markets that have brought us together in Vermont for generations to celebrate and share food. Participating in these meals, we felt proud of Vermont’s progressive and innovative nature. Looking around the table and hearing stories from other countries reaffirmed our belief that, compared to other places, Vermont is already a strong provider of good, clean, and fair food.

In the midst of the busy conference, taking the time to eat with others engendered a spirit of openness and dialogue. Our neighbors around the table shared many of the same concerns that people in our Vermont communities have. Foremost was the desire to provide quality food to all people, since every country has residents who struggle with food insecurity. Another common need was to protect the biodiversity of our food systems and the cultural diversity of our societies.

Establishing this common ground was valuable, but we also saw that the Terra Madre network could find strength in its differences. Even in the United States, the concerns of delegates varied widely. An ethno-botanist from the Lakota tribe described her efforts to bring traditions of hunting and foraging back to her people in the Dakotas. A Slow Food member from Juneau, Alaska, spoke of the difficulty in finding any open space for growing food in her densely populated town. A fourth-generation farmer from Georgia recalled his neighbors’ skeptical reactions to his shift to organic practices and their ongoing surprise at his success. As we look for solutions to issues of sustainability and community, having a culturally diverse dialogue means that there are more worldviews and traditions from which to derive solutions from. For example, “hollow” farmers in the American South and Native American hunter-foragers have found very different ways to nourish their people in a sustainable way, yet each system holds wisdom relevant to the future of food.

These distinct experiences reminded us of how insular our own Vermont communities can be and inspired us to find ways to open our circles to unfamiliar voices. Diversity in Vermont may be less noticeable than at Terra Madre, but there is a wide spectrum of cultures, needs, and lifestyles that provide depth and resilience in every part of our state. At home, as at Terra Madre, eating together gives us opportunities to acknowledge our similarities but also to appreciate the insights that emerge from our differences. We have returned to Vermont with this in mind and have come home ready to celebrate with the intention of making more room around our tables.

Learn more about Slow Food Vermont at vermontslowfood.org.

Photo by Jen Smith

About the Author

Marisa Mauro

Marisa Mauro

Marisa Mauro is an artisanal cheese maker and the owner of Ploughgate Creamery in Albany.

Jennifer Rose Smith

Jen Rose Smith

Jen Rose Smith writes about food, drink, and travel, and is the author of the upcoming Moon Handbook to Vermont. She is a frequent contributor to Localvore Today and Best of Burlington, and likes her ice cider with a hunk of Shelburne Farms’ cloth-bound cheddar.

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