Closer to home

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(HOST) Used to be that most Americans lived on or close to a farm and ate food that was mostly produced nearby. Times have changed, but commentator Ron Krupp says that choosing to eat food that is locally grown is still a good idea.

(KRUPP) I remember a farmer by the name of Guy Kelsey who moved to Vermont in the 1950’s to work with George Aiken at
the Putney Nursery. George Aiken went on to become the Governor of Vermont and then Senator of the Green Mountain State.

Guy Kelsey stayed on the farm, and he told me he considered himself a rich man. When I asked him why, he said it was because he and his wife Gula grew and home-canned all their fruits and vegetables. They stored root crops in the cool cellar, milked the cow, filled the pantry, and slaughtered a hog and beef animal in the fall. The one exception was when they traveled to the grocery store in Brattleboro to buy canned mackerel. Today we drive to the supermarket and fill up our shelves and refrigerators with almost any food we desire, including fresh strawberries and lettuce and tomatoes in the darkest days of winter.

In 2005, author and teacher at Middlebury College, Bill McKibben, decided to experiment with living for seven months – including the long winter months and early spring – almost entirely on foods grown close to home. He purchased food from local farmers and stores that sold Vermont products. If you went to visit him in January, he might have given you a plate of oatmeal cookies made from local butter, maple syrup and eggs, wheat from Ben Gleason’s farm in Bridport, rolled oats from Quebec (not that close) and a cup of hot apple cider from Champlain Orchards in Shoreham. McKibben also enjoys an occasional beer. Luckily, a local brewer, Otter Creek, makes an organic beer from Ben Gleason’s wheat.

McKibben acknowledges that local ingredients cost more. And
his family could not always afford the higher cost of local organic chicken and beef; so they did what more than four-fifths of the people in the world do, and that is to eat more beans and less meat. McKibben figures that Vermonters could get at least thirty percent of their food from Vermont grown and produced products without drastically changing their eating habits – products like milk and cheese, yogurt, eggs, vegetables, and fruits, cider, honey and maple syrup, chicken, beef and locally-made bread.

I grow a lot of my own food, can tomatoes, freeze corn and beans, dry herbs, store root crops in my cellar, bake cookies and apple crisp. But I don’t think I could get along without rice, orange juice, and grapefruit. McKibben told me he now throws chocolate chips into the oatmeal cookies and loves bananas. After all, we do live in the world. On the other hand, if making an extra effort to support local farmers and producers helps to preserve our rural landscape and strengthen our communities, it’s certainly food for thought.

This is Ron Krupp, the northern gardener.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.

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