Budbill: Affordable food for all

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(HOST) Commentator David Budbill has been thinking about the new sustainable agriculture movement and how it reflects his own arrival in the southwest corner of the Northeast Kingdom.

(BUDBILL) 40 years ago, in the summer of 1969, while, it seems, everyone else went to Woodstock, I came to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom instead with that wave of Back-to-the-Land, White-Flight, Let’s-Start-America-All-Over-Again young who swept into these parts in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As my character Antoine says in JUDEVINE:

     Watch out! boys. Dere really caumin’ in dis summer.
     Dere’s gonna be a million of ’em wash in ‘ere like a tidal          
     wa’f. Dis place use’ to be more caows ‘an people,
     now we’re gonna be more ‘ippies ‘an caows!

I have been struck again and again in recent years with how similar today’s interest in reviving a sustainable agricultural economy is to what we all wished for, dreamed of, 40 years ago. I’ve also got to say that those leading the charge now are much smarter, shrewder, better prepared, less pie-in-the-sky dreamers than we were.

However, it’s people like me way back then who started the demand for good bread, organic vegetables and grass fed beef. In short, people like me started, whether we wanted to or not, the movement to gentrify Vermont.

There is one major concern I had 40 years ago and I still have. Gentrification is possible only where the distribution of wealth is mercilessly unequal, where a real economic apartheid exists, and that’s the way it is increasingly around here. My concern is how gentrification, a gentrification I helped start, divides the world into the rich and the poor.

As much as I love CSAs, entrepreneurial vegetable growers, sheep raisers and cheese makers, bread bakers and so forth, I wonder who supports these endeavors. Who can afford to buy the organic lettuce, not to mention the lamb or the cheese? Where do these people come from? How rich are they? Where do they get their money?

I feel free to ask who these people are because at the moment we have a whole lamb in the freezer and we enjoy Lazy Lady and Jasper Hill cheeses from time to time and we eat good local bread too.

What I fear is that this new sustainable agricultural economy survives, and increasingly thrives, based on the support of a class of people who, like me – some of the time at least – can afford to buy more expensive food when less expensive food is available. What does that say about the great and growing divide between the rich and the poor here in our state? In other words, do the people who shop at Price Chopper also patronize Farmers’ Markets? And if not, why not?

40 years after moving to Vermont, the question still remains: how is the sustainable agriculture movement going to get good, affordable food to all Vermonters, rich and poor alike?


Budbill photo by Glenn Callahan, 2008


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