Hardwick, Vermont and the New Frontier of Food | How New England Can Save the World
Proprietors Andy and Mateo Kehler were already making award-winning cheeses at their Jasper Hill Farm, but they knew that many of their small-scale colleagues around the region had trouble storing and shipping their products. So when they were building a facility for their own stuff, they just kept building; it’s now 22,000 square feet, with seven underground vaults: different climates for everything from blues to clothbound cheddars. It can store 2 million pounds at a time, from 39 degrees to 55 degrees; it’s a pungent paradise.
But it’s also part of an economy. It’s a way to take fluid milk, which is currently a drag on the market–selling for less than it costs to produce–and turning it into something that goes for $20 a pound. That means jobs, and everyone on the Hardwick food scene is at least as serious about jobs as they are about flavor. This year, the Vermont Food Venture Center is moving into Hardwick’s industrial park. It’s a place where new “agrepreneurs,” to use a term coined by Ben Hewitt, can figure out how to make that new cheese, that new salsa, that new tempeh, all on a scale that will also let them make money.
“We need businesses that can feed off each other,” says Andrew Meyer. “The waste stream of one would be the feedstock of the next.” And all of it would provide real resilience for a rural economy that would like to depend neither on the boom-and-bust of quarrying nor on the quaint unreality of providing scenic vistas for summer homes.
Over lunch at the headquarters of The Center for an Agricultural Economy, which sits next to Claire’s and serves as the organizing hub for this food experiment, Tom Stearns points out that he’s had 40 job applications in the past week at his seed farm. No wonder: Some of the slots pay $40,000 a year, they come with benefits, and there’s all the produce you can carry away from the test gardens. “We still have to convince the local kids, though,” he says. “They’ve all grown up believing that there’s no future in farming. But now there is.”
To read more about Hardwick, we recommend Yankee contributor Ben Hewitt’s new book, The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food (Rodale, 2010).