A couple of years ago here in the village of Wells, folks came
together and created our first local weekly food shelf. Our
Neighbors Table was the unique name that they picked for it. I
think it says a lot about the sense of community. Farmers Markets
have been around Vermont for 35 years and they have changed a lot
over those years. Today, they are everywhere, both large and small
and now both summer and winter. Farmers Markets provide good,
mostly organic locally grown/produced healthy, fresh foods.
However, organically grown is more expensive to produce and higher
prices have to be charged, than for conventionally grown foods.
It's great to know that here in Vermont and especially in the
Rutland area there is now a year around supply with the creation of
We growers like to think all of our neighbors now have access to
this bounty. The truth is not everyone can afford the cost of
locally grown, as much as they might wish to. As a Farmers Market
organization we realize this. We strive to create circumstances so
that all of our community neighbors can sit at the same table.
Larger Farmers Markets are now equipped to handle EBT, electronic
food stamps. For years Rutland has offered the most "Farm to Family
Food Coupons," from June to October of any county in the state.
Yet, even for all of that, there were neighbors not sitting at our
table. Hence, the reason for this story.
On a cold April morning in 2009, as I was going through my mail,
there was this letter from the Rutland Women's Shelter. I thought
it was strange they were writing to us. Upon opening it, there was
one page explaining how they take in women and children from
abusive home situations and house and feed them temporarily. Like
most food pantries they offer mostly nonperishable foods. Their
quest was for these folks, especially the kids, was to help them
get much-needed fresh fruits and veggies. Could you farmers help us
out? Could you grow one extra row just for us?
What a challenge. We farmers have some kind of a challenge
almost every day. One extra row? And they only asked for one. That
sounded pretty easy. The Vermont Farmers Market discussed this
request and decided to do it. We knew we were good at growing but
how about distribution and handling. Our next conversation was with
RAFFL (The Rutland Area Farm and Food Link.) This miracle
organization had been around a mere five years and was already
doing great work bringing farmers and communities together. Tara
Kelly, Exc. Director of RAFFL assured us they would set up a
handling and distribution system. RAFFL also assured us there were
many food pantries and senior centers that needed fresh produce as
well. We farmers decided if we were only going to grow one extra
row that it would have to be "the longest row ever grown in Rutland
County, to be measured in miles, not feet. Hence, "The Longest Row
Project" was born.
Vermont Farmers Market growers and others grew extra produce,
some was 100% direct picked, other places were gleaned. RAFFL had
an every Saturday, end-of-day pickup at the downtown Rutland
Farmers Market. Thomas Dairy of Rutland donated free coolers for
over the weekend storage and RAFFL was able to distribute to 26
food entities in Rutland County.
2009 saw 10,000 pounds of produce (5 tons) collected by
November, a great start! Our goal for 2010 was 20,000 pounds and we
almost made it. We tried again in 2011. However, the tragedy of
Tropical Storm Irene greatly cut fall produce for that year. We did
pretty well again in 2012, (somewhere around 15,000 pounds) but not
good enough. With a lagging economy and food and fuel prices ever
higher, we need a much greater effort in 2013.
It's time now when folks are thinking about planting for 2013 to
consider getting involved. If you are Farmers Markets around the
fringe of Rutland County (Brandon, Ludlow, Pawlet, Fair Haven, or
Castleton) please contact RAFFL to find out how you can get
involved. If you are an ambitious home gardener, we want to hear
from you too. The goal is for all of our neighbors to be at the
same table. Let's make it 20,000 pounds plus in 2013. RAFFL can be
reached at 802-417-7331 or firstname.lastname@example.org