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Library hosts food discussion

Oct. 7, 2010

By Jess Sanders
Observer correspondent

Ron Krupp made it abundantly clear in his talk “Lifting the Yoke: Local Solutions to America’s Farm and Food Crisis” that there are more questions than answers to how and why America’s food industry has lost its way.

Krupp lives in South Burlington and works with farms all over the state. On Monday night, he spoke to a small group of residents and local farmers at Williston’s Dorothy Alling Memorial Library. The title of his talk was based on his book by the same name.

In his blog at liftingtheyoke.blogspot.com he wrote, “A few years ago, just before it became fashionable, I decided to spend a year feeding my family solely from the food grown in our Vermont Valley.”

He later wrote the book “The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening.” He intended to write a sequel, but found himself bombarded with more information on the issues of the food industry than he could ignore. So instead of a sequel, he began work on “Lifting the Yoke: Local Solutions to America’s Farm and Food Crisis,” which addresses tough questions surrounding the food industry and how to create a solution.

“Some of the questions I try to answer in the book,” Krupp said, “are why are local family farms becoming an endangered species while factory farms are growing in size and number? How uncertain is our current food supply? How many days of surplus food would be available if the trucks stopped rolling down the highways?”

America’s dependence on large food corporations could be fatal. Krupp explained that 20 percent of the trucks driving on Massachusetts highways carry food.

“We would have a surplus maybe of three or four days if the trucks stopped running,” Krupp said.

Vermont, on the other hand, has been blessed with many things that make farming and yielding a quality product possible, such as great grass for feeding livestock.

“We have some of the highest quality grass in the country,” said Bruce Hennessey, a farmer who attended the talk.

Hennessey runs Maple Wind Farm in Huntington, and feeds nothing but grass to his animals being raised for slaughter.

Despite Vermont’s agricultural advantages, government regulation continues to make local farming and selling difficult, according to farmers who were in the audience at Monday’s talk.

“The Legislature did pass a law saying small farm slaughter is possible under certain conditions, but the Vermont Department of Agriculture made the interpretation that anyone who processes has to have an approved set-up. Which is ridiculous,” Hennessey said.

Hennessey explained that because farm animals in Vermont must be processed at an outside location approved by the state, Maple Wind Farm’s yield is 30 percent less than if processing was done on site. Furthermore, he said, the care and preparation of the animals is less than stellar in comparison to how it would be performed at Maple Wind.

“I think people are getting an inferior product,” Hennessey said. “The more that the farmer can take responsibility for what is put in front of the consumer, the better the product is going to be, the happier the consumer is going to be.”

Regardless of government regulations, an important piece of the puzzle is the purchaser.

“How much of your food budget is spent on local food? Is it available? Is it affordable?” Krupp asked, making the point that every time a consumer purchases food, that person decides how much money is desirable to spend.

Krupp and other local farmers show there are no clear answers to the food problems in the state or the country. The only solution that seems possible at this time is more education and knowledge.

“Your head might be spinning right now as you can see the topics are not easy to sort out, but it’s critical to know some of the answers to these questions, who the players are, how the system operates,” Krupp told the audience. “It’s all about learning who controls your food dollar and how we can make changes which will help us to make more responsible and healthier food choices.”