Op/Ed

Climate Matters: Food justice and climate resiliency

As senior Environmental Studies majors at Middlebury College, we find ourselves continually asking the question: What do food justice and climate resiliency actually look like? How can we feel more engaged with the Middlebury community and the way it seeks to evolve? Few can deny that one of Vermont’s best attributes is its commitment to locally grown food, and that food can be integral to building community.

It’s wonderful to see so many in this community dedicated to increasing the accessibility and availability of locally grown food, and giving everyone ways to support the local farmers who dedicate their days to feeding us delicious food and nourishing the landscape. We are excited to have the opportunity this semester to work with the non-profit Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN), whose new Food Hub is dedicated to this important work.

The ACORN Food Hub’s vision is to “increase access to nutritious, local food by making it easier for wholesale buyers to source and provide local products to the community… (and) increase access to markets for local food producers, which will in turn promote farm viability and contribute to a vibrant local economy.” In its first year, the Food Hub already distributes products from 30 different local food producers through its online marketplace.

Rather than having to communicate with and juggle multiple orders from multiple farms to find local produce or products to meet needs, now restaurants and other bulk buyers can order everything they need through ACORN’s website, and pick it up in one location on one invoice. Plus, for smaller local producers who might not have the time to directly market their products and do not receive federal subsidies associated with larger-scale agriculture, the ACORN Food Hub provides easy access to mainstream markets.

ACORN’s Food Hub, which will soon outgrow is current space, looks to grow so that it can meet increasing demand for storage and distribution from both producers and buyers. They also are excited about the prospect of continuing and creating partnerships with other local food organizations throughout Addison County, such as Addison Allies Network, Viva El Sabor Collective, HOPE, the Giving Fridge, CVOEO and the Knoll at Middlebury College.

A scaled up food hub will help create a space for these organizations and growers to gather over food, to host workshops, to have an educational garden space, and even to have a potential community commercial kitchen — as was highlighted in this newspaper a couple of weeks ago. A commercial community kitchen is an expressed need for groups like Addison Allies and the Viva El Sabor Collective, whose interest in providing and promoting local food extends to food justice in the form of a commitment to creating and providing culturally appropriate foods for the migrant farmworker community and beyond.

Some of our peers are also working to survey community desire and need for a commercial community kitchen; if you would be interested in sharing your thoughts, you will find a short survey at go.middlebury.edu/acornkitchen. There would be enormous value in having a space such as this for community gatherings, and to give local producers a place to create products for sale without having to invest tens of thousands of dollars in their own commercial kitchen.

It’s so exciting to begin dreaming about and into these ideas of what an expanded food hub could entail. With continued growth of bulk wholesale local food production and procurement, we are beginning to envision a community where local foods become the norm for restaurants, schools, food shelves and others. As the climate changes, we see the value in local food as a way to build local climate resiliency. Rather than buying produce from thousands of miles away, what if the community dedicated itself to making food that is already grown here more accessible? Further, this goal is intertwined with food justice here in the Champlain Valley, as the Food Hub strives to find ways to make more local foods accessible and work with other organizations to provide culturally appropriate foods for marginalized communities.

Through its support of local farmers and its centralization of aggregation and distribution, we see the ACORN Food Hub as a vital step toward building greater resiliency, accessibility, and justice within our local food system. Local producers can find more stability in having a wholesale market, and local buyers can find more variety in their choice of products as the Food Hub grows.

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Louisa Stevens, a senior Feb. at Middlebury College, is from Concord, Mass. She studies Environmental Studies and Religion, and is pursuing a minor in French. In her free time, Louisa enjoys good conversations, book recommendations, and running on the TAM with her friends. 

Aria Bowden, a Middlebury College senior from Taos, N.M., is majoring in Environmental Studies and Architecture. Aria has also worked at Stone Leaf Teahouse, and fallen in love with Vermont’s green rolling hills and vibrant communities. 

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