My writing focuses on local food and agriculture, a topic of interest developed as a Peace Corps Volunteer in northern Senegal. “Aar, naam” was a call I heeded three times a day as the Pulaar families with whom I lived called me to meals at the communal bowl. Everyone ate together around a huge bowl or platter, though in the rural areas it was customary for men and women to eat separately. As the seasons progressed I was stunned to discover that the dry sand that was both background and foreground was actually soil that, with the gifts of the rainy season, brought forth abundant beans and sorghum, melons and millet. Before “eat local” became the mantra of the monied west, eating local was (and still is) the necessity of the many poor, rural communities of the world.
Returning to the States in 2001, I began to write about local farms and food in central Pennsylvania, where I co-owned a traveling restaurant called The Purple Rose Cafe. Local food was just coming into consciousness in that area, fueled by organizations like the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and forward-looking farms like Tait Farm, where Rose Capone and I taught cooking classes to showcase seasonal produce and Tait Farm’s products. I was also lucky enough to be the Cook-in-Residence at the Hameau Farm in the Big Valley, an agricultural-based summer camp for girls which also hosted artists’ retreats for adults.
When grad school brought me to central Vermont, I was astonished by the amount and variety of great local foods available for purchase, as well as the prevalence of the buy-local ethic. In Montpelier, I became a member of the Hunger Mountain Coop, where I am now honored to sit on the Council. Everywhere I went I discovered a new bakery, an artisan cheesemaker, a three-and-a-half-season vegetable farmer. Each producer had a story behind their operation, and I knew that if I was curious, others were too.
The Montpelier Bridge took a chance in 2007 and offered me a spot profiling local farmers and food producers, which I’ve been doing ever since. Soon the Times-Argus added a Friday Food and Dining Section where I am able to share even more stories from Vermont’s thriving food and agriculture scene. I’m also privileged to contribute to some of Vermont’s food-focused magazines, delving more deeply into the institutions and systems that affect the production, consumption, and distribution of locally-grown food in Vermont.
Regular, in-depth contact with Vermont’s farmers and food producers gives me keen understanding of the agricultural, social, and economic forces that influence small food producers. I am proud to be a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT); the Vermont Fresh Network, which builds partnerships among farmers, chefs and consumers to strengthen Vermont’s agriculture; and Rural Vermont, which “activates, advocates, and educates for living soils, thriving farms, and healthy communities.”
Contact me: sylviafagin <at> yahoo.com. Photo credit: Allison Lau.