Thu, Aug 23, 2012 11:23 AM
The Vermont Farmers Food Center plans to open at the
Mintzer Lumber complex on West Street, Nov. 3; continued support
In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Washington, "Agriculture
is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most
to real wealth, good morals, and happiness." Surely he was talking
about local, sustainable agriculture, the kind where produce passes
directly from the farmer to the consumer. Today, commercial food
production is in the hands of a few large corporations and small
family farmers struggle to make ends meet.
Rutland and the rest of central Vermont have demonstrated a
commitment to supporting farmers and fresh, local food.
Rutland has the largest and most successful year round farmer's
market in the state, but more space, resources and education is
necessary. Plans for Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFCC) on West
Street grew out of this need and soon garnered widespread support
from locals and other organizations.
Greg Cox and his wife Gay own Boardman Hill Farm in West Rutland
and Bill Clark runs Clark Farm with his wife Sarah in Wells, Vt.
They are bringing many local farmers on board to support the center
and are joined by current members of the Vermont Farmer's
The goal for the center was always, first and foremost, to
provide a place for the Winter Farmer's Market to exist
permanently. The current home of the Winter Market is the old
Strand Theater on Wales Street in Rutland. That lease is expiring
soon and the theater is due for renovation. The market has also
outgrown the space. It has been sold out almost every week since
When Cox and his collaborators began looking for anew location,
it became evident that a simple indoor market site was not enough.
Local producers needed an education and gathering place for farmers
and consumers to learn about producing, cooking and preserving
food. A large commercial kitchen would also help farmers process
their raw ingredients into meals and products for consumers.
"A commercial kitchen will help local farmers compete with the
big businesses that can freeze, process or package their raw
materials. Without this resource, we are not as competitive or
productive as we should be. This center will be a real economic
engine for the area," Greg says. The producers also wanted a space
that would serve as a backdrop for festivals and other farm and
food related events.
Just about that time, The Rutland Community Cupboard started
showing interest in moving to a larger space as well in order to
meet rising need. And The Vermont FoodBank expressed interest in
developing a Rutland location, something they had been thinking
about for many years. Both could be a good fit for the center and
partnerships with the VFFC were discussed.
Then, when these groups were together and brainstorming, a
unique property surfaced that held tremendous potential and enough
space to meet the growing needs and demands of all.
The numerous, large, blue buildings that line the railroad
tracks in Rutland are not the city's most beautiful attributes.
This is particularly true of the old Mintzer Lumber complex on West
Street. There, acres of land are overgrown with weeds while the
rotting structures get covered with graffiti. It is one of the
city's most visible blighted properties and could only be described
as an eyesore.
But when Cox, Clark and their supporters looked at it they saw
something different. They saw an opportunity. They saw space in
which they could help revitalize the Rutland economy by empowering
consumers who have proven that they will support local food and
crafts. Fortunately for them, they are not the only ones with
Ed and Al Gartner are the former owners of the property and they
have agreed to financing arrangements as well as delayed payments
until after the winter market is successfully launched. "It feels
really good. Ed and I really want this to work," said Alan Gartner
in an article published by The Rutland Herald.
The City of Rutland itself also has a vested interest in
rehabilitating such a property. The West Street location is one of
the gateways to the downtown region and neighboring properties have
recently been renovated. A tax stabilization program is now
being considered for groups that can improve some of Rutland's
After the VFFC purchased the property, the real work began.
With the help of many volunteers who believe in the project, the
site has made tremendous advancements. The overgrown trees and
weeds have been cut down and the trash that littered the acreage
has been removed. Tons of metal, rotting wood, machinery, and
various debris of every conceivable variety has been removed.
Bathrooms are being updated and renovated.
One of the generous volunteers is Dennis Duhaime, who owns
Radical Roots Farm with his wife Carol. Dennis is also a carpenter
and he is in charge of making the neglected building comfortable
for its new occupants. "It will be a huge benefit for the
agricultural community of Rutland County, but that is not all. It
will be a real asset for the whole community, both economically and
socially," Dennis says. "It's going to have a huge impact. The
project proves that Rutland is making some real headway in
revitalizing itself, more so than a lot of communities."
Northeast Organic Farming Association sponsored the feasibility
study and Cox says other grants may also come through. "Some grants
and incentives are in the works, but we might not receive those
funds for quite some time," he says. "So far we are operating
almost entirely on private donations."
Because the VFFC is a non-profit organization in its infancy,
they are relying almost entirely on the many charitable donations
they have received so far. Project manager, David O'Rourke is in
charge of making sure the building is ready for the first indoor
farmer's market, which will be on November 3. He thanks Hubbard
Company for donating dumpsters and says that they are just one
example of the many local businesses and individuals who have
promised time and materials.
"To date we have had 39 different volunteers that have donated
193 man hours. These volunteers have donated approximately $21,000
in services," O'Rourke reported. But there is still much to be done
in the 13 weeks before opening day. Cox and O'Rourke estimate that
almost $100,000 needs to be raised before the building can operate
safely and legally. With the exuberant local support that Cox and
company have experienced so far, it is not surprising that they are
actually on target to reach the goal.
The future site of the Winter Farmer's Market and Vermont Farmers
Food Center encourages volunteers to come and be a part of its
transformation. Join in and help Sundays at 10 a.m. on 251 West
Street in Rutland.
For more information visit VermontFarmrsFoodCenter.org