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Small-scale farmer talks ‘peace and carrots’ at PHCC

Published:   |   Updated: October 17, 2013 at 09:28 AM

NEW PORT RICHEY — With the Suncoast Co-op blossoming in New Port Richey and Pasco Ecofest just around the corner, last week’s presentation at Paco-Hernando Community College, called “Peace and Carrots: Cultivating Local Food Economies in the 21st Century,” gave the community a forum for asking questions and learning new perspetives about growing food locally.

Ben Hewitt, born and raised in northern Vermont, was brought in by PHCC for its 2013 “Peace Week” celebration, which included a variety of presentations and activities centered on the topic of “Transformation.” Hewitt spoke to the audience about transforming local communities from relying on imports and often less-nourishing food to growing their own.

Hewitt, the author of “The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food,” a true story about a rural Vermont town that weaned itself off industrial food and grew a regionalized, food-based enterprise, runs a small-scale, diversified hill farm with his wife Penny and two sons, Finlay and Rye.

The family lives in a self-built home that is powered by a windmill and solar photovoltaic panels, and tends a menagerie of animals, including cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens. They have numerous gardens, a small orchard, and a pick-your-own blueberry patch.

“Our focus is producing nutrient dense foods from vibrant, mineralized soils for ourselves and the immediate community,” writes Hewitt on his website.

Hewitt said that many green initiatives liberally bounce around the word “sustainable,” in reference to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse, but he prefers the term “restorative agriculture” over “sustainable agriculture” because “sustain” implies that there is no growth

Hewitt discussed many obstacles and barriers to growing food locally. With strict regulations and zoning policies, the time it takes to nurture plants and the typically higher cost of buying locally-grown food, it’s an initiative that is hard to get off the ground in many communities.

“It’s very difficult if you’re producing food in a sort of manner with integrity, producing real food and not food heavily subsidized food, food that is beneficial to the environment, that is actually nourishing, if you’re paying your workers a livable wage, it’s extremely difficult for a whole host of reasons, for local people to afford it,” Hewitt said.

He also questioned the argument that food should be cheap in the first place.

“Maybe it shouldn’t be expensive but it’s what we should prioritize over other things. ‘I don’t have time to cook.’ This is something I hear a lot. Last year, Americans watched 35 hours of TV a week. You could watch 25 and still have time to cook.”

Hewitt subscribes to the “grow food, not lawn” mind-set and applauded the efforts of the Suncoast Co-op to do just that. “Studies have shown that small-scale organic agriculture produces more nutrients and calories per acre than large scale commodity crop farming using GMO seeds so it doesn’t have to be this way.”

At the end of his presentation, the audience applauded, many inspired to walk up to him after and ask more specific questions about his experiences. Kira and Kacey Atkinson, the organizers of this year’s Pasco EcoFest, also passed out fliers to the Nov. 8-10 event, which will include geocaching, stargazing, bellydancing, nature walks, kayaking and hands-on workshops about gardening and more.

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