About a month ago I was perusing one of my favorite used book stores, Open Books in Chicago, and saw this powerful little book tucked away on a low shelf. The title caught my eye and without looking into it much or checking reviews online I bought it and boy am I glad I did.
I fell like I’m laying foundation for about 5 different long term food and health related projects / careers and this book served as a major inspiration, not just for my own endeavors, but as a testament to the power of community based business.
The book focuses on Hardwick Vermont, a small town with an agricultural background with a population well under 4,000. Even with this small population and long, harsh winters this town was able to cultivate a spectrum of agriculture and food businesses ranging from compost and organic seeds, to a restaurant that’s fueled by produce from within a 30 mile radius.
“Hardwick became frist a deviation from the norm and then a collective identity. It’s not just the food the defines this identity; it’s a sort of rural pride and aptitude for surviving and even thriving in the often harsh landscape of back-road America.”
The author of the book, Ben Hewitt, lives just outside Hardwick and even has a small farm of his own that he and his wife operate in their spare time. So he was close enough to the muse that he understood the local dynamic but not so ingrained that any bias seemed to impact the direction of the book. First he wrote an article about Hardwick for Gourmet magazine but knew there was more to the story than the magazine article could contain. This book probably could have been twice as long and I still would have loved every page. It’s 223 pages with big font and wide spacing making it an easy one to knock out but even though it’s short, it’s absolutely packed with fascinating perspectives from the people growing the local food economy.
The whole time I was reading I couldn’t help but compare Hardwick to Peoria. I care so much about my hometown and feel like we’re capable of a similar revolution. Our winter isn’t as long or harsh, we have so many great farms around us and our population is roughly 100 times that of Hardwick. Peoria is overflowing with potential and I think as more people follow their passions, collaborations are explored and education is shared, we too can invest in and grow our local food economy.
I’ve been very focused on impacting the community around Peoria this past year and The Town That Food Saved has taken that drive to another level. This book isn’t about plant based foods or any polarizing subjects, it’s about enriching local communities, something we can all get behind.
Sometimes I think people may need to dream bigger. One of us could change Peoria in a major way if we think about our passions playing out on a scale that large. I don’t think it’s self centered to think about our potential in this way. Someone saying they want to change Peoria, or even the world, doesn’t come off as egocentric to me, it’s just pure ambition and if their actions align with their words that’s half the battle. I don’t exactly know the imprint I want to be making on Peoria over the next few decades but I feel like it must be community based. We’re so strong when we work together and Peoria is ripe with talented, intelligent people. I want to change things and after reading this book, the vision of what that change may look like has come into focus a bit more. I feel blessed to live in a small enough community where I can really make an impact. I’ll never stop sharing my passion and doing what I feel is true to me. I was elated to learn that this mentality is what fueled so many of the people who shaped Hardwick’s food landscape. Maybe a agricultural revolution isn’t so far off for Peoria, IL…
“It almost always begins with one or two people possessing the necessary degree of insanity to fuel an unrelenting passion that can inspire and pull others into the groundswell of the movement.”