HARDWICK, VT - This town's granite companies shut down years ago and even the rowdy bars and porno theater that once inspired the nickname "Little Chicago" have gone.
Facing a Main Street dotted with vacant stores, residents of this hardscrabble community of 3,000 are reaching into its past to secure its future, betting on farming to make Hardwick the town that was saved by food.
With the fervor of Internet pioneers, young artisans and agricultural entrepreneurs are expanding aggressively, reaching out to investors and working together to create a collective strength never before seen in this seedbed of Yankee individualism.
Rob Lewis, the town manager, said these enterprises have added 75 to 100 jobs to the area in the past few years.
Rian Fried, an owner of Clean Yield Asset Management in nearby Greensboro, which has invested with local agricultural entrepreneurs, said he's never seen such cooperative effort.
"Across the country a lot of people are doing it individually but it's rare when you see the kind of collective they are pursuing," said Mr. Fried, whose firm considers social and environmental issues when investing. "The bottom line is they are providing jobs and making it possible for others to have their own business."
In January, Andrew Meyer's company, Vermont Soy, was selling tofu from locally grown beans to five customers; today he has 350. Jasper Hill Farm has built a $3.2-million aging cave to finish not only its own cheeses but also those from other cheesemakers.
Pete Johnson, owner of Pete's Greens, is working with 30 local farmers to market their goods in an evolving community supported agriculture program.