Saturday, January 19, 2008

Recapturing what we lost, a small start.

Carolyn Baker is not my favorite writer by a considerable stretch. She supports things that I have ethical and religious problems embracing. But she is a shrewd observer of the state of affairs in this country, and occasionally she writes something that I myself have been trying to tell people.

Carolyn Baker Interviews Greg Cox
Thursday, 17 January 2008
Greg Cox owns Boardman Hill Farms, West Rutland, Vermont and is President of the Board of Rutland Area Farm and Food Links (RAFFL)

CB: ...Cox, Farmer, Kelly, and members of RAFFL quickly realized that in the event of economic or energy disruption, Rutland County would be incredibly vulnerable and have nothing to feed itself with...

Neither will the metropolitan area where we now live. Most likely, neither will yours.

GC: ...Today, we have a profit-driven food system that has nothing to do with quality. It takes more calories and energy to transport organic carrots from California than you get from eating them, and that's a system that runs on a deficit, and when you consider what may be in them and on them, it's even worse.

...When you consider the transport of food from other places, it makes no sense. For example, Vermont is a dairy state, but we don't consume our own dairy products which is ludicrous...

...Yes, we've been conditioned to believe that we can eat bananas in January, but there's a cost, a huge cost, that is never part of the story. It's absolutely not sustainable. We need to go back to communities with agriculture as the base to produce
most of what we eat. And it's not necessary to import food from afar because you can extend the window of growing season virtually twelve months a year.

...People understand outsourcing and don't like it, but they don't understand that when they spend dollars outside of their town, they're outsourcing their dollars. Jobs follow the money. Every dollar that stays in the community enriches it. So in the discussion of revitalizing communities, agriculture may be the introductory sentence, but it goes way beyond that.

..."Local" is not a high priority in a lot of places, but it is in Vermont. The people really wanted it to happen, and because it was so wanted, it has become a beautiful place. It creates an energy that builds off itself.

...Most young people, even in a rural area like Vermont, have a complete and total disconnect with their food system. Although Vermont is rural, it's really not agricultural-there are very few farms. My son and daughter are the only kids in their classes who live on a farm. Most parents in this area are service workers. We used to have a thriving General Electric plant here with a strong middle class where people made good salaries, had healthcare, and retired in great financial shape. Not anymore.

...I generally don't feel optimistic about the world we live in today, but I want my efforts locally to make a difference in my community and hopefully create opportunities for my kids and other young people. When I see what we've accomplished here in Rutland in just the past two years, I feel encouraged and excited.

CB: I came away from my conversation with Greg Cox with two profound realizations: 1) All the stereotypes of Rutland, Vermont as "backward" and "too conservative" to relocalize its economy through local agriculture were fading into the dustbin of history, and 2) Any region in America can affect the transformation that the forward-thinking folks in Rutland are making happen with their passion, commitment, and incredibly hard work as they engineer local economic solutions and give new meaning to the word "community."

Farmer's markets are the focus of this article, but the principle can be applied to any locally made, raised, or grown goods for any community - even ours. Import/Export is a business model that, like a person who doesn't know they have clogged arteries, seems fine right now. But it is in fact perilously close to having a heart attack. The heart of the import/export model of business is transportation costs, and when it is no longer viable to transport things from overseas to us, we are going to find ourselves doing without - because we have not built up local people from our own communities who have the skills and artisanship and craftsmanship to do these things. We want "cheap and now," and don't care about the long term good of either ourselves or our communities. It's something that will be obvious in hindsight. After all, hindsight is always 20/20. Like the guy in the hospital who looks back and says, "Well, exercise is unpleasant, eating right is not my favorite foods, and decreasing stress seemed impossible - but I know now that I have to do it anyway." That's nice, except a large percentage of persons who have heart attacks don't get to look back and see where they went wrong - they die. Wouldn't it have been better if the person in the hospital had taken a good, long look at their lifestyle and changed it before the heart attack came? Of course it would have. So why don't we?

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