THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE #49

To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd. — Wendell Berry

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FOOD: Part I
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In This Issue:

DAVID’S NOTES AND A COMMENTARY:

REACTIONS TO DAVID’S COMMENTARY

BEN HEWITT’S THE TOWN THAT FOOD SAVED

FOUR WEBSITES TO LOOK AT

CONTRIBUTOR’S NOTES

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DAVID’S NOTES

This is the first of two JME’s about food. The second will be along in a couple of weeks. 

On August 10, 2009, I did a commentary for Vermont Public Radio called AFFORDABLE FOOD FOR ALL about the new whole foods movement and who can afford the food and who can’t. It looked back on my 40 years as part of the Back to the Land movement here in northern Vermont and asked some questions.

Read the commentary or listen to it (it takes 3:06) at: http://www.vpr.net/episode/46665/

The commentary caused a lot of reactions. Here are some of them.


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Reactions to My Commentary of August 2009 

TWO-THIRDS LOCALLY

I’ve been asking myself the same question about Farmer’s Markets vs Price Chopper.  In my case, I’m trying to find the middle ground: raise what I can, get fresh/sustainably-raised products when it makes sense, buy staples at Price Chopper.  We spend at least 2/3 of our food money locally.
Karen Kane

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CHEAP FOOD AT THE EXPENSE OF GOOD FOOD

Yeah, it’s a real problem. But on the other hand, you’ve gone through many years when you had very little money, and good food was still important to you. So I think part of the problem is a cultural one: how do you get people to spend more of their disposable income on food instead of lots of consumer goodies. I think we used to spend 10% of our income on food many years ago, but spend much less now. Since the 1950s, our agricultural policies have pushed cheap food at the expense of good food, and it’s going to be very very hard to change that dynamic.

Altoon Sultan

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A LOT OF EDUCATION NEEDED

You bring up an important perspective on this movement.  I think that a lot of the Price Chopper customers don’t go to the farmers markets because they not only think the prices are higher, but that many do not know how to shop for slow food products or prepare food from scratch.  There is a lot of education needed plus some way to make the slow foods more affordable for all.

Joanne Harrison

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MAYBE IT’S NOT MEANT TO BE

The issue you’re addressing, of course, is a tough one, insoluble.  You’re looking not only for economic justice, parity, but also, implicitly at least, for everybody to be aware, conscious of nutritional & ecological choices, good taste, & so on–a tall order.  Maybe it’s not meant to be?  Human beings being what they are.

Howard Nelson

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REDUCED HEALTH CARE MEANS MORE AFFORDABLE FOOD

You end with a question: “40 years after moving to Vermont, the question still remains: how is the sustainable agriculture movement going to get good, affordable food to all Vermonters, rich and poor alike?”

Along with Michael Pollan and many others, I believe the answer lies in radically reducing the cost of health care. Once people (who are often made sick by bad food) don’t have to spend huge amounts of their income on health care, they will be able to pay for good food at the price it actually costs to produce (without corn and soy subsidies).

Phil James

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THE WELL OFF BEING ENTERTAINED WELL AND FED WELL TOO

Yes, I’d just turned on the radio, doing dishes, and heard this familiar voice. A very tricky idea, I think. We go to farmer’s market here every Friday. We are fortunate to have the resources to spend that kind of money and support local folks. It goes farther than food. You may also know, with your performing, I need to find pockets of wealth, so I go to places like Bergen County and along New Jersey’s coast with my slide shows. Ends up, we have the well off being entertained well and fed well too.

Jerry Schneider

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ALL AGES AND MOST ECONOMIC CLASSES

Yep, we were part of that back to the land resulting in gentrification too.  I remember when the only cheese was “store cheese” and the bread was Wonder.  This town has always been a place of wealth and education, but it seems that the divide is larger than in years past.  Our Sustainable Woodstock effort is looking at all these issues.  One thing, David, I notice that all ages and most economic classes come to our two farmers’ markets here.

Peggy Kannenstine

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THE DELICATE BUT INSISTENT ISSUE OF CLASS

I do agree that the farmer’s market goers are for the most part the affluent class. Norwich is a prime example of that. Though, the question of ‘affordability’ is a difficult one. Growing, hunting, and foraging your own food, should be everyone’s first skills.

And class division is also about culture and attitude, not just economics. Several years ago, I took a workshop on social classes– the Human Services Agency sponsored it. The instructor said, ‘it’s wrong to have this assumption that people always aspire for the higher socio-economic class.’ She was right, I thought. I am not in the wealthy class, and I don’t have any desire to move up to the wealthy class. It’s the identity thing.

Another thing I remember from that workshop: what people want from food. The people in the poor class want A LOT of it, to fill the belly. The people in the middle class want it to be TASTY. The people in the wealthy class want it to be PRETTY. (Well, Japanese people might be the exception to this rule. . .)

When I write about Vermont in a Japanese newspaper, it’s hard to ignore and at the same time equally hard to articulate, this delicate but insistent issue of class in this country.

Chiho Kaneko

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THE CONDITIONS OF WORKING PEOPLE

I’m glad you are highlighting the conditions of working people and raising questions about the consequences in relation to the sustainable/healthy food movement.  Growing poverty doesn’t allow the means (or even the education) for people to enjoy good food. Cheap mass production of unhealthy food for the masses in the service of big profit is very disturbing.

One book on the topic of inequality that I read at NYU was INEQUALITY MATTERS. It’s pretty tame (and I don’t agree with their remedies), but still, it has many stats on growing inequality since the end of WW II.

The top 1% had 1500 times the wealth of the bottom 40% in 1983, but they had almost 4400 times the wealth of the bottom 40% in 2001.

In 1960, the gap in terms of wealth between the top 20% and the bottom 20% was 30-fold.  Four decades later it is more than 75-fold. In fact, research from tax return data has revealed that the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers declined by 7 percent between 1973 and 2000, while the income of the top 1 percent went up 148 percent.

The post-WW II boom, that at least benefited some US workers, is over and global competition just pits workers against workers among nations in a race to the bottom.  All we are left with are more bad paying jobs, more outsourcing to cheap platforms of labor, and a national debt that isn’t sustainable.

And as people get paid less and can’t buy the products produced, then the system (like the housing market) will continue to implode.

The food part is obviously one connection to this whole mess.

Jonathan Keane

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RELOCALIZING VERMONT

Here’s an idea I’ve been contemplating for awhile, encouraged by Carl Etnier’s program on WGDR (http://www.wgdr.org/) in Plainfield, Vermont, called “Relocalizing Vermont,” which is to make some of our wonderful field available as gardening plots to folks in Plainfield village who may not have room to garden at their apartments. At no cost, and sharing the overabundance of horse manure we have due to my sister-in-law keeping her horses on our land. And perhaps folks could share seeds, since one packet often has too much for one family gardener.

I just learned that Nancy Chickering, a local emergency room physician and member of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, as am I, has coordinated community gardens for Montpelier area for nearly 20 years and I’m hoping she can help me move from thought to action.

Your piece is an additional goad to get moving.

Alexandra Thayer

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FARMS TO SCHOOLS

One answer to your question is: Farms to Schools. More at: http://www.farmtoschool.org All the kids, rich and poor get to eat and garden and prepare and talk to their friends and families…that’s good, and that is from the new, young and very smart new breed. And they do a lot of it outside!

Madeleine Winfield

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THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

The long-term viability of the localization concept depends on its accessibility to the entire community, and that in turn depends on how well local producers can adapt their unique models to address the specific needs and composition of the communities that they are a part of.

I think that there is great vision and momentum, but, as with anything, the “devil is in the details” – and the details are what the big discussions need to be focusing on.

Tony Risitano


 

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Ben Hewitt’s The Town that Food Saved

Ben Hewitt, someone I’ve known since he was in diapers, has written a book called THE TOWN THAT FOOD SAVED about the agricultural renaissance in Hardwick, VT, and the questions that the so-called new life for a famously down and out town raises about affordable food.

This book is highly recommended.

For links to information about the book, reviews, etc. go to:
Ben Hewitt: http://www.galaxybookshop.com/book/9781605296869 and to Ben’s blog about book at: http://galaxybookshop.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/ben-hewitt

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Four Websites to Look At

The  Center for an Agricultural Economy, Hardwick, VT: http://www.hardwickagriculture.org

GardenShare, Richville, NY: http://www.gardenshare.org

Foothills Family Farms: a collection of family farms in Western North Carolina: http://foothillsfamilyfarms.org

Pete’s Greens, Craftsbury, VT: http://www.petesgreens.com



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Contributor’s Notes

Karen Kane gardens, cooks, and writes about French food in East Montpelier, VT.

Altoon Sultan is a artist and a gardener who lives in Vermont. She has an excellent blog, about her garden, food and art at: http://altoonsultan.blogspot.com

Joanne Harrison lives in Morrisville, VT.

Howard Nelson is a poet. His most recent book is The Nap by the Waterfall (Timberline Press, 2009). He lives in Scipio, NY, in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

Phil Nyokai James is a shakuhachi player, performer and teacher. His website is at: http://www.philjamesmusic.com He lives in Portland, Maine.

Jerry Schneider, sometimes called “The Butterfly Guy,” flits around the country doing nature slide shows in schools and libraries. He lives with wife, daughter and dog in Hardwick, VT.

Peggy Kannenstine is a well-known Woodstock, VT, artist who paints in her studio at home and also works in her town and state, furthering the arts and localvore/sustainable community efforts.

Chiho Kaneko is an artist who writes a weekly column about Vermont for a newspaper in northern Japan. She lives in Hartland, Vermont, with her baking husband.

Jonathan Keane holds a Masters degree from New York University with a concentration in poetry and politics; he currently works for a major publishing house in Boston.

Alexandra Thayer is a grandmother, mother, activist, radio listener & programmer, lover of poetry and music and partner to a wonderful man who adorns her fields with renewable energy.

Madeleine Winfield has lived in The NEK for forty years, tai chi/chi gong/yoga and sitting her way, family and friends her connection, while she transitions out of 35 years of marriage.

Tony Risitano is Warehouse/Fulfillment Manager at High Mowing Organic Seeds, one of the premier organic seed companies in America. More about High Mowing Organic Seeds at: http://highmowingseeds.com

The masthead quotation from Wendell Berry is from his new book Bringing it to the Table (Counterpoint, 2009, 340 pgs., $14.95), isbn: 978-1-58243-543-5
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Coming Soon

THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE: #50:

FOOD PART II

Quotations from Wendell Berry’s BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE

ISSUES OF CHOICE: THINKING OUTSIDE THE ISLES: by Diana McCall

WHY DO WE HAVE TO MAKE THESE CHOICES? by Todd Fleming Davis

THE PRACTICE OF GROWING by Valerie Linet

WE NEED A NEW WAY TO FEED PEOPLE by Gail Osherenko

WHAT PRICE FOOD? by Jeremiah Church
And a review of BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE.