The Town That Food Saved Book Review

Guest post by Jerret Turner

The Town That Food Saved“Hardwick sits in a shallow hollow; and its 3,200 residents live in the shadow cast by Buffalo Mountain, which rises to nearly 3,000 feet at the southwest corner of town.”

And so begins the story about a town in rural Vermont tossed in the middle of an exploding agricultural commerce movement. Left to wither in obscurity after the gradual death of the granite quarries, this little town embarked on a quest to create a local food system. And to generate something considered even more important than food—jobs.

After a string of national media coverage, Ben Hewitt sets out to explore this local food movement that, according to the media (and unbeknownst to the author himself), was very much a novelty to most Americans. The book is called The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality In Local Food.

“Agrepreneurs”

Beginning in chapter 3, through the last chapter, Hewitt, a local himself, strings together a series of discussions and interviews with the “agrepreneurs”—the nickname he volunteers to the local food producing and related business owners.

Most notable of the interviewees is a man named Tom Stearns. Tom owns a 30 employee, organic seed company with sales in the $2 million per year range (amazing considering the near year round cold climate that grips the area). Stearns is obsessed with a vision to take this local food experiment and transplant the “system” into local economies all over the United States.

There’s only one problem. The local residents don’t eat the local food. At least not the majority of them. In fact, they don’t understand why the national media has been converging on their quaint, and quiet, town the last few years. They drive an hour to shop at the closest Wal-Mart and pick up extra milk and eggs at the only gas station in town. If there’s something amazing happening, they don’t see it.

This is a question that haunts the author throughout the book. Yes, having a local food system minimizes the impact of food loss after a disaster (i.e. food security). Yes, these agrepreneurial companies are employing locals. But, if the food being produced is shipped elsewhere, because locals can’t afford it, then what’s the point? A local food system should feed the local people, right?

Hewitt wrestles with this question more often as his narrative continues. He doesn’t want to be the party pooper but realizes that local will have to some day be local for the food system to be deemed successful.

What I loved about this book…

Hewitt focuses squarely on the food issue without getting into the politics. I’m not sure how or when it started but anytime the words “green”, “local”, or “organic” are thrown around, there’s a political stigma attached. But not in this book’s case.

Hewitt manages to demonstrate that these agrepreneurs are simply engaged in commercial activities that are vital to the town’s survival and, at the same time, addressing critical issues with the food system in the United States. Namely that producer and distribution consolidations are actually making us more vulnerable to starvation if any cog in the wheel gets interrupted.

Hewitt provides an analysis of a progressive movement although not in the political sense. The author stays objective, on-topic, and factual. In one sense, I felt like I was following a camera around. Seeing for myself what he describes without being made to think a certain way.

This is not philosophical nor a manifesto. Hewitt is proud that his boyhood town is on the cutting edge of this growing trend towards locally grown food. He asks specific questions. How can this be re-created elsewhere? How do we help people understand that locally grown food is more than just…food? Hewitt is equally impressed with the job creation and increased sales the companies in the book provide.

Overall, Hewitt does a tremendous job of balancing the local food movement as a way of life and as a legitimate business operation with sales, profits, and employees with families. He’s not afraid to address concerns such as unintentionally shutting out Hardwick’s residents ($30 per pound cheese anyone?) just to feed the national media’s obsession.

Hewitt is a master storyteller without getting bogged down in technical details. He mixes the daily life of a farmer together with emotion in such a way that I wanted to pack up and move to Hardwick several times. But then in the next sentence made grateful that I don’t live there (cold, very cold).

You’ll like this book if…

You have an interest in raising your own food, whether planting a garden or buying a 50-acre farm. Or you’re interested in buying more local produce and meat. I was already familiar with much of the food industry the author explains. If you aren’t familiar, and have concerns about your own health, Hewitt delivers.

I also recommend it to entrepreneurs looking for ideas in the next industry poised for massive growth—local agribusiness.

If you only read one thing…

Hewitt interviews a couple that own a very lucrative, albeit strange, service business. Animal slaughtering. What may seem like a downright cruel or coarse activity to us city people, becomes an art form in the presence of this husband and wife duo.

Carefully and methodically, they ride around the countryside in a weather beaten truck, filleting cows, pigs, chickens, and ducks. And all before noon on most days. Animal hit men if you will. Absolutely riveting. I wish I had these skills. Only because I could be in business and making a profit by the end of the week.

The bottom line…

Even if you lean more conservative, as I do, Hewitt gives a non-shameful, honest look at our current food system in the United States. We as Americans don’t know what it’s like to go hungry. An empty refrigerator is a minor inconvenience. We can find more food within a short drive. Hewitt suggest that maybe we need to take a closer look at how everything is pieced together. And if we do, we’ll see that putting our food in the hands of fewer and fewer people may have disastrous consequences.

The town that food saved may be the town that saves food.

About The Author:

Jerret Turner is a writer and researcher on budget tips. Save time and money by getting free tips and in-depth information on all things debt, investment, and budget related at BudgeSnob.com.