I call this one “wrong side of the fence” 

It snows almost daily now, not heavily but in measurable quantities, and the air has a hazy, dream-like quality that’s only occasionally interrupted by sun. It’s hard to tell sometimes if the flakes are falling or merely suspended, caught in perpetuity between sky and soil. The snow has accumulated such that I am barely able to navigate the woods by tractor; the wheels churn and grip, churn and grip, inching me along my skid path. Still, we’ve amassed a fine pile of firewood, mostly skidder-damaged sugar maple from the fringes of the old logging roads that spiderweb this land. A couple more cords and next year’s supply will be assured.

Over the past couple of months, I have been working part-time for a local non-profit organization called Rural Vermont. For more than 30 years, Rural Vermont has advocated for community-scale regenerative agriculture, primarily (though not exclusively) by maintaining a presence in the state legislature, doing what it can to influence policy in ways that are favorable to Vermont’s small farms. Of all the organizations doing good work around food and ag in VT (and there are many), I’ve long felt that Rural Vermont is unique in its holistic grasp of the issues at hand and its willingness to dive headfirst into the pigpen of policy.

And I very much appreciate their view of local food and agriculture as being about so much more than jobs and money. They see and articulate connections that most other organizations don’t or won’t: Connections between how we treat the land and feed ourselves and our state’s ecological health, for instance. Connections between how we treat the land and feed ourselves and the vitality of our communities. Connections between how we treat the land and feed ourselves and the current crisis in opiate addiction. Between how we treat the land and feed ourselves and our children’s educations. And so on.

The work I’m doing is co-organizing and presenting a six-stop, statewide conversation tour with my friend Graham, who is also works for RV (the office joke is that Graham is the organizer and I’m the disorganizer, which is a little too close to the truth for my tastes). The tour is called Groundswell, which I think is a pretty clever name, mostly because I came up with it. Although Graham and I are coming with a clear agenda, these events will be based around dialogue. We will be listening as much as, if not more than, we will be talking. I suspect this will be easier for Graham than for me.

The impetus for this tour is many-fold, but certainly rooted in our desire to understand how this organization can best serve Vermont’s small-farm community, as well as those who value and depend on them (which should be all of us, but you know how it goes). The truth is, the policy work we’ve long done is fraught with frustration and often marked by marginal gains, at least when compared to the scope and scale of the challenges our constituency faces. It will surprise no one with even a passing understanding of ag and food policy that it’s engineered in favor of large scale agribusiness, and that it tends to disincentivize practices that return wealth to the land and to the community in which the operation is located. Often, I hear people speak of our “broken” food and ag systems, and while I understand why they use this language, I don’t agree. I don’t believe they’re broken in the least; I think they’re operating precisely as designed. Which is to say, they are engineered to extract wealth from the land and the vast majority of those inhabiting it, both human and non-human. That’s just the cold, hard truth. The other cold, hard truth is that we cannot wait for the political process to bring equality to our working-class, rural communities. And yes, I would be saying this no matter who won the election.

Anyway. I wanted to tell you about this tour because I would be honored if those of you within spittin’ distance would turn out to one of these events (the schedule is below). You can come to listen, to talk, or just to make us feel a little less lonely. And yes, there will be food. Free food. Finally, if any of you are so inclined, I’d like to offer a brief, soft pitch for supporting Rural Vermont. I think it’s fair to say that this work is more important than ever, and we truly need your support to maintain our efforts. You can learn more about becoming a member here.

Thank you.






13 thoughts on “Groundswell”

  1. Thanks, Ben, for your work and for your posts.

    Down here on the tropical island of Martha’s Vineyard, snowdrops and aconite bloom, the first crocus has been seen, and the myrtle never quit blooming.

    Tom Hodgson

  2. I am in here with the loudest, most echoing shout-out possible in support of Groundswell, and all entities like Groundswell, and (most especially) for every small farm everywhere. Readers, please help save the world by branding the following on the foreheads of your children:

    small farms matter Big.

  3. I won’t be around for most of those dates, but I shared the post on Facebook, so hope it gets shared some more for maximum attendance!


    Sent from my happy mobile world to yours!


  4. Hi! You might consider checking out groundswellinternational.org I don’t know you at all, but from your writing (both the content, and your personality that comes through your writing), it seems like you’d have similar values and concerns. Good luck with the tour – it sounds amazing. Kaia Ambrose

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. This is awesome! Best of luck with the meetings. I hope you’ll share some of the results of these conversations with us. 🙂

  6. Wow Ben, how cool is this? Things like this give me hope…most of the time I see how large the beast is and I forget that little seeds sprout into bigger things:} I hope some of this Vermont mindset spreads over to NY….and into this hicksville city I live in.

  7. Jude and I are already booked for Tunbridge on the 22d. I’ve been in touch with RV for many years. They’ve been mainly a lobbying group, which is great, but not my thing. My sense of what this re-thinking is about (and I’ve talked with Andrea and Shelby about it) is that RV would become more of a community-based organization working at the local level. I’m definitely into that, so this is exciting. Especially post-election: fighting political battles is ok, but what will really make a difference is the slow, incremental process of creating a more vital and resilient rural economy. So have at it! I’m all in.

    If there’s anything I could do preparing for this, let me know.

  8. Hi Ben-I’m a long time follower of your blog and reader of your books.
    This post has been a deja vu moment for me-I chaired a weekend work shop almost forty years ago through the United Church “ten days to world development ” program in BC Canada (world development had different connotations back then!)to promote conversations about all of the connections you mention here on local food self reliance and the connections between the environment and farming. Even then those of us who were concerned about these issues were aware that ag and food policy was beginning to be implemented in favour of Big Ag. We witnessed it with monopolization of seed companies and ever larger meat and dairy businesses.-the promotion of Monsanto and the other big boys.
    The good thing that came out of this work shop was the formation of a farmers market back when farmers markets were non existent in our neck of the woods. It’s still a vibrant and going concern all these years later.
    All this to say thank you for continuing the good and essential work. I feel a huge sadness that we seem to have made so little progress in these forty years, but still-in these particularly challenging times- it gives me comfort that there are many young folks still carrying on.

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