Publishers' Note Spring 2009


Written on

March 01 , 2009

Let’s look at what we Vermonters might eat on a typical day in, say, March. Hot steaming oatmeal with dried apples and maple syrup starts the day. For lunch, we make a soup with root vegetables and barley—and of course we’ll add a slice of multigrain bread. Finally, dinner consists of baked beans, sausage, and sauerkraut. And during the cooking process for all these meals, we would inevitably use salt and oil.

What these three meals have in common is that they involve staple crops—oats, barley, wheat, beans—and require necessary additions like oil and salt. These are foods we regularly turn to, and that form the basis of our diets, yet they’re hard to find at farmers’ markets and are not widely grown or produced in Vermont. They may lack the aesthetic beauty of a bright red pepper or a bunch of colorful chard, yet without them our recipes would consist of little more than vegetables and meat!

As our economy is shifting from fat to lean times, we thought it was a good opportunity to take a look at what’s being done in our state to address the availability of staple foods. It’s easy to take for granted the multitude of food items that are available from all over the world, but if our access to them becomes limited by a downturn in the global economy, what good are they? How does our dependence on staple crops from far away affect our food security?

This issue of Local Banquet explores the growing and processing of a number of basic foods in Vermont. We’ve asked: Who’s growing them? What are the challenges in growing them? And how does Vermont’s lack of infrastructure for milling, pressing, and threshing figure into the equation? We found the answers to these questions quite exciting. For example, in this issue there’s a story about Linda and Takeshi Akaogi, who have been trialing rice with the dream of establishing it as a commercial crop in our cold climate. In another article, we take a look at a group of people who have started a bean threshing co–op in the Montpelier area.

We also peer back at our history, with the hope of gaining some perspective on the challenges of today. And we delve into how simple, inexpensive meals—peasant foods—can and should grace our tables.

Staple foods are woven into the culture and cuisine of all peoples. Such crops have nourished us through the ages and are the backbone of any strong local food system. When the production, processing, and exchange of these important foods is performed on the local/regional level, we create communities that value and support nutritious food, environmental sustainability, social justice, small farms, and strong local economies.

Barbi Schreiber
Meg Lucas

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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 ties into larger questions of sustainability and the future of our food supply.