In difficult economic times, it helps to learn from those who have been through hardship and found a way to recover. Perhaps that's why this story about Hardwick, Vermont, published in last week's New York Times, resonates particularly strongly.
As NYT reporter Marian Burros writes, the New England town of 3,000 was left ghostly after the closure of granite companies, a keystone local industry. Now the community is rallying around a thriving new agricultural scene. But this is a different kind of farming, born out of the resurgence in organic, small-scale local agriculture that's been felt around the world and particularly in the historically liberal state of Vermont. Organic greens, locally produced tofu, organic seeds, artisan cheeses and a multi-farm CSA are among the businesses credited with adding 75 to 100 new jobs to the Hardwick economy in the past year alone.
Another truth of hard times: when any growth is good growth, cooperation overrides competition. The emerging economy in Hardwick is unusually collaborative, with businesses, investors, the state university and a local business support group sharing ideas and resources, and even supporting one another's products.
Cooperation takes many forms. Vermont Soy stores and cleans its beans at High Mowing, which also lends tractors to High Fields, a local compositing company. Byproducts of High Mowing’s operation — pumpkins and squash that have been smashed to extract seeds — are now being purchased by Pete’s Greens and turned into soup. Along with 40,000 pounds of squash and pumpkin, Pete’s bought 2,000 pounds of High Mowing’s cucumbers this year and turned them into pickles.
For the past two years, many of these farmers and businessmen have met informally once a month to share experiences for business planning and marketing or pass on information about, say, a graphic designer who did good work on promotional materials or government officials who’ve been particularly helpful. They promote one another’s products at trade fairs and buy equipment at auctions that they know their colleagues need.
More important, they share capital. They’ve lent each other about $300,000 in short-term loans. When investors visited Mr. Stearns over the summer, he took them on a tour of his neighbors’ farms and businesses.
This collaborative and successful effort is attributed in large part to one local organization: The Center for an Agricultural Economy. This innovative non-profit, which just started agricultural education in Hardwick complete with a year-round farmers market and community garden, aims to use local agriculture to revitalize rural communities and build the infrastructure for a 21st century sustainable, healthy and secure food system.
The situation in Hardwick is certainly unique, and because of its size, its politics, and other factors, it's impossible to say now what its implications are for the nation. But we are encouraged by the idea that the combination of age-old livelihoods like farming combined with new business thinking seems to be creative, collaborative and profitable. And we are certainly hopeful for the emergence of a networked locally focused food system that we can rely on.
Photo credit: Paul O. Boisvert for The New York Times
What a great example of how the Slow Food and Organic Food movement is leading the way to rebuilding our local economy.
We need to support the next stage of development of local economy's with re-starting local manufacturing.
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