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Building Local Food Security

The First Meeting of the Montpelier Food Security Coalition. Photo courtesy of Dan Jones.
The Montpelier Food Security Coalition, a project of the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition, was recently formed to examine potential challenges to the local food system caused by climate change and COVID-19. As the coronavirus continues to alter the way we live, it increasingly shows signs of posing a potential threat to our local supplies of affordable, nutritious food.
Food security is a measure of the availability of food and the ability for individuals to access it. Affordability is one factor; others are nutritional value and the confidence that food will continue to be readily available in the future. But changes caused by the pandemic have challenged our assumptions of what the future will entail.

Only two months ago, it was hard to imagine our prosperous region could change so quickly and profoundly. Then the virus arrived. We were told staying safe meant staying home, and our schools, workplaces, shops, and restaurants closed. Eight weeks in we still have no clear idea of when we will go back to “normal.” As meat shelves empty and many common grocery items become scarce, how can we be sure there will be enough affordable, available food to nourish our local population?

Already, local food pantries are struggling to meet record demands. On May 15, approximately 1900 people showed up to a food distribution event at the EF Knapp Airport in Berlin. The center ran out of food due to the massive turnout, and many of those in need were turned away.
Vermont is surrounded by supposed agricultural bounty, yet we import almost 90 percent of the food we consume. Most of us believed we could always rely on the convenience of our current system, but in the era of the coronavirus and climate change that belief may not be sustainable. Already, food pantries are seeing record demands and are uncertain how long they can continue providing food for the needy.

Through the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition, a two-part effort will begin to address the crucial need to build long-term local food security. Phase one is the creation of the Montpelier Food Security Coalition. In our agricultural area, we have assembled a team of people who work in community meals, food banks, co-ops, farmers markets, and the city council and parks department, to build a collective response.

Phase two works through the Capital Area Neighborhoods (CAN) project. There, we explore how to transform lawns into gardens, and gardens into local food sources. Should the need for local food availability grow dire, this effort could be a vital factor in our ability to weather the next set of challenges caused by the virus.

The Lawns to Gardens effort has deep roots locally. In 1917, in a national call for the original victory gardens, Montpelier proudly labeled itself “The City of Gardens.” The Food Security Coalition seeks to renew that call. We hope to identify people who want to explore transforming their lawns into personal or community gardens. The Master Gardener’s network and local gardeners have offered to provide mentors to those seeking guidance and support in this effort. If you’d like to learn more or be part of this effort, let us know at info@sustainablemontpelier.org .

It’s time to imagine a sustainable future in which we rediscover how to feed ourselves locally, again. We hope you will join us in this mission.