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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Luskin: A New Word for an Old Way

I raised my first pig in 1985. Our house was in a perfect spot: On one side, there was an old cellar hole we turned into a sty, and on the other was a farm stand, where we picked up unsold produce at the end of each day. Our pig got fat on strawberries and squashes and apples gone by.

At the end of October, once the cold set in, neighbors with knowledge gleaned from raising their own food helped us slaughter our pig. Back then, we knew any number of Vermonters who raised their own pork, poultry and potatoes. One friend planted an enormous garden and supplied vegetables to a local inn. It was an arrangement forged long before the Farm Fresh Network matched farmers to chefs. Other neighbors planted a large garden simply out of habit. It’s how they’d fed a large family that over the years included about two-dozen foster kids. They encouraged us in tillage and instructed us in canning.

All this local food production was simply an inherited way of life that thrived here long before the word localvore entered the language, and before organic practices held sway. Some of the gardeners I learned from used commercial fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. They were skeptical about our organic methods, but they didn’t proselytize – and neither did we.

When organic produce started showing up in the stores, I found grocery shopping fraught with ethical choices: Deciding between organic and conventionally produced oranges could stymie me as I balanced virtue with cost. I really have Michael Pollan to thank for giving me the term “industrial organic” and teaching me that the baby lettuce from California for sale in Vermont requires more energy to produce and transport than it contains. This information has taught me that most of the time locally produced trumps all.

By many measures, Vermont leads the nation in the localvore movement. Farmer’s Markets, CSAs, food hubs, and locally sourced restaurant meals are now commonplace here. Even so, only the most dedicated localvores will confine themselves to eating only what’s in the root cellar during Vermont’s winter. I admit to buying fresh fruit and vegetables trucked in from warmer climates, especially in the spring, when the charm of eating homegrown wears thin.

We stopped raising our own pork when the farm stand moved further down the road. And we stopped planting a huge garden when we signed up for our first CSA, though we still plant a small one. We do raise meat birds every summer, and we keep a laying flock for eggs. Even though there is now so much good food available locally, growing some of our own is a hard habit to break.
And I don't want to.

Thirty years ago, I learned food growing and food preservation skills from an older generation of Vermonters that fed itself as a matter of course.
It turns out that localvore is just a new term for the old ways in Vermont. 

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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