Back to The Local Movement

by nick sirianno

If you ask any of your grandparents they’ll tell you a local movement didn’t exist in their day. They’ll tell you “local” was just how things were.  There were the local corner groceries, local pharmacies, bakeries, hardware stores, technical services, breweries, the list goes on.  It was before the big box stores, the chain super mega marts, the coffee and doughnut stores that have sprung up on every corner—times were simpler, economies sustained, communities were communities.  And then somewhere, somehow things went wrong.  Local as your grandparents remembered it tanked, family businesses closed, people moved away, farms became gnarled fields and unkempt barns.  A culture was lost and people we didn’t know moved in, alien stores sprung up that contained what seemed like everything.  Scarred communities were patched with only a band-aid strong enough to plainly keep people living. The local economy vanished.  But, how has it come back?  Where did the local movement as we know it today begin? Where is the epicenter of local? 

Vermont.  Sure, local foods have been used in Vermont restaurants for decades, local beer has been around for a while, and local cheese and bread has been a staple on every Vermont table but what made Local cool?  Who made it cool? 

We begin our journey in the Northeast Kingdom, an area of northern VT laden with farms, fields, lumber roads, and a few dedicated folks and towns that understood both the health and economic benefits of supporting their neighbors. This is where the holy trinity of local began—bread, cheese, and beer.   Ed Behr, well-known author and editor of a quarterly magazine The Art of Eating lives in St. Johnsbury, VT.  He first heard the term “localvore” back in 2005.  Behr says it began because “people started to inquire about where their food was coming from, and who was producing it.” People in the Northeast Kingdom are friendly and neighbors can trust each other.  Aside from being more nutritious, “knowing who people are is key to enhancing a local movement” says Behr.  It isn’t just about buying local it is about understanding and feeling local. 

One major contributor to the local movement is Pete’s Greens, a certified organic, four season, vegetable farm located on the edge of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom in Craftsbury, VT.  Their slogan, “Vermont can feed itself!”  And their ideology, “By deciding to eat locally you support thousands of small producers such as creameries, cheese makers, slaughterhouses, butchers, bakeries, sauerkraut makers, and of course vegetable farmers. Foods grown locally and in-season are also more nutritious, taste better, and eating them connects us to our place and to our present time of year. Local food production is interesting work that makes a great career and creates a fine quality of life here in Vermont, keeping our agricultural economy an important part of our culture” sits at the heart of the local movement!

Then there is Jasper Hill Farm; a cheese making Mecca located in Greensborrow, VT, a rural Northeast Kingdom town. Started in 2005, brothers Andy and Mateo Kheller recognized a way to keep the Vermont dairy industry alive. The dairy industry was vanishing, farm after farm were selling their cows and closing their barns.  Jasper Hill Farm started buying milk from the remaining dairy farmers and making cheese. They did everything but “milk the industry” dry and created a way to keep Vermont dairy farms alive.  According to the Art of Eating in an interview between Ed Behr and Mateo Kehler “I believe we have the power to make an impact and demonstrate that there is an alternative to the commodification of our food, our landscape, and our communities,” says Kehler.

The local food movement spread quickly.  People began recognizing the importance of preserving the livelihood of Vermont farmers and understanding the importance of culturing a local economy.  Communities of sharing are coming back, and we are becoming neighbors again.  According to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA) in all of Vermont’s 14 counties there are 63 registered farmers markets! So, certainly local food is at the heart of the local movement but what about art, music, and local services.  If you’ve been to any of these markets you’ll quickly notice that it isn’t just food being sold but it is jewelry, art, poetry, services, pretty much anything and everything that is local.  There is an insurgence of local in everything, and Vermont has a host of examples of people, artists, companies, and businesses that are pushing the local movement and enhancing the local economy.

It is nice to have a local pocket here in Vermont but without those farms, artists, and  people of good will dedicated to standing their ground and keep local in the minds of all, we would be nowhere.  It takes bravery, courage, and a passion for a community to break the mold of corporate life and live a life of humble locality.  Those who enjoy the local movement outnumber the people who built the local movement.  It is up to us, the buyers, supporters, and neighbors of local farmers, artists and musicians to help them make a difference for us!

Look at Localvore  Their mission is to make the local movement accessible to everyone.  By simply offering a daily opportunity to save money and support a local business, the local movement is growing, and the local economy is improving! Everyday a new local Vermont business is highlighted, and everyday patrons save money and spend money locally!  We are dedicated to preserving the local culture that Vermont was founded on.  We are here to provide the community with a venue to explore local cuisine, art, and services.  Together, Vermont’s local economy will strengthen, and communities will grow.  

Rise and Follow,

Nick Sirianno