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Food odometer

08/24/05 12:00AM By Vern Grubinger
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(HOST) Commentator Vern Grubinger says that restaurants like Smoke Jack's in Burlington and the Riverview Cafe in Brattleboro are featuring something new on their menus.


(GRUBINGER) The names of local farms. You'll find them at doz- ens of fine eateries that belong to the Vermont Fresh Network, an organization dedicated to connecting farms and chefs.

This effort to put locally grown food on the menu often does so literally. And when a restaurant actually prints the names of farms along with their descriptions of a grilled chicken sandwich or a cheese plate, it's more than just waxing poetic about agriculture. It's bringing your attention to the fact that the ingredients are of superior quality.

You can taste the quality in the chicken from Misty Knoll Farm in New Haven. Unlike run-of-the mill birds from most poultry produc- ers, which never run free because they are confined to cages, the birds at Misty Knoll are allowed to move about in open spaces.

You can see the quality in the crisp salad greens from Lilac Ridge Farm in West Brattleboro, picked that morning and delivered within hours.

According to Tristan Toleno, owner and chef at the Riverview, "I buy all my chicken from Misty Knoll, because it's a better product from a culinary point of view, and the salad greens I get from Lilac Ridge are fresher than anything I could buy wholesale.

"But the truth is," he continues, "purchasing this way costs me a little bit more, so it's important that my customers recognize and appreciate the use of local products."

Supporting businesses that buy from local farms also helps the Vermont economy. The $500,000,000 that Vermont farmers gross every year is the basis for several billion dollars of economic activity in our communities.

And buying local has another advantage that's not often recogniz- ed: It saves gas. That conclusion was reached by researchers at Iowa State University, who recently published a report called "Checking the food odometer: how far does your food travel?"

They analyzed the distance that 16 produce items traveled when 34 different farms had sold them to conference centers, hotels and other institutions in Central Iowa. Then they compared these dis- tances to a conservative estimate of travel for the same produce items that arrived by truck at Chicago and St. Louis terminal mar- kets. They found that the local produce traveled an average of 56 miles, while the produce from conventional sources had come nearly 1500 miles.

And this study dealt only with domestic produce. If you consider that 39 percent of the fruit and 12 percent of the vegetables we eat come from outside the United States, the numbers would have been even more compelling.

So: eat well, support Vermont's agriculture and save energy by buying local.

With an ear to the ground, this is Vern Grubinger.

Vern Grubinger is the director of the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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