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 "

It is a midweek night and Claire’s is packed. Some of it can be chalked up to Chef Steven Obranovich’s “New Vermont Cooking”: “It’s what the farmers want to grow and what I want to cook and what people want to eat,” the wiry, bespectacled chef tells me.

But the Hardwick story is bigger than food. It’s about how a struggling town has helped to launch a restaurant that has become a local gathering place. It’s about how townsfolk showed up at the new restaurant last summer with fresh-picked blueberries for Steven to put up, so that Claire’s—their place—would have what it needed. It’s about community, vision and perseverance, something this gritty town knows plenty about. The blueberry upside-down cake I savor tonight is its sweet reward.

Jenifer Vaughan, a local salon owner, recently made a point of stopping by Claire’s to thank them “for what they’re doing and what they’ve brought into town. They’ve generated a buzz. It’s not just another cool restaurant. There’s genuineness. There’s love there.”

Fixing the food system is a daunting task. And Hardwick, with its quirky character and history, may or may not be a model that is readily exported. There are numerous obstacles: the tanking economy, tensions within the community between the new haves and the old have-nots. But the bold vision and efforts of these farmers, thinkers and entrepreneurs has generated momentum.

Tom Stearns is convinced that the farmers of Hardwick can change the world. “People can be inspired by what they see here. Then they do things like this in their own community, and it could crescendo,” he flings his arms wide, “into a wave of food-system change around the country.”
With that, another dinner at Claire’s is served, a celebration of great possibility renewed with each course.

Vermonter David Goodman’s most recent book is Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times (Hyperion, 2008).

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