After two successful years growing garlic and tomatoes in Uncle Bob’s garden, some of the people in my life started thinking I was a gardening expert, or the Julia Child of gardening. Sometimes they requested certain crops to be grown; other times, they would recommend books I needed to read. One of the books my brother recommended almost every time I saw him was Ben Hewitt’s The Town That Food Saved.
Last year, I finally read the book. I thought about writing a book review for this blog but I didn’t know what to say. I had expected the book to be a “how to” guide which would provide me with a program for saving small town America, namely my own hometown of Lisbon Falls, Maine. I could see some similarities between the town that food saved, Hardwick, Vermont, and my own hometown. Hardwick had prospered from the granite under its soil until the 1920’s. As this boom was ending, Hardwick entered a second period of prosperity during the heyday of Vermont’s dairy business. This lasted until the 1960’s. Lisbon, Lisbon Center, and Lisbon Falls had prospered from their location along the Androscoggin River, with both a saw mill turned fiber board plant and a textile mill.
Like Hardwick’s granite and dairy enterprises, both of Lisbon’s economic powerhouses are long gone.
As it turned out, Mr. Hewitt’s book was not a “how to” book; it was a down-home investigative journalism piece about what was happening in Hardwick. What was happening? Hardwick, Vermont was becoming the center of a small-scale agricultural revival. There were more than four agribusinesses operating in town, including High Mowing Organic Seeds, Pete’s Greens, Highfields Center for Composting, and Vermont Soy. Something was literally growing in this little town. What was surely not happening in Hardwick was the arrival of a Wal*Mart or a Pill Mart to save the day. There was no deus ex machina.
Everyone in Hardwick was getting their hands dirty.
I popped into the Aubuchon Hardware store on Route 196 in Lisbon Falls the other day and was surprised to see that they’re carrying High Mowing Seeds this year. I couldn’t help but say to the gentleman who was helping me find a padlock “I LOVE High Mowing Seeds! I’m so glad you’re carrying them this year. Everyone in Lisbon Falls should buy them!” My exuberance brought a smile to one or two of the Aubuchon staff and as I was leaving I could hear them talking about it.
“That lady says those are good seeds.”
I’m probably not going to singlehandedly save my home town. We’re all going to have to put our shoulders to the wheel and push as best we can. I admit, the twelve-year old part of me that still wants to believe in magic, signs, and symbols couldn’t help but be happy about a little part of Hardwick, Vermont arriving in Lisbon.
There are no quick and easy solutions for the economic troubles of small town America. Sure, every couple of years a new gang of charming politicians will outline a plan or a scheme which will magically solve the problems that have been festering for a long time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped trying to read their lips and have just focused on a few of the things I could do, including planting a few tomatoes and getting involved in local projects like my class reunion and The Moxie Festival. Like Ben Hewitt, I understand that making a difference in a small town involves actually living there; I’m working on that too.
Today, I’m going to end with a little wisdom from an entrepreneur who is not a farmer:
“When there is scarcity, we worry a lot about getting our fair share—what goes to him doesn’t go to me. The harvest becomes fraught with danger and competition.
When we worry more about planting, though, sharing the harvest gets a lot less complex.
Plant enough seeds and the scarcity eases. In fact, if you plant enough, you’ll never have to think twice about the harvesting.”
–Seth Godin, from Seth Godin’s Blog
Commenter Loosehead Prop, because Wednesdays are “Tiny Steps Gardening Day” I’m sending you the complimentary Blacktail Mountain watermelon seeds I got in the mail. You are Zone 9 and I’m confident you can do it.
It’s almost seed planting time.