Changing America's Industrial Food System (WCAX News)

High fuel prices and a growing interest in organic food are driving a trend that has become apparent in Vermont, a preference for buying local. It's a trend in which Vermont farmers stand to benefit

The farmers market in Burlington is seeing more business than ever. The food is local, and many believe, more nutritious, than the processed food you'll find in a supermarket that may have come from thousands of miles away. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) held one of his town meetings on the subject. The turnout showed a high level of interest.

"This state is probably in the forefront of a movement to a new type of agriculture," Sanders told several hundred people who turned out at Burlington City Hall. "Not a corporate agriculture, not an industrial agriculture, but an agriculture that's concerned about localism, good quality food, supporting our family farmers, and making sure that the food that we eat is affordable."

A locally-oriented food system would require its own system, including more slaughterhouses. That's a goal of several Vermont farmers. Advocates say local products are much better in terms of nutrition and food safety.

Heather Darby, who works for the UVM Extension Service and herself is an organic farmer, said, "To have a diversified, non-industrial agriculture, we need to things: we need farmers that are willing to farm in a different way, and we need consumers that are willing to purchase those products and want to support local agriculture."

Those customers are willing to pay a little more. As for the current food system, the picture painted by critics is one of heavy use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and inhumane conditions for the animals and workers alike.

Eric Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation. He told the crowd, "The reason I wrote that book wasn't because of a traumatic childhood experience with Ronald McDonald." bringing laughter. "It was because I felt like here is a subject of fundamental importance that we don't know about and we don't know about it because there are very powerful companies that don't want you to know, don't want you to see, this reality."

Buy Local is both popular and growing, at least here at the Burlington Farmers' Market, thanks to a customer base that provides the revenue that local farmers need. Meanwhile, advocates firmly believe that skyrocketing fuel prices will spell the end of the current centralized food system.