In this short essay, the author explores the importance of terroir, or the taste of place, for the future of food and agriculture in Vermont. Here, the taste of place is connected to increased engagement with local foods. However, Allbee claims that local can also mean foods that reflect a unique local character, that tell the story of a place, bringing the tastes, history, and culture of a region to the consumer.
Dans ce court article, le secrétaire du Vermont à l’Agriculture, à l’Alimentation et aux Marchés examine l’importance du terroir, ou du « goût du lieu », par rapport à l’avenir alimentaire et agricole du Vermont. Le goût du lieu revient ici à s’engager davantage en faveur des produits locaux. Toutefois, Allbee affirme que le terme local peut aussi qualifier des produits qui reflètent un caractère local unique et racontent l’histoire d’un lieu, révélant ainsi les goûts, le passé et la culture d’une région au consommateur.
Vermont has demonstrated over the years, and with more attention recently, that it embodies a “taste of place.” The Vermont name in itself is recognized for its quality agricultural products, whether its maple syrup, its many farmstead and cheddar cheeses, its fresh apples and related products, or its commitment to small farms that keep heirloom foods alive, from Calais flint corn to Tamworth pigs. Culinary tourism introduces these foods to people who are exploring the many different things our state has to offer. At the same time, a strong movement to buy local, one of the strongest in the United States, connects Vermonters to the tastes of their home. In fact, a recent study showed that a working landscape was the Vermont value shared by the most people statewide.
Vermont’s existing foundation in establishing taste of place is not a reason to continue with business as usual. We need to ask questions for the future. For example, how do we encourage the development of unique products that represent a shared culture and a connection to the land? Is a reputation for high quality enough, or do we need a better way to certify the quality of the finest Vermont products? How do we understand our food region—can it reach beyond the boundaries of a small state like Vermont to include parts of New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, and Quebec? How do researchers, policymakers, and engaged consumers work with farmers to build a strong sense of place in our food?
Answering these questions is not a quick process. We have considered them at length over the last year and I see three paths emerging that will shape what the taste of place looks like in Vermont in the future.
The first is an understanding of how terroir, as it is practiced in Europe and other regions, shows us a new way to think about “local” foods. Local does not have to be measured in miles from producer to consumer, although this approach is certainly a valuable one. Local can also mean foods that reflect a unique local character, that tell the story of a place, bringing the tastes, history, and culture of a region to the consumer. Following this path builds a new language for marketing Vermont foods and brings a new depth to the experience we offer to visitors.
The second is the pursuit of a Protected Designation of Origin system that mirrors the labels available in Europe and recently introduced in Quebec. Pursuing this goal is a much more technical process. It requires farmers, researchers, and policymakers to work closely together to determine whether the types of authentication and labelling done abroad can succeed in Vermont. We have not yet made that determination—but we have test projects and studies in place to get us the information we need to decide on the next steps.
Finally, taste of place represents a new level of Vermont’s engagement with people producing high quality food worldwide. We have already had wonderful information exchanges with Quebec, France, and Spain. These partnerships will only grow in the future.
Roger Allbee is the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. A life-long advocate for Vermont’s working landscape, he previously served as executive director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency in Vermont.
Roger Allbee est le secrétaire de l’agence VAAFM (Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets). Fervent défenseur des terres cultivables du Vermont, il a auparavant été le directeur exécutif de la Farm Services Agency du département américain de l’agriculture au Vermont.
See Heather Paxson’s article in this issue, “Placing the Taste of Vermont Cheese,” for a fuller explanation of the phrase “working landscape.”