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Project to Tell Immigration Stories through Food Markets

 “When you move to a new place, it’s human nature to look for somewhere you can connect,” says Charlotte Barrett, the Community Preservation Manager of Historic New England. “For people who come from another country, food links them to their homeland and to each other. Markets inevitably become social centers.”

Vermont Humanities recently gave a $2,000 grant to Historic New England to support the “More than a Market” project, which will explore the experiences of new Americans through the stories of past and present-day food markets owned by immigrants. Collaborators on the project include the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV), the Burlington Edible History Tour, and Preservation Burlington.

Above: Elise Guyette from Burlington Edible History will help develop a walking tour of food markets in the Old North End as part of a grant to Historic New England.

Charlotte will conduct oral histories with new Americans who own community food markets in Burlington and Winooski, and with the descendants of earlier immigrants. The interviews will form the basis for a panel exhibition, an online exhibition, and a walking tour of the city’s Old North End.

The exhibit will open in June 2020 near the AALV offices in the Old North End Community Center. AALV helps new Americans gain independence in their new communities through a range of integration services. Charlotte explains that one of the goals of the project is for “new Americans to learn that they are part of the immigration story that has been going on for 200 years in Burlington.”

Winooski, the Old North End, and Burlington’s Lakeside neighborhood have served as havens for new immigrants since the 19th century. 12.8% of Burlington’s total population in 2017 was born outside of the United States, compared to 4.5% in Vermont as a whole.

A stroll down Burlington’s North Street makes clear that many buildings once served as storefronts. “It was a vital commercial artery for that section of the city,” says Charlotte. “You read old oral histories and it just was alive at night with people shopping and socializing.”

The grant funds provided by Vermont Humanities will help develop a companion walking tour of the neighborhood that will highlight the locations and stories of earlier markets, as well as share stories of new markets. The tour, developed by the Burlington Edible History Tour, will be free, to encourage wide participation.

Charlotte notes that the Old North End Community Center is housed in the former St. Joseph’s School, which was established by French Canadian immigrants. “We’d like the project to help bring the point home of this shared and historical continuum” among immigrant groups, she says.

 “Considering what’s going on in this country, in terms of grappling with issues of identity and belonging,” Charlotte says, “seeing oneself as part of a story and welcoming people into this story is really important.”

Submit Your Letter of Intent!

 We’re accepting Letters of Intent for our Fall round of grants until August 23!