Organic Consumers Association

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The New Agtivist: Root Cellars

Imagine if trucks full of food stopped driving into your town or city every night. Or if the electricity grid went down for a while during the winter.

What would you eat?

Even those of us who grow lots of our own food might have to resort to factory-filled cans, victims of supermarket shelves emptied of fresh food in a manner of days.

But Glenn Beck-style pseudo-survivalism, or peak-oil-fueled fears aside, those who want to eat local just during the cold months also face challenges. In most places mid-winter, even committed locavores' gardens are frostbitten and food co-ops are stocking foreign fruits and vegetables.

To keep produce fresh in the most low-carbon manner, people in the northeastern United States call on Chris Chaisson. His company, Vermont-based Whole Farm Services, offers farmers, gardeners, and communities an array of very old-school -- now very hip -- crop storage services. From root cellars to ice houses, these technologies may just become integral to a sustainable food future.

Q. How did you get into food and farming?

A. Both sides of my family came from agricultural backgrounds -- as with most Yankees and French Canadians. I grew up in Western Massachusetts gardening, keeping bees, and running a small neighborhood farm stand with my mother's parents. We canned, kept roots in our cellar (not a proper root cellar, though), and extracted lots of honey every year.

My father got me into food at age 10 -- I'd help at the restaurants he managed -- and then by age 12, I was catering with him. In high school, picking tobacco and sweet corn was another way to make money, and I also worked at several pizzerias in Northampton and Martha's Vineyard until age 20. On the Vineyard I got very interested in farming and worked at Morning Glory Farm, Solviva, and several nurseries.

Those early experiences were key to my understanding of food, from garden to plate, and have allowed me to get a grasp of everything that happens between them.

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