The Town that Food Saved

Three weeks or so ago, I sent in my Letter of Intent to register at UC Davis in the fall.

In two months and a bit, I’ll be back in California starting a research position; by the end of September, I expect to be deep into classes, papers, and starting on some of the projects I’ve been dreaming up.

It was hard to decide to go back to school and it was hard to decide to go to Davis, but now that I’ve finally settled on a plan, it feels darn good.

Now that I’ve painted the broad strokes of the next couple of years, it’s becoming more and more exciting to layer in the details. So many of the experiences I’ve had over the last three months are connecting back to the work that I’ll be doing in Davis; people that I continue to meet, places I visit, reports I read — they’re all giving me inspiration for what I can do with two years of financial support, university resources, and lots of excitement and energy.

I’ll be in a program called Community and Regional Development, focusing on community economic development through food systems; looking at the ways that community-based agri-food businesses can create jobs, empower people, improve the physical environment, improve people’s health, and promote cultural change that, among other things, may lead to more cooperation, more compassion, more participation, and ultimately, a more satisfied, happy society.

When you start to get immersed in the food systems milieu, the same concepts come up again and again. The same examples  too. Hardwick, Vermont is one of those examples: a town that supposedly epitomizes what’s possible when business savvy meets food, meets community; throw in a whole lot of elbow grease and voila! an economic and cultural miracle. Down-and-out old quarry town town transformed into a agri-food mecca.

So when a friend recommended Hewitt’s book, The Town that Food Saved, of course I had to read it to see what all the fuss was about. More and more people have a hunch that there’s something magical about community and local and regional “systems,” or at least as opposed to the centralized, industrialized system that we’ve created over the past 100 or so years and this book starts to articulate and demystify some of this magic, not through theory or metrics, but through a story.

The beginning and end of the book are slightly worn, the same concepts you’ll find recycled in your typical industrial-ag critiques and I took issue with some specific points of the discussion that didn’t seem entirely accurate, but the book was completely redeemed by the conversational exposition of the people at the heart of this town.

In the end, the story fired me up, made me feel excited to act, to get out there and buy a a mobile food truck and hire a few students and get produce from local farms and serve people food. By the end, all I wanted to do was be one of the “Toms” (the one who is slightly less obsessed with himself, perhaps) who are the drivers of this story. I was jumping out of my skin, crawling with anticipation, with ideas.

Now, a few weeks later, the flutters have died down a bit in my gut and I’ve started to think more deeply about what I need to DO and I’m feeling a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose.

Hooray for inspiration.


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