Editor’s Note Winter 2008

Horses in the snow

Written on

December 01 , 2007

Although this magazine is young, we who put it together each season are beginning to notice a thread running through it: that of the old. In many of the stories that have appeared in our first three issues, there are references to our Vermont farmer ancestors and to the various agricultural pursuits and culinary experiments they engaged in. To be honest, this wasn’t planned. Except for Ginger Nickerson’s story on traditional Vermont recipes in our first issue, none of our articles set out to mention the past, yet the past found its way into many of the stories anyway. There were references to the amount of wheat grown in the 19th century in Vermont, and how folks once relied on wild rose hips for their vitamin C. And in this issue you’ll find references to the time-honored practice of biodynamics and the way 19th-century Vermonters used maple syrup. These references demonstrate that it’s impossible to talk about present-day agriculture without referring to the abundance and wisdom of our farming heritage.

In today’s American culture, we’re not used to looking back with such admiration. It often seems we pay cordial respect to the past, yet really just want to get on with our new inventions and discoveries. When we glance back at our history, our ancestors come across as people to be admired, yes, but largely because they “made it” through so many bleak circumstances. We overlook their smarts, even pity them sometimes because they lacked certain 20th-century inventions that would have made their lives easier. Granted, many of those who came before us would have been thrilled to possess some of the knowledge that makes our modern lives comfortable?both on and off the farm?and they would encourage us to continue down innovative paths. But does our curiosity for the new mean we should ignore their unique ingenuity? We don’t think so.

The fact that so much wheat used to be grown in Vermont means it can be grown here again today. The fact that biodynamics has stood the test of time means it bodes well for us today. Unlike the folks who were here before us though, we are now able to determine the most appropriate varieties of wheat for Vermont soil thanks to scientific research, and we can do scientific tests on biodynamic vegetables to see how they compare with conventional ones.

Many young farmers in this state speak admiringly of those who tilled the land before they did, and they’re open to resurrecting long-lost practices. But old-time wisdom is at risk of being lost, given that the latest census data shows that the average age of principal farm operators in Vermont is 53.9 (according to the Agency of Agriculture). And farms are shutting down at an alarming rate due to unfavorable economic structures and government policies. When farms disappear, knowledge does too, as agricultural insight tends to be passed on not through books but when working farmers share a conversation while standing on a patch of cultivated land.

By blending the past and the future, we can create an ideal agricultural landscape in Vermont. The knowledge of those who came before us doesn’t have to be looked upon as quaint or outdated. That’s why we at Local Banquet hope our writers will continue to make references to the past, long into the future.

Caroline Abels

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What we do

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.