GROTON -- "Our goal as Groton Local is education -- to teach how we are going to sustain our lifestyles in the future," said Jim Hubert, Groton Local board member.
As an opportunity to exchange resources and educate the community about the working landscape, Freedom's Way Association partnered with like-minded organizations in the region, including Groton Local, to organize a four-part series titled "Harvest Home" that celebrates local farms and farmers.
Presented last in the series and cosponsored by Freedom's Way and Groton Local, "The Future Is in the Dirt," with author Ben Hewitt, was held Oct. 28 despite the rain and approaching storm.
According to Marge Darby, board of directors, Freedom's Way Association was found in order to demonstrate agriculture's value to the historic character of New England.
"What we discovered was that all of us felt bound by our history, revolutionary or transcendental, and a self-reliance that ties in with the farming tradition and philosophy of integrating the land," said Darby, adding, "Landscapes are forever changing with seasons, times and usage, yet the land and it's various transformations has continued to be the glue that binds us."
Hewitt, born and raised in Vermont, is author of two books, "The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food" and "Making Supper Safe: One Man's Quest to Learn the Truth About Food Safety.
A small-scale farmer, Hewitt has an interest in how people look at food, agriculture and agribusinesses in his small town of Hardwick, saying, "A local food revival was happening in Hardwick; more small farms and organic farms, CSAs and farmers markets were springing up and it was all about sustainability."
Hewitt told the audience how the town, once a great supplier of granite, became economically challenged even though it was a farming community and how by becoming a vibrant, local artisanal, sustainable community based on a local farming economy caught his attention so that he ultimately wrote a book about it.
Intrigued by the fact that the town rate of unemployment was higher than the Vermont state average with a median income 25 percent lower and obviously challenged economically, Hewitt had the sense that there should be a movement toward regionalizing agriculture and reorganizing local economies but wasn't sure how to do that.
"Today we don't have the culture where everybody knows a farmer, or knows where their food comes from. We live in a world that makes it very difficult to feed the locals and to offer viability to producers ... if those producers are operating a conscious economy -- accounting for their impact on the environment, taking care of the people who work there and producing a product that is truly nourishing," said Hewitt.
In Hewitt's opinion, it's important to make local food affordable and convenient for local people to eat in comparison to local supermarket chains, which sell food that has been shipped in and sold at a cheaper cost.
"The fact is, we need to rethink our entire food supply chain, for reasons of economic security, health security, and even social security. We need to reinvent how we grow and distribute food; we need to re-scale and decentralize," writes Hewitt in his book.
Hewitt's hope for the future is that more communities will embrace their local agricultural heritage by creating more locally supported businesses, farms and restaurants that will help their local economies.
Contributing to the evening with displays and information about their programs and services were local organizations: Freedom's Way National Heritage Area, Groton Local, Brookdale Farm, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Growing Places, Northeast SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) and Drumlin Farm - Massachusetts Audubon Society. Nashoba Regional High School students and social studies teacher Mr. Castner volunteered at the event.
"These programs are important to our regional heritage and to our families. "Harvest Home" celebrates how local agriculture is a powerful tool for conversation, preservation and community pride," said Alene Reich, executive director.
"Food, community and earth -- that's why we've gathered," said Linda Hoffman, artist and farmer Old Frog Pond Farm, Harvard.
The event was sponsored by Brookdale Fruit Farm, The Bull Run Restaurant and ReMax Properties.
Hewitt operates a "turn of the century Vermont hill farm," a small-scale diversified hill farm with a small herd of beef cows, a few hogs, a blueberry patch and vegetables. He lives in a self-built house powered by the sun and wind with his wife and two boys.