Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Localism...An Old Idea Making a Come Back

Everywhere I turn recently, whether in the "real world" or cyberspace, the importance of re-discovering the value of strong communities and a locally based economy seems to be emerging. A couple of weeks ago, Robb and I went to Little River State Park in Waterbury, Vermont on a history hike. The hike goes through a community of hill farms in central Vermont that no longer exists, due largely to a huge flood in 1927 and the building of a dam in the 1930's. If you went to this site 200 years ago, however, you would have found 40 or 50 homesteads within a 5-10 mile radius, whose members relied almost exclusivley on their own farming and some help from their neighbors to sustain themselves. The picture to the left is my reflection on this landscape. The sap bucket was in a cellar hole abandoned over 100 years ago. Wow, they made things to last.

About a week after this hike at Little River, I had the chance to hear Bill McKibben speak about his new book, Deep Economy. Bill Mckibben is a long-time environmental activist who is perhaps best know for his book The End of Nature. Long before Hollywood decided to give Al Gore an opportunity to place global warming in the front row seat of America's popular culture through the film An Inconvenient Truth, McKibben was trying to convey the harsh realities of climate change through his writing and activism. When I heard him speak at Bear Pond Books to a packed house, he focused not on the complex scientific equations necessary to address the current environmental crises, but rather the vital role of strong community relationships in caring for our overburdened planet. We need to actually talk to our neighbors to solve global problems? We need to look at the weeds in our own backyard before we try to go around weeding the yards of every other nation.
The problem is we don't see the weeds in our own backyards becasue they are smothered with pesticides. This brings me to the book that I am currently reading, which is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle . I have enjoyed Kingsolver's fiction so when I heard that she wrote this book about a year of her family eating locally, I thought it would be a great combination of beautiful writing coupled with an issue that I am very interested in...local agriculture. I have not been disappointed. Here is a little sample from the beginning of the book. She does not mince words.

When we walked away from the land, our knowledge of food producton fell away from us like dirt in a laundry-soap commercial...When we give it a thought, we mostly consider the food industry to be a thing rather than a person. We obligingly give 85 cents of every food dollar to that thing, too-the processors, marketers, and transporters. And we complain about the high price of organic meats and vegetables that might send more than three nickels per buck to the farmers: those actual humans putting seeds in the ground , harvesting, attending livestock births, standing in the fields at dawn casting shadows upon our sustenance... In
the the grocery store checkout coral, we're more likely to learn which TV stars are secretly fornicating than to inquire as to the whereabouts of the people who grew the cucumbers and melons in our carts.

Well said, Barbara. Especially, that cucumber and melon part.

So, this said, I am still learning how to eat more locally. I am lucky to live in a place where there are plenty of farmer's markets where I can purchase fresh produce during part of the spring, summer, and fall. I also grow a small amount of food on my own. Pictured is my small plot of land with herbs and flowers, as well as potted tomatos and more herbs. Still, I have yet to spend an August canning vegetables for weeks on end to ensure that I do not have to depend on our oil sucking food industry to keep me from starving in January. I'm working on it, though. This summer I am going to make my first attempt to can. It may not get me through the entire Vermont winter, but it's a start.


At 3:33 AM, Anonymous jessie said...

Great timing on this post. I planted canteloupes yesterday! After reading someone else's post on Kingsolver, I made sure we ate locally last night. I went to the co-op and got local bread, Vermont (hydroponic) tomatoes, and Vermont mozzarella and we had French Bread pizza. The salad fixings were not local, but they were organic.

It cost a fortune. But it was worth it.

At 7:45 AM, Anonymous pippi said...

Maybe we can trade off stuffs?
Or get together and have canning parties? Get a bunch of apples from someplace and make a huge batch to divide?

I'm sad that I didn't get to knit night this week. :(
Matt was working late. bah-humbug!

Hopefully next week.
But we should get together for cookies and beer sometime soon!


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