“How a dump became the catalyst for a local food revolution.”

When Gardener’s Supply arrived in the Intervale in 1985 there were hundreds of junk cars, trash lined the dirt roads and a proud tradition of caring for the land and growing local food had been abandoned for decades.

Thirty years ago there were a billion people on the planet hungry and “food insecure” (ie. unable to access enough food to meet basic needs).  Today there are still a billion people suffering in this way.  

Our food system is failing us globally.  In the US 50 million Americans — 1 in 4 children —don’t know where their next meal is coming from. 1 of 2 kids in the US will be on food assistance at some time in their life.  This is a system and economic problem, not a production issue.

Mark Bittman wrote a good column for World Food Day Oct 16 reporting that industrial agriculture is NOT solving the hunger problem: How to Feed the World. In fact he points out that there are two food systems and one (industrial agriculture) can be highly inefficient:

 "Let’s at last recognize that there are two food systems, one industrial and one of small landholders, or peasants if you prefer. The peasant system is not only here for good, it’s arguably more efficient than the industrial model. According to the ETC Group, a research and advocacy organization based in Ottawa, the industrial food chain uses 70 percent of agricultural resources to provide 30 percent of the world’s food, whereas what ETC calls “the peasant food web” produces the remaining 70 percent using only 30 percent of the resources."

In North America, home and community food gardening and the local food movement are essentially part of the “peasant food system”.  There are no massive subsidies and no federal Farm Bill funding more efficient and environmentally healthy local food production.

I recognized this 30 years ago and it was one reason why I started Gardener’s Supply: to support and promote more gardening and local farming.  28 years ago we built Gardener’s Supply’s permanent home on 5 acres next to an abandoned slaughterhouse at the edge of a 700 acre flood plain called the Intervale that had become a dumping ground.Three years later we started the Intervale Center. Today, the Intervale Center is a dynamic nonprofit that implements innovative, replicable and place-based solutions to address some of global agriculture’s most pressing problems.

The Intervale Center aims to transform the food system from one that is degrading, anonymous and industrial, to one that is restorative, familiar and human-scale. They are working to foster a local food economy that is good for people and the planet.  And, they have succeeded mightily. 

The Intervale Center manages 350 acres of land for sustainable agriculture (hosting a dozen organic farms), conservation and recreation in the heart of Burlington, Vermont. They led the cleanup of the “dump” and have helped hundreds of new farmers to establish and grow their businesses in the Intervale and throughout Vermont, and beyond.  They have grown new markets for local food and helped Vermont residents be the #1 consumers of local food in the US, per capita.

The Intervale Center also recognizes its opportunity and obligation to fight hunger, ensuring that anyone who wants healthy local food can access it, from low-income individuals to busy working families. It supports farmers to provide subsidized CSA shares, operates gleaning programs on local farms to supply local food shelves, and helps low income new Americans to grow and sell familiar food.

Twenty-five years later the Intervale Center can celebrate that it is one of the catalysts for the most effective state-wide local food system planning and change program in the US: Farm to Plate.

I invite you to help support the important work of the Intervale Center to strengthen America’s “peasant food system”: Donate.




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