Book Review – The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food

Full disclosure. I only picked up this book because my friend invited me to her book club, and the club was reading it last month. I’m not sure if I would have picked up this book on my own.

I love food. I love good food. I’ve been a locavore since birth, but my local eating habits were disrupted for a brief period (well, actually more like several years) after I moved to the United States. In my home country, we buy fresh produce, meat, and fish at markets. We don’t buy food at Wal Mart, and we certainly don’t have bread and milk that last for a couple of weeks.

Since I love to eat locally, I’ve picked up my fair share of books on this subject. Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon, Joel Salatin. So, left on my own, I may have picked up Ben Hewitt’s The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food.

Then again, maybe not. I’m a doer. I don’t like to just read about things. I want to do them. That’s why I garden, keep chickens and duck, tend to bees, make cheese using local farm fresh milk, roast coffee, and preserve harvest. My partner Eddy bakes bread and brews beer. Doing things keeps us busy that we rarely have time to read about local food these days.

So, left on my own, I may or may not have picked up Hewitt’s book. I’m glad that I did because 1) I learned about the guy who sells me seeds every year, and 2) I learned a lot about the town of Hardwick, Vermont.

Located in northern Vermont, the town of Hardwick, population 3,200, used to prosper from the local granite industry but has since fallen on hard times. Enter a group of young, energetic agricultural entrepreneurs, or agripreneurs. A seed seller, an artisan cheese maker, organic farmers, a chef, livestock slaughterers. They breathe vitality back into Hardwick by creating a new economy centered around local food. Soon the town captures national media attention but garners local skepticism from those who have been engaged in local food movement much longer than agripreneurs.

Since I buy seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds, I enjoyed reading about Tom Stearns who started the company a few miles outside of Hardwick. Stearns became a de facto spokesperson for Hardwick’s local food movement after it began receiving national media attention. He touts the town’s new found vitality as an economic model that can and should be exported to other parts of the country.

But did Hardwick really find vitality in local food? Hewitt writes that the majority of Hardwick residents can’t and don’t access locally grown organic produce or $20-per-pound artisan cheese. None of the agripreneurs is turning profits.

Hewitt is honest about challenges faced by the town’s new economy. He doesn’t offer answers. Instead, he leaves readers wondering if Hardwick was really saved by food.

Despite the grandiose title that does not match the story, Hewitt’s book is a good read for anyone interested in local food movement.

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