• Editor's Note Fall 2013

    Editor's Note Fall 2013

    It’s a fulsome time to be an eater of local meat in Vermont—or simply a booster of its production. Compared with three years ago, when our last special issue on meat came out, you can now access more products from more farmers growing a wider variety of animals in more varying ways.

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  • Putting the Garden to Bed

    Putting the Garden to Bed

    There are many distractions at this time of year, whether school or watching football or catching up on work and e-mail after an August vacation. But one thing’s for sure: autumn—and winter—are coming, and we need to put our gardens to bed. A little extra work now will help us garden even better next year.

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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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  • Set the Table with Local Meat for a Crowd

    Set the Table with Local Meat for a Crowd

    When you’re committed to eating humanely raised, local meat and you’re getting some friends together for some good eats, chances are you’re not going to throw 15 $20 steaks on your backyard barbecue. We all might like to pretend that we just won the lottery, but it’s no easy feat to blow a whole paycheck serving humane, sustainable food to our nearest and dearest.

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  • Meet the Meat Hubs

    Meet the Meat Hubs

    A year ago, Bryce and Debbie Gonyea were operating a small hog farm in Danville, selling their pigs to Vermont Salumi and private customers, in addition to selling young piglets for families to raise for their own consumption. Bryce had recently retired from three-and-a-half decades in the agricultural insurance business and was creating a stream of retirement income through farming.

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  • Pastured Poultry in Aisle 9

    Pastured Poultry in Aisle 9

    Whiz by it on Route 2 between Richmond and Bolton and you might think it was an abandoned rail car, a housing unit for migrant farm workers, or a storage shed. Bland and inconspicuous, the boxy structure doesn’t look like it has the potential to re-shape Vermont’s local food scene (or at least make it easier to purchase and cook pastured chicken).

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  • Über-Pastured Pork

    Über-Pastured Pork

    There are 70 acres in West Topsham where about 400 pigs harvest their own kale (and garlic, when they’re feeling under the weather), go for rides in mini-vans, and bathe in mountain wallows. They’re about to stop that mini-van habit, but more on that later.

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  • Randall Cattle

    Randall Cattle

    At the beginning of the 20th century, as Halley’s Comet graced Vermont skies, Samuel Randall could be found tending a herd of lineback cattle on his farm in Sunderland, Vermont. The type of cattle he kept had fallen out of favor as farmers began selectively breeding for specific traits and standardization. But over decades—until the 1980s—and in virtual isolation, Samuel and his son Everett unknowingly preserved this “landrace” herd.

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  • Cannibalizing our Compatriots

    Cannibalizing our Compatriots

    Vermont has big farms and little farms, organic and conventional growers, pasture-based and feedlot operations, old farmers and young farmers, entrepreneurs and large agribusinesses. In these Green Mountains and across this country we have a complex food production system, with each agricultural business doing what it can to stay viable and profitable.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Grass=Solar Energy=Good Meat

    Farmers' Kitchen—Grass=Solar Energy=Good Meat

    My husband, Bruce Hennessey, and I moved to an end-of-the-road, hilltop farm in Huntington in 1999 for a “close-to-the-mountains” farming opportunity. The hilltop nature of our 136 acres made it challenging for growing crops or making hay (steep, too many rocks, some wet areas), so grazing livestock seemed like the answer to keeping the pastures open, fertilized, and healthy.

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  • Last Morsel—A Boost for On-Farm Slaughter

    Last Morsel—A Boost for On-Farm Slaughter

    Traditionally, farm animals in Vermont were slaughtered and butchered outside, in the open air. Today, all animals that are sold as meat must be slaughtered and processed in inspected facilities. But some Vermonters who raise animals for their own personal consumption prefer on-farm slaughter to taking their critters to an unfamiliar slaughterhouse.

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Cannibalizing our Compatriots

Packing room with crates

Written By

Sean Buchanan

Written on

August 20 , 2013

Vermont has big farms and little farms, organic and conventional growers, pasture-based and feedlot operations, old farmers and young farmers, entrepreneurs and large agribusinesses. In these Green Mountains and across this country we have a complex food production system, with each agricultural business doing what it can to stay viable and profitable.

Still, I have a simple question: With all of the new locally grown, value added, and regionally produced foods we have in Vermont, are we bringing new customers to the marketplace at the same pace that we are creating these foods?

Yes, we have more farmers’ markets, more stores at which to buy local food, more direct sales and CSAs, and better access than ever. But I would ask producers: Are you selling more at your farmers’ market, now that your county has them five days a week? Do you see a steady stream of new customers? Is your business booming to the point where you’re always considering scaling up due to a dramatic increase in demand? And I would ask consumers: are you buying more or the same amount of local food you did last year?

At Black River Produce, the Springfield-based food distribution company where I work, I’m getting more calls from producers who are looking to sell us a variety of local foods. They’re looking for a distributor to help them move produce, cheese, meat, and value-added products. As we evaluate each call, we ask ourselves the same question: Can we move this product at this price and do we have the sales history that shows us the demand is there? For 35 years we have worked with local growers to help supply our customers with local food, but we need to be able to sell everything we buy. For every product we pick up, we need to know there is someone who is looking for it or open to it, is willing to pay the price, and can make a commitment to purchasing it on a regular basis.

So producers, are you bringing new customers to the marketplace for your products? Or the better question is, whose existing customers are you selling your products to?

When we sell to someone else’s customer it’s called market displacement. In essence, there is one giant pot of money that gets spent around the world on food, and as we spend each tiny sliver of our food dollar, every choice displaces others. Cage-free eggs are now displacing commodity eggs on the grocery shelf, organic spring mix now displaces iceberg, and local, value-added products displace shelf space that was previously occupied by mainstream products. Our tastes and buying patterns have an impact on the market around us.

So when a producer targets an established market with a competing product without bringing new customers to the market, “cannibalism” happens. Let’s say you grow tomatoes, and you decide to find a Vermont Fresh Network restaurant that buys local so you can sell them your tomatoes. They may already have a tomato supplier, but yours are better, maybe cheaper, maybe organic, sustainable, have a better shelf life…so the restaurant buys your tomatoes, and just like that you have displaced another local producer. You have not increased local food consumption, you have displaced local food purchasing and, in my opinion, you have taken the easy way out.

Or maybe your goal is to sell to the food co-op down the road. You shop there, it’s close, and it makes sense for your business. You show up with your tomatoes and those tomatoes go on the shelf with everyone else’s. If there isn’t a big uptick in tomato customers, then you are selling more while everyone else sells a bit less. And what happens to those other farmers who had a market? They need to find a home now for their tomatoes; they need a buyer. There is the problem. As a farmer, is your role just to produce food or do you have a responsibility to find new consumers to minimize the displacement of other local products? To keep from “cannibalizing” your compatriots in the farming community?

We always need to be conscious of other farmers, producers, and those who are distributing local products in the same marketplace because they have invested in this local food system with us.

The grand idea is that locally produced food should displace commodity food, that we get foods in season from our regional food communities, that the dollars we spend on local food creates growth and innovation within our borders, and that over time we become more dependent upon ourselves to feed the state. Instead, we are all competing for the same piece of the pie. We are taking the low-hanging fruit and looking for short-term gains without understanding the long-term consequences.

What are those consequences? By focusing our local food marketing so tightly on the “educated” consumer and not looking for new customers, we’ve alienated mainstream audiences from local food. Is local for everyone, or just for the elite? Do you have to drive a Prius with a localvore sticker to be a conscious consumer or can you also love Doritos and NASCAR?

If you’re a producer, ask yourself who it is that you’ve brought to the marketplace, and who you’ve turned toward local who wasn’t interested before. Who are you engaging with now, and who will be your advocate in the future? How will you inspire someone to become engaged, and how will you adapt to others who do not consider these questions?

We like people who have the same interests and values as ourselves. But the local food clique needs to branch out to attract more consumers. When I see the new Skinny Pancake in the Burlington airport, I see travelers who are engaging in a local foods purchase and offsetting a dollar that would have been spent on fast food or commodity, processed foods. They are reallocating their purchases toward a local food system. When I see Sodexo, the national food service company, make a commitment to state colleges and begin to purchase more local foods, I see producers and distributors looking to meet those needs at reasonable prices. And when I see someone change their purchasing behavior because of health issues or a life-changing event, I am encouraged that we have only begun to touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to local food sales in Vermont.

If you’re an ordinary consumer or local food advocate, why not ask your neighborhood grocery chain why they don’t have local produce when it’s in season or local ground beef in an aisle of commodity. Heck, ask them every time you go out to buy toilet paper and Band-Aids. Can you start a CSA at a local business to engage a new consumer group or bring a brownie troop to a pick your own?

If you love a local food system, work at bringing new people to it. We all need to make a conscious decision to get new people interested. Ask yourself: Are you a cannibal, or will you become a cannibal? What is your plan for the future? What is your neighbor’s? What are you going to do to help find new consumers for our beloved local food? Will you wait for someone else to do it or will you take it by the horns? Let’s make sure that as we grow together, every producer has a buyer for the food they produce. Let’s continue to grow a food system the right way.

(This piece is written from a personal perspective and is not the official opinion of BRP.)

About the Author

Sean Buchanan

Sean Buchanan

Andrew Stowe currently resides in Brookfield and grows vegetables as the crop manager at Green Mountain Girls Farm in Northfield. He has been working on small-scale, diversified farms in Vermont for three seasons and, not surprisingly, he is currently on the lookout for good, affordable land for farming in this beautiful state.

Comments (1)

  • Christine Alaimo

    14 September 2016 at 18:29 |
    Wonderful article. You have *further* inspired me!


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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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