When people purchase food grown by local producers their money stays local and benefits the entire community. This is the basic premise of a collaboration between the St. J. Food Co-op and Jennifer Isabell's microeconomics class at the Community College of Vermont (CCV) in St. Johnsbury. That working relationship culminated in the unveiling of informational posters about some of the Co-op's local providers last Monday.
Isabell is an instructor who has taught with CCV for the past six years and always tries to incorporate a service-learning project into her classes. "It means that the students connect with a community partner and work on a project to apply the knowledge they're learning that also helps benefit the community partner."
This semester, Isabell chose the St. J. Food Co-op as their community partner. "The students are also reading 'The Town That Food Saved' that talks about the economics of local food in general and specifically in Hardwick. This gave us a chance to look at the issues that exist in local economies practically rather than just theoretically," said Isabell.
At the beginning of the semester the students took a tour of the Co-op with manager Melissa Bridges, learning about the different products that are available from local producers. Student Carla Grieves said this tour was eye-opening: "I had no idea that there were so many people who had products that were made in Vermont and sold locally."
Each student chose a local producer to interview and profile on an informational poster project. They spent time visiting the producer at their farm or facility and learning about their operation. Many of the students attended farmers' markets to see the producers in action. Student Olivia Grenier said that she enjoyed partnering with Lewis Creek Jerseys & Badger Brook Meats because "I hope to have my own farm someday so it was great to work with a farm."
As the Co-op manager, Bridges has long been wanting to have posters in the store that would highlight local producers and educate customers about their products. "We wanted to help customers put local faces on local food. The students are doing photos. Bob Jenks is one of our board members and he's helping with printing." Bridges says the posters will match the environment of the store. "They're not super fancy but they're not cut and paste either."
Both Bridges and Isabell have a passion for nurturing local food systems. Isabell said, "Hopefully the posters will increase the demand for locally-produced goods. An increased demand will lower the price as more people enter the market and want to be part of it. It also increases awareness of the industrial agriculture markets and how supply and demand is affected by the subsidies of crops that produce food that is cheap but nutritionally depleted."
Bridges is excited to be working with various groups within the community. "I really enjoy creating a bigger network. It's not just [the students] doing work for me. They're going out into the community and will leave a legacy in the store to create interest and excitement. They've expanded their experience at the Co-op and at the farmers' markets. It's so multi-faceted and that's really exciting to me."
Grieves takes away a greater understanding of the way a local economy works as well as some specifics about the creation of herbal tincturing that she learned during her time at Backroad Botanicals. "Did you know you can take the root from a hydrangea plant and soak it in alcohol and use it to heal things? The plant a lot of people have for decoration, I don't think a lot of people know it has another purpose." Grieves has also taken on the cause of buying local food. "Do you want to spend extra money and buy food that you know where it comes from and you might even know the farmer? Or do you want to buy unhealthy food and line the pockets of a corporation?"
The producers highlighted by the six students are Genuine Jamaican, Joe's Brook Farm, Backroad Botanicals, Mocha Joe's, Lewis Creek Jerseys & Badger Brook Meats and Northwood Apiaries. Bridges encourages any teacher or class to get in touch with the Co-op to set up more educational collaborations. "No matter their interest, I can typically tie local food and local economy to it."
The event Monday marked the 13th anniversary of the Co-op's opening. The unveiling of the posters occurred in the store between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Students were on hand to talk with customers about the producers they've highlighted and offer samples.