• Editor’s Note Winter 2009

    Editor’s Note Winter 2009

    Community isn’t the easiest word to define. It’s used differently by biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, political theorists, computer scientists, legal scholars, and economists. In sociology, nearly 100 definitions have been concocted since the 1950s, according to Wikipedia. (Yes, it even has its own Wikipedia entry.) The local food movement uses the word often, talking about “community-supported agriculture” and how farmers’ markets, gleaning initiatives, and farm-based educational programs “build community.”

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  • Diary of a Farm Apprentice—Part 3: Fall

    Diary of a Farm Apprentice—Part 3: Fall

    Eating is not only, as Wendell Berry put it, an agricultural act. It is an emotional and social one—an act of community. During my months as a farming apprentice, I found that some of the most surprising and powerful benefits of farming can be found in the relationships that are formed: with the land, with customers, with fellow farmers, and with the wider community. I experienced all these relationships firsthand during the past spring and summer. As a result, my apprenticeship taught me human lessons, as well as agricultural ones.

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  • Bread and Horses

    Bread and Horses

    A flock of geese pick through the frost-wilted remnants of a huge vegetable garden, and behind the new farmhouse the Green Mountains rise up beyond acres of fields. Erik and Erica Andrus and their seasonal interns are returning this Ferrisburgh farm to productivity, and they are doing so in some unusual ways: they are growing a portion of the wheat that is used in the bread they sell; they are using horses instead of tractors; and they are operating what may be Vermont’s only bread-and-dessert CSA.

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  • Set the Table with Horseradish

    Set the Table with Horseradish

    If, like many of us, you are struggling to pay for heat this winter and are keeping your thermostat down in the 50-degree range, you might like to know about a vegetable with an amazing capacity to warm you from the inside out. One taste—even one whiff—of the stuff and a jolt of heat travels from your nose to the top of your head and then permeates your entire body, guaranteed to banish any lingering chill. I’m talking about horseradish, that venerable old root that, in the Jewish tradition, is essential for a proper Passover Seder (the horseradish root, or moror, represents the bitterness of slavery).

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  • Wood Smoke, a Touch of the Earth

    Wood Smoke, a Touch of the Earth

    I spent two years with my head in an oven. Not just any oven, but a wood-fired oven. Built of French clay and steel and copper, it sat on an iron plate atop a wooden platform. And it had wheels.

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  • Have a Cow

    Have a Cow

    I wanted to milk a cow the way Thoreau wanted to build a house on a pond and live deliberately: not just because, gee, wouldn’t it be nice, but because I wanted to make a pilgrimage without a suitcase, a quest without leaving town. To Milk A Cow became my goal, my dream, my mission. Not just any cow, my cow. I pictured our milking chores like vespers, the two of us sequestered in the cob-webby milking chapel, me with my forehead bowed against her flank, the strong streams of milk chanting when they hit the side of the steel pail.

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  • Neighborhood Investments

    Neighborhood Investments

    What’s a community to do when an essential institution goes missing? The village of Williamsville, northwest of Brattleboro, lost its historic general store two years ago when its owner decided to close its doors. Residents missed the store, and when they convened a meeting to discuss the loss, more than 40 people attended—a big meeting for tiny Williamsville, according to resident Dan Kinoy, who participated.

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  • Consumers as Coproducers

    Consumers as Coproducers

    People frequently ask me: Why is Vermont’s local food system so strong? Of course, it is difficult to name one reason. Is it the quality of our farmers who steward the land, mentoring each other and increasing in numbers annually? Is it the localvore movement, which is building a social food and farm network among neighbors and an organizing structure that addresses the barriers to greater local food production? Is it the 100 schools in Vermont that are integrating farm and food lessons into their curricula and partnering with farms to serve local foods in their cafeterias?

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  • Home for the Holidays—Vegan and Gluten-free Recipes

    Home for the Holidays—Vegan and Gluten-free Recipes

    Increasingly in my work as a baker and co-owner of On The Rise Bakery in Richmond, I am fielding questions such as, “My son-in-law is a vegan—do you have anything without dairy?” Or, “I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease—can you make a gluten-free dessert that my whole family will like?” One of our breakfast cooks even shared the following with us: “My grandmother seriously thought I could just eat around the pork in her baked beans, even though I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 10!”

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—A Fraîche Start

    Farmers' Kitchen—A Fraîche Start

    As I write this article, I am looking out at our first snowfall of the season. Though insignificant, it’s a hint of what’s to come. I reflect back over the summer and give thanks for the abundance we harvested from our small farm: the root cellar is neatly packed; the freezers are filled with our vegetables, grass-fed meats, and pastured poultry; and the shelves are stocked with canned goods, maple syrup, and homemade wine.

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  • Last Morsel—Winter Apples

    Last Morsel—Winter Apples

    Pruning in winter is about learning to see what you can’t see. Buds still dormant. Leaves and branches yet to appear. Angles of sun and shadow that change daily. Invisible apples. On a piercing blue-sky day last February, I followed Zeke Goodband, master orchardist at historic Scott Farm in Dummerston, as he walked among the apple trees that arched over the rolling hills of the orchard. I’ve asked him to teach me about pruning.

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Consumers as Coproducers

NOFA Vermont’s executive director reflects on 20 years of involvement in the state’s local organic food movement

NOFA-VT Members of the staff and board gather to celebrate over 30 years
From left to right: Lisa Harris, Will Stevens, Enid Wonnacott, Kirsten Bower, Andy Jones, Meg Klepack, Olga Boshart, Cheryl Bruce.

Written By

Enid Wonnacott

Written on

December 01 , 2008

People frequently ask me: Why is Vermont’s local food system so strong? Of course, it is difficult to name one reason. Is it the quality of our farmers who steward the land, mentoring each other and increasing in numbers annually? Is it the localvore movement, which is building a social food and farm network among neighbors and an organizing structure that addresses the barriers to greater local food production? Is it the 100 schools in Vermont that are integrating farm and food lessons into their curricula and partnering with farms to serve local foods in their cafeterias? Is it events wholly outside of Vermont that provide an external stimulant, such as the high price of fuel, food safety scares, and the slow decline of rural America?

I think the answer lies in our bedrock. The local food movement has elements of the types of rock we see in Vermont. It is sedimentary, in that it has built over time. It has undergone key structural changes, consistent with metamorphic rock, such as the founding of a Vermont organic dairy co-op and other community-based businesses. And it is igneous, as a result of the “fiery” farmers and consumers who have spurred the movement on. Regardless, the local food movement in Vermont is strong, is growing, is inspirational, and will undoubtedly keep me engaged for at least another 20 years!

But what needs to happen over the next 20 years for us to progress even farther? First, a look back.

In 1987, I was hired by the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont to certify organic farms in the state. That year there were 17 farmers certified, compared to 543 producers today. At the end of the season, NOFA Vermont needed a coordinator and asked if I were interested in the 10-hour per month job. There was a handwritten database with 120 names on it, and a board that needed refreshing. But what was so clear, even then, was the deep conviction of the farmers, gardeners, and homesteaders who were providing leadership for the early certified organic movement.

As with other counterculture movements of the time, organic agriculture was a response to the trend toward larger farms and vertical integration in the agricultural industry. The late 1980’s were a kind of primordial soup of organic agriculture, with farmer-gatherings to discuss food access, state organic certification standards, and what practices were consistent with our ideals. These gatherings included long discussions on topics such as the use of black plastic—important for season extension and heat-loving crops, but reliant on the petrochemical industry and a contributor to landfills—and debates about when young stock could be considered organic—from the last third of gestation or birth? The Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), the certification program of NOFA Vermont, had a quorum of “consumer members” that they invited to their annual meetings to provide a consumer voice during the standards-setting process, but there was little consumer ownership of local and organic foods at the time.

Eventually, though, pivotal events in the 80s contributed to the “tipping point” at which consumers became much more aware of their food consumption. For example, in 1989, Meryl Streep served as a high-profile spokesperson against Alar, a plant growth regulator used on apple trees to delay ripening and to prevent apples from falling prematurely. Even though the science behind Alar was controversial, and is still being challenged, it alerted parents to the fact that food may contain chemical residues or breakdown products that may impact their children’s health.

In the late 80s, when Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, then-Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, asked me, organic farmer Will Stevens (president of the Vermont Organic Farmers at the time), and other agricultural leaders in Vermont what we thought about developing national certification standards, it was seductive. Not that organic farmers were necessarily disenfranchised at the time, but people in high places did not necessarily ask us for our opinion, nor acknowledge the growing national importance of a practice like organic agriculture. As an organization, we were a combination of wowed, honored, wary, and belligerent. We didn’t trust the federal government to establish and uphold the very certification standards that we had created during many farmhouse kitchen discussions, but we also wondered: with national and international growth, what was going to keep the word “organic” credible without some oversight?

From 1990 until the National Organic Program was implemented in 2002, farmers and consumers in Vermont and around the country engaged in that debate. NOFA Vermont led the very vocal minority opposed to a government-administered certification program. We did not disagree on the need for a uniform national standard that we all adhered to, but we did not want it administered by the federal government. When a pivotal national vote was taken and we did not have the backing of enough other certification programs to challenge the proposed National Organic Program, we vowed to shift our energy toward making it the best program it could be, with quality standards that farmers in Vermont would support and that would benefit consumers.

An unanticipated outcome of this process was the emergence of a strong consumer voice. In 1997, the first draft of the National Organic Program rules was released for comment. When the federal government asked whether the spreading of sewage sludge, irradiation, and the use of genetically modified organisms were consistent with organic agriculture, they received comments from 280,000 citizens, generating more comments than any other issue in the history of the USDA. And the USDA listened, adding more ballast to consumer ownership of food production.

Now the floodgates are open; consumer interest in local and organic foods in Vermont is unprecedented. I believe that over the next 20 years, we will see consumer ownership of food continue to grow until consumers are truly “coproducers.” By transitioning from being pure activists to engaged advocates, “coproducers” will engage in a shared partnership with food producers. Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a prime example of a shared partnership between farmer and consumer, and that partnership is being transformed into business models such as Restaurant Supported Agriculture, Community-Supported Kitchens, and Community-Supported Businesses. These are all examples of individuals investing in their communities, whether they are consumers who want to “put a face on their food” by purchasing a share of a farm, or chefs who support access to the freshest foods.

Just as “local” has emerged as the rallying cry of the last five years, “community” will emerge as the new organizing concept in food. Individuals seek community and a sense of belonging. Whereas “place-based” education supports community learning about local heritage and cultures, I believe we will move toward “taste-based” agriculture, in which we celebrate the tastes of the Champlain Valley or the communities of the Connecticut River Valley and the prime Hadley loam soils that reside there. To support community-based food systems, regional storage and processing facilities will be developed, and farmers will organize into producer hubs to share equipment and to develop cooperative marketing structures. The traditional Vermont values of entrepreneurialism, hard work, stubbornness, and self-reliance will play important roles in this transition to strong community-based food systems.

About the Author

Enid Wonnacott

Enid Wonnacott

Enid Wonnacott is the executive director of NOFA Vermont, a non-profit association of farmers, gardeners and eaters working for local farms, healthy food and strong communities.


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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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