Harrington: Downtown Food Zone

(HOST) Commentator Elaine Harrington says that now that her hometown of Middlesex Village has developed a vibrant food scene, the New Year looks both bright - and tasty.

(HARRINGTON)  Middlesex Village, where the Mad River flows north to meet the Winooski - recently had very little happening.  In 2006 we had a shuttered restaurant and motor court, a lumber yard, gas station, town offices and firehouse, a church, and a country store.  And that was our village.
But today my hometown has a new downtown - featuring locally produced foods and dedicated entrepreneurs.  Things began to change when Randy George and Liza Cain moved their Red Hen Bakery from Duxbury to the old Camp Meade Motor Court in 2007.  They built a radiant hearth oven - and now deliver 17,000 loaves per week to 75 stores and restaurants. They've also brought 37 new jobs to our town.
In 2008 Red Hen opened a cafe that attracts a business lunch crowd, skiers headed to Sugarbush - and most important, the locals. It offers gourmet groceries - Red Hen loaves and "things you can have with bread," says Cain, who grew up in nearby Waitsfield.  The cafe also has live music on weekends - and a pick-up spot for Pete's Greens CSA.
One wintry afternoon, I watch six flour-covered bakers around a table - hefting, shaping, and tossing new loaves.  A woman in red kerchief and white dress hauls flour bags on a rolling platform and feeds a kneading machine near the glass window. The pastry baker pinches a lovely fluted pie crust, while a large Red Hen mural presides over all.  
On the cafe side, we're all chatting, working, or reading - enjoying apple ginger scones and other delights. "People gather over food," says Cain, "like in the old general store."
She and George appreciate the support for local food - and location in the busy Montpelier/Burlington corridor.
The Middlesex food zone grew when Jacquelyn Rieke brought her granola business here. Nutty Steph's quickly added a chocolate shop - selling Belgian cacao wholesale - and tempting us with chocolate-dipped fruit and small-batch ice cream.  Reike's latest venture is a bar - wedged in between the granola and the chocolate.  Every Thursday night it features local bacon and a live techno trio. "People talk about this space," says Riecke, "how cozy it feels."  She likes the confluence of rivers, railroad, and highways - and the affordable kitchen.
In 1889, hilly Middlesex produced a lot of food. That year a local mill ground 75,000 bushels of grain. 
But back to 2010 and our new food-centric downtown - which also extends to Cyrus Scribner's vegetables at Settlement Farm and the beef, chicken, eggs, and maple syrup at Persons Brothers Farm.  With all these producers - and my garden - I'm serving many meals of Middlesex foods. 
My daughters, on visits home, are having trouble recognizing their hometown's new downtown. "Why wasn't this here when we were growing up?"  they wonder.
Whatever forces converged to put Middlesex on the new food map - we residents couldn't be happier - or eating better.