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November 25, 2011

Mark Bittman and Bernie Sanders Visit Burlington Intervale

IMG_3240This morning, food journalist, author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman and Sen. Bernie Sanders gathered farmers and employees of the Burlington Intervale Center for a conference concerning the food system at the 350-acre farming compound. "I'm interested in things that move the agricultural system forward," Bittman told Seven Days.

It was in 1988, during Sanders' tenure as mayor, that Will Raap, founder of Gardener's Supply, began to remake Burlington's unofficial dumping ground into a composting facility. At the time, it contained 350 dead cars and 980 tires. Raap started Vermont's first CSA the following year, he remembered. "It was clear that, as a city, we could do better," added Sanders.

Bittman, who published Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes in 2008, seemed particularly impressed with the Intervale's Food Hub. During his tour of the facility, two young farmers, Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm and Eric Seitz of Pitchfork Farm, talked about the boom that their farms have seen since the Hub opened 2007. 

"The Food Hub has been great for us developing our market," said Case of the distribution facility. "We don't have that many accounts that do that [volume] other than City Market."

As Case left the event, Bittman told him that he hoped to see him in the spring. Sounds like the author might have plans to look at more of the Intervale when it's in action. "The Food Hub is really sort of innovative. It will be interesting to see where it goes, though there's no reason it won't do great," said Bittman, who was in Vermont for Thanksgiving with his father-in-law.

I asked Bittman after the tour if he had recently made any restaurant discoveries on the level of his rave about the Green Cup in Waitsfield, currently closed due to flooding.

"I don't think I’ve been to three restaurants in the state since then," said the writer. "Not that I’m suggesting Vermont restaurants aren’t excellent, but I like to cook, and the ingredients here are so wonderful, I like to stay home." He specifically named the 70-share CSA run by Brookfield farmer Clotilde Hryshko. Perhaps Hryshko, a sometime blogger on, will be the next big name in Vermont food. Or maybe the Intervale will get some some sought-after New York Times ink of its own.



I hate to say it, but the whole "sustainable agriculture" thing is a bit of a yawn to me. There is, however, one thing I do like about the Intervale: the Mcneil generating station biomass power plant.

If it weren't for Mcneil--and its owners Burlington Electric Dept--over 400,000 tons of trees per year would be left in the forest, a total and utter waste. Forests are no different than corn, if they don't get cut regularly, they just rot.

Yes, I've heard that biomass power plants put out more pollution than fossil fuels plants, but isn't that a small price to pay for cheap electricity? If you don't want to live near the pollution, then get a better job and make more money so you can afford to move to the wealthier part of town miles from Mcneil, like I did.

It's marvelous how the Intervale has been transformed. Hopefully the State is over trying to regulate it out of existence, as it seemed to be doing just a few years ago.

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