It was gratifying to see a large group of people in attendance at the March 2 online NOFA Conference panel, “Building Food Sovereignty in Jericho” hosted by TTJ. The panelists’ envisioning of future possibilities was inspirational and the ensuing discussion covered a multitude of ideas.
John Abbott, Jericho’s new town administrator, said the popularity of farmers markets is a great indicator of townspeople wanting healthy local foods. In discussing challenges of land use, John described the ‘land banking’ concept for affordable housing, saying we could do something similar in agriculture, to support more acreage being put into farming. He also mentioned the possibility of a community development corps, a vehicle whereby towns can purchase lands for agriculture use via a third party that works for the community rather than for profit.
Alissa White, ecologist and UVM researcher/educator made a distinction between food security and food sovereignty. While the former doesn’t distinguish where food comes from or conditions under which it’s produced/distributed, food sovereignty emphasizes ecological farm practices, economic justice and localized food systems.
Alissa also talked about the importance of land use planning, saying that better state policy could help. She said we need more offsets to the high cost of local healthy food, such as subsidized csas. She said we need a shift in how we schedule time, suggesting a 30-hour work week, so we can put more time into our food, gardens and homesteads. She envisions more environmental education for both kids and adults and community cooperation with skill sharing activities.
Alissa spoke of a future scenario where the town would hire a community food access coordinator, a town naturalist, and even a climate resilience coordinator. In fact, she said, a food sovereign town would host many new jobs from running food storage facilities to operating distribution and access programs.
Tucker Andrews works part time as a farmer and as a lab technician. He described his farming as a two acre ‘bare bones’ operation. Tucker said his sale of specialty crops supports him in his true love, giving away food. He said that while it’s easy enough for him to plant and grow, he relies on a volunteer pool to harvest and deliver the crops, adding that he wishes this structure of supporting farmers could be formalized, or even legalized.
With a much stronger tax/land base than his own town of Bolton, Tucker sees Jericho as a great candidate for food sovereignty, and shared his vision of the town setting aside 100 acres, tax free, for a farmer to grow “a ton of food” for giveaway. He sees solutions like this easier to achieve at the town rather than the state level.
Dave Clift, TTJ steering member, described the food process as a web rather than linear. He said that while in the 1970s, the four biggest food producers controlled 25% of the market, they now control 80%. He added that as an affluent bedroom community of Burlington, there’s a perception in Jericho that people don’t need to grow their own food. He went on to describe GRO-Jericho’s neighborhood garden hubs and the upcoming Kids Garden Contest, aiming to motivate Jericho’s youth to learn more about growing food.
Yours truly talked about the conference film, Food for the Rest of Us, with its inspiring examples of food sovereignty across the Americas. One in particular, the Ma’o Organic Farm in Wai’yanai Hawaii, hires and trains 17-24 year olds to learn everything from indigenous roots of agriculture to growing and marketing crops. I cited some new programs in Vermont, including the Every Town Project, striving to diversify Vermont’s farming population as it puts more land into agriculture, and the Regeneration Corps, offering an alternative education track to high schoolers who want to learn about regenerative agriculture.
Further discussion delved deeper into food sovereignty, community gardens, land use, town planning and more; this a vital community dialog we at TTJ intend to continue!
To access the workshop: