I depict the current food system in Vermont using the statistic (source: Farm to Plate?) that an estimated $5 out of every $100 is spent on locally-produced food, and therefore that $95 out of every $100 spent on food leaves Vermont communities. The arrows depicting the cycle of food and money are practically interchangeable.

Vermont’s Existing Food System

In this food system, profits from food that leave the community head to the far-away farmers or food producer’s corporate headquarters or their bank accounts. Profits that are returned to Vermont farmers and producers are spread around families and communities and help pay for local services.

In my idealized (and simplified) version of Vermont’s food system, import and export still plays a role in the trade and sale of food, but local producers play a larger role. Trade is encouraged among local and protecting the environment through on-farm practices is valued (I tried to capture silviculture).

Idealized Vermont Food System

It was difficult to generate an “ideal food system.” I don’t think my version is comprehensive (what an understatement!). In both, large external factors, such as federal and state policy, are missing. It is difficult to include factors like culture, urban-rural relationships, and regional trade patterns. The full cycle of food was also difficult to capture, as well as means of community education. It also doesn’t take into account the change in lifestyle throughout the seasons a more local-leaning diet could make in a individual homes.¬†The economics were a challenge to capture, as well. Specialty crop and commodity crop producers in other states have agricultural advantages. However, there are environmental problems (water use, heavy chemical inputs)¬†associated with current means of production in those states, as well as the energy-intensive distribution of those foods. But it is also a challenging question of what would such major market shifts away from big producers look like? What would the effects be? How would local food systems affect national and local economic outlooks?

Transitioning from one version, while edging very slowly toward a food system evolution will involve many moving parts and actors. It will be an interesting journey! Either way, I believe our food system can be more beautiful, more replenishing, and more full of care. However that happens and however it looks, I believe it is possible!

One thought on “Existing/Ideal”

  1. Jennifer, I agree that it’s really hard to envision an “ideal” system — but I think it’s a useful thing to do, because it’s really hard to work toward a new system if we can’t even imagine what it will look like. Your approach of looking at food and dollars out of VT is good — in the ideal, presumably a lot more of that money would stay in-state and circulate in local economies. The multiplier effect of local agriculture is one of the most compelling reasons why it is a solid community development opportunity.

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