Growing Roots

By Lisa Gosselin, "Growing Roots,"July/August 2012

An essay on how in the last 10 years, the whisper “Where does our food come from?” has become a roar.

It was early spring, 2002, when I found the old cabin, nearly overtaken by forest. It stood empty, at the dead end of a narrow valley in northern Vermont. Built in 1850, it had nothing that I had wanted in a house: no closets, no TV reception, no cell-phone service, no Internet access. It had everything I needed.

Beyond the tangle of raspberry bushes, a spring trickled from the side of the hill and joined a brook where trout hovered in the pebbled shallows. I found fiddleheads and wild ramps sprouting in the glades along the banks. Sap buckets still hung from the ­maples. One day I followed the river as it flowed down valley through a farm. A gray-haired woman in knee-high mud boots herded a sheep, goats and chickens past a weathered barn. “Eggs for sale” read a sign on the door.

I’d fled Manhattan just six months earlier, tired of high heels and takeout dinners. I was sick from breathing smoke and exhaust and shaken by the recurring images of two office towers tumbling into dust.

I craved clean air, clean water and clean food. I needed to be fed by my neighbors and nourished by the landscape.


I was not alone. In the years since I bought the cabin, what started out as a shy whisper—“Where does this food come from?”—has become a conversation, a chant, and now almost a roar. Farmers’ markets, once the province of rural communities, have migrated into urban parks, doubling in number since 2002 and growing by 17 percent last year alone. Country of origin labeling has become mandatory for meats and fish, fruits, vegetables and many nuts. “Local” has become the new “gourmet,” “farm-to-table” the mantra of the star chef. Hippie health-food stores have evolved into Whole Foods über­markets that celebrate sustainability.

We care now not only where our food comes from, but also who produced it and how. The Fair Trade USA certification mark, established in 1998 to help assure eco-friendly practices and fair and ethical treatment of farmers in developing countries, now appears on more than 11,000 products and doubled in usage in 2010.

The National Organic Program, in its infancy in 2002, now certifies more than 28,380 producers worldwide. Milk produced without growth hormones can now be labeled rBST-free. And if California and more than 20 other states succeed in their legal battles, genetically modified foods may soon be labeled as such.

That first year in my new home, though, none of this existed.


I had never heard the term “locavore” when I started what I called, somewhat jokingly, my “10-mile diet.” I planted a garden. I picked berries. I bought chicken from the farm down the road. (I survived, my New York friend Tracy rightly pointed out, only because there was a brewery, Ben & Jerry’s and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters all based within that 10-mile radius.) My asthma cleared up and I ran the dirt roads. And I started to cook again.

Undisturbed by phone calls, I found the time at last to browse the shiny-covered­ cookbooks, collected but never opened. I pored over food magazines, including a new local one called EatingWell, never imagining that four years later I would work there.

In the silent summer evenings in the cabin, the clatter of pans took the place of the white noise of TV and the roar of crowded city bars. Garlic, wine and spices were perfume, sticky dough on my fingers a warm handshake.

And when dinner was done, I would take my plate outside and sit in an Adirondack chair on the porch, tasting—in the trout and chives and crabapple pie—the flavors of the river, the farm, the woods.

I realized then, I had everything I needed.

Today, I have that and more. Despite all that is still wrong with our food system—the food deserts, overconsumption, the fact that fewer than one in four Americans eats the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables—I see the changes that have happened to our food in 10 years. And I have hope.

Lisa Gosselin has been EatingWell’s editorial director since 2006.