Everyone eats. And what we eat increasingly matters — for the health of people, animals and the planet. Through our increased exposure to fresh, seasonal and local foods, we now really taste the food we’re eating. Once we try a vine-ripened, sun-soaked tomato from our backyard,
picked at its peak of flavor, it’s hard to be satisfied with
anything else. Before long, our curiosity about the difference
in taste leads us to learn where our food comes from, how
it’s produced and by whom.
That’s why there’s been an explosion the last 20 years in the
number of farmers markets. They provide a rich community
experience and a way to keep our dollars circulating locally,
in the pockets of farmers and local food entrepreneurs.
Humanely raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and
cage-free eggs are increasingly important to consumers.
Cooking shows and celebrity chefs, along with books by Alice
Waters, Mark Bittman, Will Allen and Michael Pollan, are
turning people on to home cooking, farm-to-table dining and
diversifying our taste buds.
I grew up outside Buffalo, N. Y., where there were family
farms and you-pick operations within 10 minutes of my home.
My family had a big garden, so we could freeze and can fruits
and vegetables for winter eating. At Bucknell, I made weekly
excursions to the Mennonite/Amish farmers market in
Mifflinburg. There I found fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade breads, jams and preserves. It reminded me of home.
After graduating, I moved to Vermont, where the ennobling
gift of agricultural production lives on in the local food system,
from small-batch dairy and maple syrup production to
nationally recognized name brands guided by a commitment
to sustainable agriculture, such as Ben and Jerry’s, Cabot
Cheese and Keurig Green Mountain. For the last 10 years,
I’ve led the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a legislatively
enabled nonprofit whose mission is providing financing,
technical assistance and other resources to sustainable
businesses so they can develop products and services and
create jobs in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture
In 2009, the Vermont Legislature asked us to create a
10-year strategic plan to further strengthen Vermont’s food
system, which has always been a sector critical to our economy,
identity, quality of life and sustainability. After a rigorous
18-month public-engagement process, we published the plan
and created a network of
hundreds of organizations
that are collaboratively
Our impact has been
significant — a testament
to growing consumer
interest in and demand
for high-quality, safe,
locally produced foods.
From 2009 to 2013,
4,200 new jobs and
665 new farms and food
enterprises were created. When measured by employment
and gross state product, food manufacturing is the second-
largest manufacturing industry in Vermont.
We all have to eat to live, and food is the perfect vehicle
for talking about the purchasing choices we make and the
messages we send to the marketplace by making different
choices. Let’s dig in to the conversation.
Ellen Kahler ’89 is the executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs
Fund. She lives in the small rural town of Starksboro (pop. 1,600) with her
wife, Susanna, and enjoys gardening, skiing and meditating in her spare time.
This fall, Kahler received the Art Gibb Award for Individual Leadership
from the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the 2015 Con Hogan
Award for Creative, Entrepreneurial, Community Leadership.
Reliance on locally sourced food fuels
a rich community experience.
By Ellen Kahler ’89
Once we try a
vine-ripened, sun-soaked tomato from
our backyard, picked
at its peak flavor, it’s
hard to be satisfied
with anything else.
Ellen Kahler ’89 with her organic
farmer friend Justin Rich of Burnt
Rock Farm in Huntington, Vt.