My 90-year-old grandfather grew up the fourth of five children on a farm in southeast Iowa. His family’s farm, which operated during a pivotal moment in the history of American agriculture, grew mostly corn, supplemented with livestock and other small yields to sustain the residents. As one might imagine, my comparatively easy childhood was riddled with stories of crack-of-dawn mornings and long afternoons in the field.
I grew up in a food-secure household, where healthy food was abundant, and always found in the fluorescent isles of my neighborhood grocery store. I never really thought much about my food, other than to enjoy its taste. As a result, I often dismissed Grandpa’s “uphill both ways” stories about life on the farm. I only recently began to understand how crucial those histories, and the people they describe, are to my life, my culture, and my country.
This new perspective began to take shape when I got my first job in a family restaurant, at age 12, and continued through a childhood spent in the kitchen. Most recently I worked at a fine dining restaurant in Phoenix, called Quiessence, which operated on strict farm-to-table principles. Much of the food we served there was grown by us, right there on the property.
My time at Quiessence opened my eyes to a new way of living, made me acutely aware of the origins of my food, and taught me to apply creativity to it, both in its creation and its mindful consumption. In the last few months, through my work with Middlebury Foods, and some independent research, I have learned a great deal about our food system in Addison County, and about some of the broader implications of living in a globalized, industrial food economy. It has been some of the most rewarding work I have ever experienced.
More than once since this process began, I have felt as if I found a calling. I believe that local food economies deserve to be revitalized, for the good of the farmer, the Earth, and the consumer. I believe that food can be a connecting force, destroying the artificial boundaries that divide us, bringing people together. I believe that nothing should stand between families and healthy, whole foods that they can cook. I know that this vision is achievable, if only we are bold enough to reach for it.