Good Bye Rubarb Pie

Barn in winter

Written By

Janisse Ray

Written on

December 01 , 2007

Before I moved here, I always thought of Vermont as Holstein cows dotting a green rolling hillside, dairy barn in the middle ground. Say the word “Vermont” and I could smell maple syrup. Before I ever set foot in the Green Mountains, I associated them with food. Good food.

And now, as I prepare to leave Vermont, my home for the past three and a half years, it is food I will miss.

Little did I know, when I moved my family from Georgia to Brattleboro, how large a part food would play in our lives. Like a blind hog who sometimes finds the acorn, I landed in Vermont during an extraordinary epoch.

Call it rebellion against industrial food. Call it reform on behalf of small farmers. Call it revolt for the sake of health. Call it a riot against Big Petroleum. Whatever, we found ourselves somewhere at the lip of a big wave, a cultural revolution in the republic of the stomach.

What better movement is there than one centered in human pleasure? And with the goal to make life even more pleasurable?

As gardeners, my husband and I had always prided ourselves on the foodstuff we ripped away from bugs and raccoons and coyotes to bring to our own resplendent table. Now all we had to do was go one step further. We had to draw a circle on the map 100 miles around Maple Street and, for one week in August, try to eat only what grew or was raised in that circle.

My only regret about that first Localvore Challenge was that I wasn’t a filmmaker, because the week’s events would have made a fabulous documentary. The kickoff was a breakfast where every ingredient had been obtained locally–the pancakes sourdough, the yogurt homemade. The next evening, in a finished hayloft at Fair Winds Farm, during the first of the nightly potlucks, people served themselves from a long table: carrot salad, potato salad, mashed potatoes, steamed greens, cucumbers with goat cheese, sliced tomatoes with lemon basil and Monterey Jack. Someone baked a custard using blueberries, yogurt, maple syrup, and eggs. Our contribution was a home-grown salad: leaf lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, grated kohlrabi, radishes, Johnny-jump-ups, nasturtiums.

I learned a few great things from my Localvore experiences in Vermont. First, I learned how much satisfaction I get from producing food–making kefir and cheese and sauerkraut and cider. I learned that humans really do long for community, just as the theorists say, and that the experience of it is every bit as happy as predicted. I found that my life was made infinitely richer by the relationships I gained from direct contact with food sources. I also learned that a large group of people have astonishing power; I saw Vermont culture and economy transforming before my eyes.

But not everything is positive about eating local. I saw the elitism, for example. One day when we had the sign out, a woman stopped for eggs. When she learned that we charge $2.50 a dozen, she handed the carton back, shocked. “I can’t afford that,” she said. I, of course, understand the need for farmers to make a decent living, and I understand the evil part that agricultural subsidies play in forcing us to consume bad food, but we have to figure out ways to make healthy, local food affordable for everyone.

We could start with our co-ops. An elder friend of mine has stopped shopping at her food co-op, billed as “the people’s store.” “It caters to the wealthy,” she said. “It’s too expensive.” Angrily, I agree. Why aren’t basic foods, like organic brown rice and pinto beans, sold at little more than cost?

I want to say this: if my husband and I didn’t produce much of our food, we couldn’t afford to be Localvores. And if we both didn’t work at home, we wouldn’t be able to do the cooking that eating local requires. We in this movement need to get realistic about the overworked, landless, nutrient-starved people around us who deserve to consume fresh salad mix and organic potatoes.

While we’re being honest, I’ll also admit that, during the first Challenge, my family’s use of fossil fuel quadrupled. We, like many others, were running around trying to locate food sources–driving up to Dutton’s farm stand, over to Green Mountain Orchards, back to the dairy, up to the Intervale in a search for grain.

Lastly, in this movement, I’d like to see more resistance to corporate food. Getting together with progressive friends to eat an all-local meal is fun–it’s pure pleasure–but what about impeaching Governor Douglas for vetoing the Farmer Protection Act, which would have protected farmers from lawsuits over genetically modified seeds? Why not a Boston Tea Party that would dump GMO food in the street? Why not a boycott of bottled water?

In the end, though, happiness trumps the challenges. One day in December my husband and I woke about the same time and lay in bed, thinking of leaving this place that has been such an excellent home to us these past few years. “Goodbye apples,” I said, thinking of the orchard where we pick, where we buy cider. “Goodbye community garden,” Raven said. “Goodbye sugaring,” I said. “Goodbye Rescue,” said Raven, thinking of his volunteer EMT work and all the friends he’s made there. Our list became a eulogy, a litany of things that we’ll miss because they either don’t exist or will be hard to find in the south Georgia pineywoods home we’re returning to.

Goodbye hills. Goodbye neighbors. Goodbye cheese.
Goodbye impeachment parades. Goodbye peonies.
Goodbye lavender. Goodbye spring water.
Goodbye rhubarb pie.

 Last week, I went to the organic dairy for milk. At a certain point in the road the view opened, and the farm lay below me in late afternoon light, a cluster of barns and milk parlor and house and greenhouse, all surrounded by pasture, covered in snow and dotted with yellow lights. I couldn’t hold back the tears. This is a poignant time. We will miss the beauty–beautiful cows on beautiful hills, tended by beautiful people.

When I pulled into the farmyard, the farmer, who has become my friend, was doing evening chores, and we had a short and wonderful conversation, standing on the porch of the milk parlor. I will miss that. Later, as I drained milk into my glass jars, I leaned my head against the cool stainless-steel tank and wept.

Where we will live in south Georgia, where we are returning to, there is no organic dairy. There is no organic anything. Not yet.

Goodbye milk.

About the Author

Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray is the author of “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” and other books about community and the Southern landscape. She will return to Vermont in June by train to teach nature writing at the Wildbranch Writing Workshop in Craftsbury Common. And yes, she gave that woman a free carton of eggs.

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