(HOST) Commentator Janisse Ray is a writer who lives in Brattleboro. A native of the South, she is taking her place at Vermont’s table.
(RAY) Neha has come to the long table with a board of hot bread. Possibly she is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. Her face is very serene. In the four days so far at Knoll Farm I have yet to see one twinge of frustration or agitation upon her, nor upon Chris, her husband, a big, smiling man.
I am spending the week at the Center for Whole Communities, in the Mad River Valley, with a group of environmentalists thinking about how we can create wholeness in a time of fragmentation and destruction. To that end, our food for the week is coming from a fifty-mile radius of Waitsfield.
Neha and Chris are the chefs. Almost nothing comes to their kitchen processed. Most is organic. Some of it has been grown in the sprawling gardens, replete with tomato vines and tomatillo bushes and sweet lettuce.
We eat in an immense red barn, at a thirty-foot table covered with cloths and set with summer bouquets. One wall of the barn is lined with garden tools.
Before every meal, Neha and Chris introduce the food. The oats were grown at Gleason Farm in Bridport, they say, the maple syrup came from Maggie Brooks Sugarworks over the mountain in Starksboro. The black beans are from Butterworks Farm. The bread was baked in wood-fired ovens in Duxbury. Every meal, Chris and Neha make their litany of origins seem like a kind of prayer.
The reasons to eat local are many. Most food comes to our tables transported an average of 1,500 miles. It is compromised in quality by the time between field and plate; by techniques that make growing and shipping more profitable (like chemical fertilizers and irradiation); and by industrial processing. Ten calories of fuel are used to produce one calorie of food. Local food is thousands of miles fresher, days more nutritious. It keeps money in local communities. It supports a food supply disengaged from the vagaries of the oil market.
This August many people across Vermont have accepted a challenge to be localvores, to eat locally. For some, this means a single meal. For others, the challenge will last all month. My family is eating vegetables from our garden and eggs from our hens, maple syrup from Deer Ridge Farm, milk from Thurber Dairy, blueberries and peaches from Miller Orchards. We’re shopping at farmstands and farmer’s markets.
We’re eating beautifully, thoughtfully. We’re having fun. But we sure do wish some Vermont farmer would soon find a way to grow bananas and cocoa beans!
Janisse Ray is a naturalist and writer from Georgia who is living in Vermont and learning to manage the brevity of the growing season.