How a Band of Youthful Entrepreneurs Are Resuscitating an Ailing Vermont Town With a New Economy Based on Local Foods

The book, "The Town That Food Saved," shows that Hardwick's recent history may be providing a template for a food system that could save all of us.

March 29, 2010 | Source: AlterNet | by Barry Estabrook

The words local, seasonal, and sustainable have been repeated so often and with so little thought that they have become soothing background noise, feel-good mood-music for any socially conscious eater worth his or her naturally obtained organic sea salt. So it’s refreshing to encounter a book that treats the subject intelligently.

Was it Holden Caulfield who said the measure of a good book was one that makes you want to call the author on the phone? Reading Ben Hewitt’s The Town That Food Saved impelled me to pay a visit to the author at his home, a raggedy farmstead at the end of a rutted, muddy, unmarked lane tucked among the folds and hollows of north-central Vermont.

Tall and lanky, Hewitt is in his late thirties and grew up in rural, working-class Vermont. His formal education ended before he was able to complete high school. On the morning we met, his red knit cap was flecked with bits of hay, and he wore a faded blue shirt and olive-green work pants dabbed with either mud or manure from the dozen or so cows and sheep in the shed next to his house.

The central character in Hewitt’s book is the town of Hardwick, about eight miles from where he lives. A half-burned-out commercial building dominates the main intersection. It’s an apt metaphor for the one-blinking-light village. Between 1880 and 1920, Hardwick prospered. It was a major source of granite for the building trade. When reinforced concrete replaced rock as a construction material, the community fell into decay. Today, the town’s name is rarely seen in print without the adjective “hardscrabble.”

But Hardwick may be changing. A band of youthful, boundlessly articulate entrepreneurs are rebuilding the area’s economy on a foundation that may be more substantial than the bedrock on which its first boom was based: sustainable, local food production.