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The destiny of Vermont…

Rutland Herald, VT

For someone who grew up in New Jersey, “in farm country, but not on a farm,” Anthony Pollina has certainly been successful in facilitating a voice for Vermont’s farmers in the time he and his wife, Deb Wolf, have made Vermont their home — some 30 years now.

And on the other end of the food chain, he’s not a bad cook, either, though he hastens to say that he and Deb both cook, and she does the bulk of it. But when Deb took their daughters, Maya and Allessandra, skiing on Sunday afternoons, Anthony, who says he’s “not really big on downhill skiing,” would stay home and cook for them.

On the way home from the slopes, famished, they’d often call to see what he’d made them.

“They’d be greeted by the smells of roast chicken as they came through the door,” he told me recently. “Food is culture,” he says. “Comfort. Food has the ability to help us transcend bad moods and problems. While the girls were growing up, we always sat down to dinner together. Lots of times when I had meetings or the campaign trail kept me going late, I’d arrive home and they’d be waiting supper for me.”

There’s a little wonderment in his voice at that moment. Gratefulness. It’s a good memory.

The girls have grown up and are off on their own now, but they still return home and, taking after the examples of both their parents, esteem the culture of food, often cooking meals for the family on their visits, especially now when both Anthony and Deb are hot on the campaign trail for governor.

I first met Deb and Anthony a few weeks ago at an open house in Pawlet and found them to be sincere, warm people, passionate in their quest, calmly telling stories about consensus — helping farmers get together to work for their own greater good. And telling of the role Anthony played in starting The Vermont Milk Company — a farmer-controlled plant that skips the middleman to produce real Vermont ice cream, cheddar cheese and yogurt.

Anthony founded Rural Vermont, as well, a statewide farm and rural-advocacy organization that has been a national leader in dairy policy and free trade, working to outlaw GM seeds and bovine growth hormone.

Rural Vermont is the reason you can buy a chicken to roast directly from the farmer, the reason Vermont farmers will be well-situated to grow the valuable crop of hemp as soon as the federal government allows it, if the governor signs the bill.

The hemp bill was enthusiastically endorsed by the Legislature, but is sitting on the governor’s desk right now. If he doesn’t sign it, it’s just another veto, another of his passive votes against Vermont’s farmers.

Rural Vermont is the reason the excellent Vermont dairy farmer can sell up to 50 quarts of farm fresh milk each day directly to the consumer who wants it.

As we drove down to Pawlet I was happy to be on the verge of meeting the person who was so instrumental in working on these important food and agriculture programs, and also remembering an interview in Salon.com with Alice Waters I’d read just a few days before.

She was disappointed that none of the presidential candidates were talking about exactly those subjects — food and agriculture.

“They’re talking about the diets of children, but they’re talking about Band-Aids. We’re not seeing a vision,” she said, and the reason for that was, “because we have been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that food is not important.”

I suspected that Anthony Pollina did not fit into that category, and I wondered what changes he would make in the system if he was elected governor.

I didn’t have time to talk to him a great deal at the open house, but when I called him a few days ago he was forthcoming in his easy-going, conversational way. He’s the kind of guy you feel like you’ve known all your life. I peppered him with questions.

“I want to work with the dairy farmers to find a way to take some of the milk off the commodity market and keep it in Vermont.”

He stressed that this is not something the state would finance, but would facilitate the farmer/entrepreneurs to do themselves.

“We’ll find ways to invest in infrastructure so farmers can process their own products and retain more value in what they sell. And not just in dairy. We need regional meat processing plants. We need a distribution network.”

He talks about establishing a Vermont Fair Trade Label for products that people in the big Northeast cities would look for, knowing that it appeared on excellent products for which farmers received a fair price.

“A market study was done on Fair Trade fluid milk, which found there was a significant market in Boston, for which people would pay significantly more because it would be locally identified, free of synthetic hormones and priced fairly, just as they do for Fair Trade chocolate and coffee,” he told me.

So “Monsatan” is not your idea of a good company? I asked slyly.

“Monsanto would have no place in our Vermont. They want to bend nature to their liking, and they want to own and control food,” he said. “Bigger is not necessarily better,” he mused. “What we are relearning in Vermont is what worked and came naturally years ago. Nature works, and if we work with nature we will have a food supply that is adequate and healthy.”

Monsanto is a company that, among many other things, seeks to develop and patent genetically modified seeds.

The Pollina vegetable garden used to be quite substantial. It’s smaller now, and Deb does most of the gardening. But the girls are grown, their lives are busy, and there’s always the farmers’ market.

“We go to the farmers’ market every Saturday if we’re not involved in something else. It’s a cultural thing. Social. We see a lot of our friends there, many of whom are farmers. It’s the thing to do.”

Like many Vermonters, I know it’s essential to move our present governor out from under the golden dome in Montpelier.

Vermont stands still while he’s there. I didn’t talk directly to Anthony — Gov. Pollina, I trust — about health care, the economy, energy, or anything, really, except farms and food, but the health of our farms and food economy has direct implications for everything else in our little rural state.

That brings me back to Alice Waters: “The destiny of nations depends on how we feed ourselves,” she quoted Brillat-Savarin, then continued, “That’s a really important thing. I want whoever’s running for president to say that. The destiny of our nation depends on how we nourish ourselves.”

I want whoever is running for Vermont’s governor to say that, too, and Anthony Pollina obliges, in spades, and with history to back him up.

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