• Ariel Zevon's dream takes root
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     | August 17,2006
     
    Stefan Hard/Times Argus

    Ariel Zevon of Barre, founder of Local Agricultural Community Exchange, is joined by farmer Duffy Gardner at Gardner's New Moon Farm in Cabot. Gardner is one of about a dozen local farmers that Zevon has signed for her exchange, which will sell agricultural products at a storefront in Barre.

    BARRE – When Ariel Zevon moved to Barre three years ago, one of her goals for her family was to eat locally-grown foods. But as she found local foods for her family, she also found there were some greater issues surrounding local foods and her community.

    "I noticed a gap between consumer and local foods," said Zevon. "Even as someone who is willing to put time and effort into it, finding and connecting with local farmers is not easy. Nor is it easy for farmers to get their foods out there. I wanted to find a way to close that gap, I know a lot of people want to support local farmers' food, but don't know how or have the time."

    So Zevon, a stay-at-home mother of twin 3-year-old boys with very little business experience, set about starting her own business – a business that would tie together her passion for home-grown foods, local farmers and the local community.

    "I traveled around central Vermont and talked to anyone and everyone who has a connection to local agriculture, and the more people I talked to the more support I got, so the more interested I got and so I just ran with it," said Zevon. "It started as me just learning how to do a business plan, and it has just snowballed."

    That snowball has turned into a project incorporating many local farms and the whole community through a nonprofit organization called Local Agriculture Community Exchange (LACE). And when it's up and running, by next spring if all goes well, it will include a storefront in downtown Barre.

    "The goal of LACE is to create a link between community and farmers – so that the people of Barre know where their food is coming from, and local farmers know who is eating their produce," said Zevon.

    She hopes the market, to be located on 170 Main St. in Barre, will accomplish that. It will comprise a local kitchen program that will utilize freezing and canning to preserve foods from the harvest season all year long, pictures and information about the farms that contribute to the market, a locally raised foods market, a café of locally grown and prepared foods, the LACE learning program, a farm-fresh food drive and a community center, which is a key aspect of the whole project.

    "A new market study showed that Barre needed a downtown food market and more cultural activity and night activity – LACE can provide that," said Zevon. "Our space will have both a market and a cafe which can be easily cleared for community events."

    Zevon's mother, Crystal Zevon of Brattleboro, has been helping her daughter with fundraising and press for LACE, thinks that LACE will help Barre on multiple levels.

    "I think Barre is a town that has suffered from Wal-Mart, and a lot of local businesses have failed or closed in the community, but studies have shown that communities need downtown food shopping to help create momentum to centralize and revitalize downtown," said Crystal Zevon.

    Ariel Zevon, whose father was the gravelly voiced singer Warren Zevon, first discovered Vermont when she went to Marlboro College, where she majored in theater and sociology and graduated in 1997. She went back to California and worked as an actress in L.A., which she jokes, meant she spent a lot of time in restaurants trying to support herself. That fed an interest she had always had in foods, she said.

    "I'd always been an in-the-kitchen kind of person," she offers.

    When she had twins and started raising a family, food and environment became even more important and Vermont seemed a natural place to return to. She was searching in central Vermont and discovered an affordable home in Barre and moved here over two years ago. And now she's bringing her passion for food to the community.

    Zevon said LACE plans on having an education component, where community members and children can come and learn about healthy, local and organic foods to help the health of the entire community.

    "I've worked with a lot of underprivileged kids that haven't eaten a healthy meal in their lives, this type of business can help single or underprivileged parents preserve their children's health through meals that don't have to take up all their time."

    And for local farmers, LACE provides the perfect connection to their consumers – and an outlet for them to sell their goods.

    "We are trying to reach people and get our names out there, so we are happy that by her supporting us we'll get a lot more exposure to folks who wouldn't normally see us and to those with similar values as us," said Keith Morris of Love & Tea, a company which he and Jennifer Lashua run and which makes a line of organic herbal teas in Montpelier.

    "We feel that our project fits right in with hers because we share so many environmental, social, economic and cultural values, which we are really excited about bringing to Barre through this cool new spot."

    Zevon's mother said that LACE "will provide a fair price to farmers and enable people to buy local goods at affordable prices."

    As of now, the Zevon family is working on getting their nonprofit status and then will be working to raise $35,000 dollars and applying for $60,000 in grants to get the business up and running in April of 2007.

    "The hope would be to find people to support the project and give $10 or $20 dollars a month so they can really be a part of what is going on," said Crystal Zevon.

    "We really want to get as much community involvement with as many aspects of LACE as we can," said Ariel Zevon. "I hope LACE can really be sustainable and successful. No one part of it is original, but no other place is putting them together like this."

    While LACE is still on the road to achieving its goal, for Ariel, the whole process has been a dream come true.

    "I'm excited as a family to be doing something we feel passionate about, seeing our kids connect and passing on that joy of rediscovering our agriculture and food. This whole process has, I guess, been my own outlet for my love affair with the food and land that surrounds me."


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