Although gardening season is over for the year, for Dan Jones, food and gardening is a year-round concern.
He has spent a lot of his attention on food security and environmental sustainability as executive director of the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition. Jones was also a former managing director of Net Zero Vermont — a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions. With a background in communications and video production, Jones sounds like he looks at the problem of food insecurity from the perspective of someone who wants to get the word out as widely as possible.
“Personally, I am a gardener,” Jones told The Bridge during a recent interview. He said he became aware of the problem of food insecurity with the long lines at Knapp Airport in Berlin back in May, when the Vermont Foodbank teamed up with other organizations to donate food to the public. There were long lines for hours, and some people had to be turned away, according to news reports at the time.
Jones cited a University of Vermont study reporting that around 23 percent of Vermonters experienced food insecurity this summer, up from around 5–6 percent. This sudden change is related to the mass job losses and market loss caused by the COVID-19 lockdown from May to June.
“We’ve been the dairy state for so long. Our food economy has not been working. How do we reimagine it as a way to do things . . . as a way to serve people . . . more locally focussed?” Jones said. “Farm to plate. This is how we are going to build resilience.”
Jones spoke of how the pandemic seems to have sparked a resurgence in backyard (and frontyard) farming throughout Montpelier. Those who have previously gardened expanded their gardens, and some people who never gardened before have put in a garden for the first time, or joined a community garden. Community access to gardening is one way for people to get a handle on the local food supply.
“Some people believe we are here in life to take care of other people. That is what a community is all about. The future is built on community,” Jones said of his interest in cultivating (literally and figuratively) more community gardening efforts. He pointed out that this area has resources that could be made available to the public for community use. If people share resources, then more people in need will get what they lack. “It is not built on capitalist competition. The climate crisis is going to get worse. We are privileged here in Central Vermont. That is the core of my belief.” Jones said he has spent many years working on community organizing and working on sustainability and resilience. He pointed to Vermont’s past of self-reliance, with small dairy farmers who could sustain their own families as well as selling milk outside the farm.
The gardening push of 2020 echoes the victory gardens meant to sustain communities at the end of World War II, Jones noted. He said 40 percent of food came from those gardens. Jones further said his organization is working with High Mowing Seeds and volunteers to help support local gardening efforts and create a more robust local food system. His group is also looking at the old Foodworks location at Two Rivers Farms as a way to create a new community garden. “The city looks at it as a nuisance. We started looking at it and said, ‘There’s some wonderful bottom land,’” Jones said.
He is hoping to find a way to offer small plots and train new farmers in growing specialty crops. It could be a hub for building out a greater Montpelier food economy, he said.
Food Security Coalition Members include: Whitney Shields, clinical teaching fellow, Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School; Allison Levin, executive director, Community Harvest; Sarah Danly, network manager, Farm to Plate; Catherine Lowther, undergraduate sustainability director, Goddard College; Scott Hess, council president, Hunger Mountain Co-op; Joseph Kiefer, board member, Just Basics; Jay Ericson, Montpelier City Council; Jacqueline Huettenmoser, Montpelier Community Services; Alan LePage, board vice president, Montpelier Farmers Market; Tom Sabo, sustainability coordinator, Montpelier High School; Randy George, co-owner, Red Hen Bakery; Paul Hill, Jr., director of Housing and Community Facilities Programs, Vermont Community Loan Fund; Pat Hinkley, board member, Sustainable Montpelier Coalition, and author; Peter Burmeister, psychotherapist and Farmers Market vendor; Sustainable Montpelier Coalition staff, Dan Jones, executive director, Elizabeth Parker, public engagement, and Laura Brooke, research, CAN Coordinator.