Ben Hewitt. After all the press the book’s been getting (see below), I was surprised he was coming to the Berkshires. I was also thrilled. The turn out was really great, as it has been at all the northern Berkshire food events I’ve attended. : How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food
Ben’s book, which I haven’t actually read yet, is about Hardwick, Vermont. Hardwick, down on it’s luck, is undergoing a bit of a rejuvenation centered around the creation and growth of “agri-preneurial” businesses (as in, agriculturally based entrepreneurial). I sat there like a dork, taking notes. Something about being in the presence of a published author always brings out the nerd in me. Ben read 2 passages from his book, then fielded questions from the audience.
Ben noted (reading from the book and quoting one of the characters), that “We can export a lot of things but I think our main gift will be inspiration”. The goal of the book is not to serve as a blueprint for other communities, but to inspire them to create their own healthy food system that works for them. Hardwick isn’t perfect and still has a long way to go, but jobs have been created and the downtown area is coming back to life.
The discussion that followed the reading made clear one of Ben’s points: the local food movement (and food movements in general) are tricky things; “its easy to get caught up in the excitement about what’s happening, but some people feel threatened by it”. Farms are businesses and it’s difficult to maintain the line between good business practices, helping the community and making a good profit. I often oversimplify the issues (“it’d be great if we all ate local!”) and forget the many aspects of food systems. It was so good to be in a room full of people who, regardless of their individual ideals, want to improve things. I was reminded, once again, of how strange it is that the products we are most price sensitive to are the things that we need most (food, milk, gasoline); why is it that I’m still so willing to buy cheap food when I know what the real cost is?
Final thought of encouragement from Ben: the closer we can bring people to the soil, the more resilient and sustainable our food system will be. Clearly, the system we have now has a lot of issues. It was so good to be reminded again that we all vote with our dollars and have the ability to cause change. The event organizers promised that the discussion of how local food could change the Berkshires will continue and I’m very much looking forward to it.
I’m also looking forward to school being out for the summer tomorrow so I can read the book.
The Town that Food Saved coverage:
Serious Reads: The Town That Food Saved, by Ben Hewitt (Serious Eats)
Local Food Saves the Day (Boston Globe)
The Town that Food Saved (Plate to Plate–my favorite new –to me– local blog)
The Town that Food Saved (Gourmet) – a 2008 article by Ben Hewitt which explains the changes occurring in Harwick