The Town That Food Saved

Tomiko Peirano

Tomiko Peirano › Tomiko has amassed decades of experience in the food industry, from her family's restaurant in Oregon's ...


Ben Hewitt’s The Town That Food Saved (Rodale Books) tells the story of Hardwick, Vermont’s economic revitalization – seemingly all thanks to an influx of new agricultural businesses that proudly wear the “Local” and “Organic” mantles.

But Hardwick already had a long history of living off the land, a history which certainly provided the foundation on which these new businesses thrive, and there is a subtle divide growing along with all that food.

This is no sustainable food fairy tale with heroes and villains. Rather, there are people growing food to make a difference and a profit, and there are people growing food to make sure dinner gets on the table… and where those folks’ ideals converge and contradict makes for fascinating reading.

… let’s not forget, this is a pickup-driving town with a tractor-repair shop, a gun store, and a lumberyard making up a sizable percentage of the business landscape. These people are not lining up for organic milk lattes and tofu smoothies. If the founders of Vermont Soy, Jasper Hill, and the North Hardwick Dairy are truly committed to building a local food economy, shouldn’t they commit themselves to producing foods the locals can afford to eat? And actually will? Because, when you bore right down into it, past the economics and the politics and everything else, isn’t that the heart of the whole matter?

Through the scope of this one town, Hewitt attempts to tackle the thornier questions of cost and accessibility that plague our struggle to overcome a large-scale food system that both fools and fails us.

Early on in the book, Hewitt asks:

How do you create economic viability for small-scale producers utilizing circular farming practices while still providing cost-competitive food that blue-collar Americans can actually afford? I don’t know. How do you foster a wholesale shift in a society’s expectations regarding what it eats and when? I don’t know. How do you convince millions of Americans that a healthy, resilient food system depends on them becoming farmers, learning skills that have all but disappeared from our collective knowledge base? I don’t know.

Although the book offers up no final answers, it does present several compelling and inspiring opinions as ways to move forward in our collective search for better food. Indeed, as the story comes to a close, you see evidence of a new-found sense of shared purpose among those formerly at odds.

Until we have wrested our destiny from a system that is convoluted, hierarchical, and dangerous for the dependence it engenders and planted it in our own communities, in our own soils, with our own hands. Until someday when we can look back and realize it wasn’t just a town that food saved: It was a country.

Have you read The Town That Food Saved? What did you think of Ben Hewitt’s portrayal of the issue?

Photo Credit: Rodale Publishing


Paperback, Rodale Books

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