From the Ground Up
It snows almost daily now, not heavily but in measurable quantities, and the air has a hazy, dream-like quality that’s only occasionally interrupted by sun. It’s hard to tell sometimes if the flakes are falling or merely suspended, caught in perpetuity between sky and soil. The snow has accumulated such that I am barely able to navigate the woods by tractor; the wheels churn and grip, churn and grip, inching me along my skid path. Still, we’ve amassed a fine pile of firewood, mostly skidder-damaged sugar maple from the fringes of the old logging roads that spiderweb this land. A couple more cords and next year’s supply will be assured.
Over the past couple of months, I have been working part-time for a local non-profit organization called Rural Vermont. For more than 30 years, Rural Vermont has advocated for community-scale regenerative agriculture, primarily (though not exclusively) by maintaining a presence in the state legislature, doing what it can to influence policy in ways that are favorable to Vermont’s small farms. Of all the organizations doing good work around food and ag in VT (and there are many), I’ve long felt that Rural Vermont is unique in its holistic grasp of the issues at hand and its willingness to dive headfirst into the pigpen of policy.
And I very much appreciate their view of local food and agriculture as being about so much more than jobs and money. They see and articulate connections that most other organizations don’t or won’t: Connections between how we treat the land and feed ourselves and our state’s ecological health, for instance. Connections between how we treat the land and feed ourselves and the vitality of our communities. Connections between how we treat the land and feed ourselves and the current crisis in opiate addiction. Between how we treat the land and feed ourselves and our children’s educations. And so on.
The work I’m doing is co-organizing and presenting a six-stop, statewide conversation tour with my friend Graham, who is also works for RV (the office joke is that Graham is the organizer and I’m the disorganizer, which is a little too close to the truth for my tastes). The tour is called Groundswell, which I think is a pretty clever name, mostly because I came up with it. Although Graham and I are coming with a clear agenda, these events will be based around dialogue. We will be listening as much as, if not more than, we will be talking. I suspect this will be easier for Graham than for me.
The impetus for this tour is many-fold, but certainly rooted in our desire to understand how this organization can best serve Vermont’s small-farm community, as well as those who value and depend on them (which should be all of us, but you know how it goes). The truth is, the policy work we’ve long done is fraught with frustration and often marked by marginal gains, at least when compared to the scope and scale of the challenges our constituency faces. It will surprise no one with even a passing understanding of ag and food policy that it’s engineered in favor of large scale agribusiness, and that it tends to disincentivize practices that return wealth to the land and to the community in which the operation is located. Often, I hear people speak of our “broken” food and ag systems, and while I understand why they use this language, I don’t agree. I don’t believe they’re broken in the least; I think they’re operating precisely as designed. Which is to say, they are engineered to extract wealth from the land and the vast majority of those inhabiting it, both human and non-human. That’s just the cold, hard truth. The other cold, hard truth is that we cannot wait for the political process to bring equality to our working-class, rural communities. And yes, I would be saying this no matter who won the election.
Anyway. I wanted to tell you about this tour because I would be honored if those of you within spittin’ distance would turn out to one of these events (the schedule is below). You can come to listen, to talk, or just to make us feel a little less lonely. And yes, there will be food. Free food. Finally, if any of you are so inclined, I’d like to offer a brief, soft pitch for supporting Rural Vermont. I think it’s fair to say that this work is more important than ever, and we truly need your support to maintain our efforts. You can learn more about becoming a member here.