Episode 26: Victual Reality – Ben Hewitt

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Victual Reality, the podcast about food politics, is hosted by Tom Philpott. Tom’s guest today is Ben Hewitt.

In October 2008, newspapers brimmed with grim economic news. Once-mighty Wall Street investment banks teetered on the edge of collapse, propped up only by government cash; and businesses fired workers by the hundreds of thousands.

Amid the gloom, New York Times food reporter Marion Burros published an upbeat article about a small Vermont town that was thriving instead of flailing–by using local food production as a tool of economic development. “With the fervor of Internet pioneers,” wrote Burros, “young artisans and agricultural entrepreneurs are expanding aggressively, reaching out to investors and working together to create a collective strength never before seen in this seedbed of Yankee individualism.”

The town, Hardwick, had been depressed for decades, ever since its granite mines had peaked. But it had now “united around food,” Burros reported–and was adding jobs while the national economy imploded. While the many in the food community–including me –oohed and ahed over the Hardwick miracle, a young farmer and freelance writer named Ben Hewitt was living on a farm just outside of Hardwick and observing the hubbub from the ground.

Like Burros, he had taken note of Hardwick’s frenetic agri-preneurism and begun to write about it. An article he had written for Gourmet got relegated to the publication’s Web site after Burros’ Times article beat it to print. But Hewitt stayed on the story, and this spring he brought out The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food (Rodale Books). With great sensitivity and a wealth of on-the-ground reporting, Hewitt shows that the story of Hardwick’s food revolution is a lot more complex and nuanced than could ever be expressed in a newspaper story. I recently caught up with Hewitt via phone from his farm outside Hardwick.

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