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 "

Just up the road in the rolling hills of Craftsbury, I find Pete Johnson of Pete’s Greens and his girlfriend, Meg Gardner. They are inside one of four movable greenhouses, hunched over trays of bright green sprouts, delicately slicing shoots with a razor knife. Pete’s Greens is a four-season organic farm that until six years ago provided food to fancy restaurants in Boston and New York. But Pete, a raffishly handsome man with a shaggy crop of blond hair and five-o’clock shadow, tells me he no longer wants to send his food far away. In the past three years he has flipped from selling three-fourths of his produce out of state to selling that same amount in state. Most of his business now is his Good Eats CSA, which combines offerings from his farm with those from a number of different farms and food producers. Good Eats has about 250 local members. A 17-week share of vegetables and locally produced goods, such as yogurt, milk, tofu, bread and fruit, costs $44 per week. Is there interest? Good Eats makes up half the farm’s business, and Pete says his farm and most other local producers can barely keep up with the demand for local food.

“It’s gratifying to know and please the people who are eating our food,” he says as he slices off a pinch of radish sprouts and hands them to me. “Try it,” he urges. A spicy, zingy sensation lights up my tongue. Pete chuckles as I pucker in pleasant surprise. His farm is renowned for its specialty and heirloom vegetables, from numerous varieties of kale and fingerling potatoes to dandelion greens and garlic scapes. Claire’s Restaurant chef and co-owner Steven Obranovich is a regular customer.

Pete insists that thinking local is thinking big. “I think we are just at the beginning of what I hope will be a revolution in how we feed ourselves,” he tells me from among his sprout beds. “My vision is of a village- or multi-village-based food system where most of what the people here eat is from here, with some key local trading. I think it has the potential to be really efficient, create a lot of good jobs and small businesses, and create incredible community, which is something we’ve lost.”

How will Hardwick measure success? Andrew Meyer, who still looks the part of a preppy Senate staffer, considers my question as we stand next to a vat of soy curd that is being slowly and rhythmically stirred by a bearded young man with a giant paddle. Meyer suddenly pipes up, saying, “Success will be determined by the number of jobs we create in this area, the increased awareness of where your food comes from, the amount of land that’s being productively worked, and also the trail of your local dollar. The more times that money can stay within the community, the more it supports the local food system.”

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