Local food often conjures images of farm-to-table meals served at trendy restaurants in Vermont’s urban centers, or tables of fresh produce overflowing into the aisles of a community’s farmers market. While these are important parts of Vermont’s growing local-food movement, an important part of Vermont’s local-food culture often goes unnoticed: Many residents have been quietly eating locally sourced food all along, from their own gardens, communities and forests.
Known as Rooted in Vermont, this new campaign has been working to shift the local-food narrative on social media and in Vermont communities to include the many ways we enjoy and acquire local food, including traditional sources like foraging, hunting and fishing. Deepening the connection between food and community, Rooted in Vermont has partnered with the Vermont Department of Libraries to offer local-food programming at libraries around the state.
Jaquith Public Library in Marshfield was the host site of a fall harvest festival last weekend, and in the past week, local author Sandra Magasmen visited the John G. McCullough Free Library in North Bennington to read her latest book to children while they noshed on fresh local apples.
Game warden Richard Watkin visited the Whitingham Free Public Library in Jackson Village on Wednesday to talk about hunting regulations and stories, and on the same day, the Moore Free Library in Newfane hosted a community lunch and discussion about Newbrook Elementary’s farm-to-table program, featuring the school chef. On Friday, the Roxbury Free Library hosted a community fall supper, and a foraging walk is being held at the Arvin A. Brown Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 6.
These programs are all part of a week-long series of events, called “What Rooted in Vermont Food is in Your Backyard?” The partnership and offerings aim to demonstrate the role libraries play in their communities as hubs for learning.
“Public libraries have transformed into community hubs,” says Lara Keenan, with the Vermont Department of Public Libraries. “They’re a place where anyone can come regardless of age, income, religion, politics.”
She says, while libraries bring people together, so too does food.
“By bringing in local experts, like naturalists, farmers and game wardens, or hosting demonstrations such as cooking classes, and screening documentary films about food production, libraries are a place for people to go for not only information, but also social, educational and cultural activities,” said Keenan, from her office.
While the events of last week were a distinct celebration of the pairing, it’s a connection that’s been made many times before. The annual Vermont Agricultural Literacy Week, for example, is a partnership between the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, the Vermont Department of Public Libraries, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, that focuses each year on a theme within the local-food conversation. This year, a variety of events will be offered to celebrate the food history and tradition of the state’s indigenous Abenaki people.
There are other examples of libraries hosting food-related activities. The McCullough Free Library in North Bennington hosted a series of farmers markets this summer along with the Youth Agricultural Project.
“It provides a spot for local food,” says Nicole Hall, with the library. “There is no other place in town for local food, so people come from all around the community.”
The Roxbury Free Library has hosted documentary films and a learning kitchen along with Hunger Free Vermont.
“We’re a small, rural community, and most people here cook,” says Ryan Zajac, with the library. “To be blunt, food programming has been good for library attendance.”
Being 10 to 15 minutes from the nearest restaurant and without any grocery stores to stop by on the way home from work, cooking is part of the Roxbury community’s lifestyle. Zajac says most people have a garden, and many hunt and fish and, while these traits aren’t unique to his community, they’re important themes for residents.
Cooking classes at Whitingham Free Library have included local hunters demonstrating recipes using local game. Other programs shared gardening tips and taught seed saving and fly-tying. There is a regular herbal circle held at the library and an upcoming evening discussion on maple taps with a local expert on the topic.
“We’ve been doing this type of programming for quite a while,” says Kristine Sweeter, with the Whitingham Library. She says the events correlate with patrons coming into the library looking for information on the same topics.
At Rooted in Vermont, the hope is that as more people learn and talk about local food in their communities, consumers will increasingly seek out local products, thereby growing the local-food economy. According to a brochure for the campaign, if 10 percent of food purchased in Vermont was produced locally, it would translate to $300 million circulating locally. The goal is to keep more money in Vermont and to support jobs and businesses related to local-food production.
As library patrons talk about how they do local food, Shane Rogers, who manages the Rooted in Vermont campaign, says he’s hoping they’ll do some bragging on social media and among their friends, in turn inspiring others to choose more local products. He says libraries are the perfect place to start these conversations. “They’re the perfect community gathering place, a community hub to share and discuss ideas.”