Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Pickle Project in Vermont

 Shelburne Farms is a member-supported, nonprofit environmental education organization with a mission to cultivate a conservation ethic for a sustainable future. Set on1,400 verdant acres of working farm and forest on the restful shores of Lake Champlain in Shelburne, Vermont, the Farm serves as a model for sustainable land use. The Farms' innovative programming, connect people and food systems, has made it a natural partner for the Pickle Project. 

Several weeks back, the Farm hosted a Pickle Project Community Conversation, like those convened in four Ukrainian cities last fall. These conversations are designed to draw on the personal experiences of the participants, including the role of food in our families, memories and communities, expanding to broader discussions of the connections between food production, economies and culture.

We were very fortunate to have been joined by a small, wonderful group of old and new friends from the University of Vermont, the Vermont food community, the Vermont Ukrainian community, the Shelburne Farms community and more. For me, it was especially lovely to have admired professors and friends attend, showing their support, as they always do.

The Farm hosted the event at Orchard Cove, a recently renovated cottage-like building, nestled beside the lake.  As silvery waves folded upon the rocks outside, we gathered in a circle, some in chairs, some sitting cross-legged on the floor. It was a potluck and there was a veritable smorgasbord of vittles, including Shelburne Farms’ own award winning Cheddar, a zesty beet salad, varenyky with creamy sour cream,  an earthy kamut salad and refreshing red grapes. There was also amazing banana bread and some delicious-looking chocolate chip cookies. (I can only attest to their appearance, as they were gone before I could nab one!) In addition to the slightly medicinal lemon infused vodka and the peculiarly invigorating horseradish infused vodka that have become the staples of Pickle Project affairs, a Ukrainian -American friend and forester brought vodka infused with golden root. This plant, is also called roseroot or Aaron's rod (scientific name: Rhodiola rosea) grows in the Carpathians and is said to be a mood enhancer. 

Like the community conversations in Ukraine, the evening’s conversation at the Farm seems to draw in threads from every angle. What does McDonalds signal about a culture, its health, its wealth? What kind of sheep are those? What makes a food authentic to a culture, time or place? What are the antecedents for a sustainable food system? Can a food practice only be valued, once it is lost or endangered?

And, like the Ukrainian conversations, we made new connections, to each other and between threads of culture, community, economy and nature.

We would like to thank Shelburne Farms’ fabulous staff and community for the warm welcome in hosting this fantastic event and their ongoing partnership with the Pickle Project. In particular, we would recognize Christie Bond for all of her planning and coordination.

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