Pawlet Author and Farmer to Speak on ‘A Precautionary Tale’
On Earth Day, Sunday, April 22, from 3 to 5 p.m., the Pawlet Public Library will present ‘A Precautionary Tale: How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved Its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movement.’ At the event, Pawlet author, farmer and college professor Philip Ackerman-Leist will speak about his book and an accompanying show of 20 large-format works by Douglas Gayeton which tell the story of Mals, Italy, long known as the breadbasket of the Tyrol.
Gayeton is an award-winning American multimedia artist, filmmaker, writer and photographer, cofounder of the Lexicon of Sustainability and Project Localize, which show people how to live more sustainably.
The program is free, and the exhibit runs through May 9.
The tiny town of Mals recently became known for preserving and protecting its food heritage. ‘A Precautionary Tale’ tells how, introducing an unlikely group of activists and a forward-thinking mayor who came together to ban pesticides by a referendum vote – the first place on Earth to accomplish such a feat, and a model for other towns and regions to follow. With a history as rich as its soils, Mals and the Vinschgau Valley once supplied the Vatican and the British Royal Family with exceptional grains. The cutthroat competition of the international grain market eventually led to plummeting production in the area, until only a few seed savers and farmers held onto the seeds and fields dedicated to the valley’s traditional diet. As industrial agriculture slowly crept up the valley, pesticide drift threatened their livelihoods and put their entire collection of seeds at risk.
Ackerman-Leist offers that seed savers don’t think in terms of supposed instant fixes offered by pesticides. They think from the vantage point of years, generations, and even millennia – in the past and for the future.
One of several family profiles he features in ‘A Precautionary Tale’ is that of Edith and Robert Bernard, who assumed the task of collecting and sharing the region’s seeds, eventually building a seed bank in their own basement. The couple also grows hundreds of varieties of vegetables, grains and herbs each year in six different trial gardens, including a spectacular display garden where they offer tours and workshops. Robert cares for the health of the soil while Edith manages everything that springs forth. What began as lonely work has evolved into a true diaspora, as seed conservationists from across Europe now seek them out for advice – and seeds.
Ackerman-Leist is professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at Green Mountain College in Poultney, where he established the college’s organic farm, sustainable agriculture curricula and the first online graduate program in sustainable food systems in the United States. He and his wife Erin live on a remote off-the-grid farm in Pawlet with their three children, where they raise grass fed American Milking Devon cattle. He is also the author of ‘Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems’ and ‘Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader.’
The Pawlet Public Library is housed in a renovated and accessible historic grammar school building, located at 141 School Street in Pawlet. For further information, go to the website at pawletpubliclibrary.wordpress.com or call 802-325-3123.