Building a Healthy Food System in Rural America

By David Goodman, "Foodtopia," July/August 2009

How a handful of organic farmers, world-class cheesemakers and a locavore restaurant transformed Hardwick, Vermont—a poor, rural town—into a foodie mecca.

"An inspiring article by the always-inspiring David Goodman. Thanks for running it. Jules Older, San Francisco, CA "

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has called Hardwick “an important national test-case of the possibilities of relocalizing an economy, a real-world, real-time exploration of the challenges.” Author and activist Bill McKibben says, “Hardwick has all the pieces of a healthy food system connected and ready to fall into place, and is as far ahead in sustainable agriculture as any place in the country. Deep and transformative things are happening here.”

Though there is little data to show whether this model can be replicated, this past spring, researchers from MIT and Columbia University visited to see how the Hardwick experiment was progressing and last year, the University of Vermont signed on to provide technical support to the Center. Stearns and Meyer hope to tap the university’s marketing and agricultural expertise and get its help on issues such as childhood obesity and diabetes. Plans are also moving forward to build an eco-industrial park where many of the food businesses might co-locate so that they can more easily share resources. In April, Honey Gardens Apiaries, a Vermont distiller, announced it was moving its operation for making honey wine to Hardwick. Todd Hardie, founder of Honey Gardens, compared Hardwick to “Amish communities where they build a barn and everyone has a role in it and gathers around to give input and support. We want to be part of that collaborative spirit.”

Local. Healthy. Community-based. Delicious. These themes are at the heart of the Hardwick food community. I am reminded of that as I arrive at Jasper Hill Farm’s gleaming new $2 million cheese cave in Greensboro, eight miles away. The jaw-dropping 22,000-square-foot cave—said to be the finest of its kind in North America—is the labor of love of brothers and farmers Andy and Mateo Kehler. As I walk through the seven vaults, I crane my neck to look at tall racks of aging cheeses that are stacked to the arched ceiling and turned by hand each day. Jasper Hill’s own cheeses are here—they make a mouthwatering slow-ripened soft cheese they call Constant Bliss, as well as Bayley Hazen Blue, a spectacular natural-rinded blue cheese that landed the brothers on the NBC Today show. Wine Spectator recently named two of Jasper Hill’s cheeses among the top 100 cheeses in the world. Also making that list were Cabot Creamery’s Clothbound Cheddar, Vermont Ayr and Grafton Clothbound, which are all aged at Jasper Hill.

The Kehlers intend their cheese cellar to be a center for a budding artisanal cheese industry that serves the whole region, providing opportunities for local dairy farmers to become cheesemakers. For those new to cheesemaking, Jasper Hill will provide technical expertise as well as cave space to get them started. I mention to Andy Kehler the plight of the dairy farmers in my community, noting how dairy farmer Rosina Wallace bemoaned how she must ship her milk hundreds of miles away to be processed. Andy listened and replied, “That’s exactly the kind of farmer we need. Have her call me.”

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner