By Lindsay Arbuckle
What do you get when you combine one giant old manufacturing building, a heaping spoonful of community volunteers, and a dash of vision and inspiration? That is the recipe for The Vermont Farmers Food Center, opening this Saturday in Rutland.
The Vermont Farmers Food Center, a nonprofit creation of the Vermont Farmers’ Market, is located at 251 West Street. The Food Center will open its doors at 10 a.m. on November 3, 2012 as the permanent home of the Winter Farmers’ Market, which operates every Saturday November through April.
With plenty of free off-street parking and over fifty farmers, local artisans, and specialty food vendors, the Vermont Farmers Food Center is sure to be the place to be each and every Saturday morning.
The former Mintzer site has been extensively renovated and painted green, with most of the work being done by volunteers. Football teams, glee clubs, church youth groups, Stafford Tech’s culinary students, and adult service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis have volunteered. Volunteers have been old and young, from all over Vermont, New England and as far away as North Carolina. People across our community see the potential in a Food Center for Rutland: job creation, farm viability, education, and a space for community celebrations.
Project manager David O’Rourke has been continually amazed by the amount of community support for the project. “To date we have had over 200 different volunteers that have donated over 1000 man hours. These volunteers have contributed more than $40,000 in services,” O’Rourke reported.
“The whole community has pitched in here,” said Paul Horton, a farmer and board member of Vermont Farmers Food Center. “Folks that we don’t know and have never seen before show up, drive in and say, ‘What can I do today? What can I do to help?'”
The Vermont Farmers Food Center came about not only because of a desire to own a permanent winter market space, but also because of the huge growth in local agricultural businesses in recent years. Farmers in Rutland County are producing more fresh food every year, and new farms and food businesses continue to sprout up in the region. Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) has created significant change over the last few years through its innovative programs focused on supporting farmers and teaching our community how to grow and cook local foods. Our school cafeterias and restaurants are serving locally grown now, and realizing that fresh food means better taste, quality and health benefits.
The time is ripe for a physical “hub” of agricultural activity, and the Vermont Farmers Food Center will be just that.
Future plans for the Vermont Farmers Food Center include a commercial kitchen, cooking classes, and storage, freezer and processing areas for farmers to preserve their crops. The Vermont Farmers Food Center will host food festivals and other celebrations during the summer months when the Farmers’ Market moves back to its seasonal location at Depot Park. The Vermont Foodbank will also move to the site, where it will open its southwestern Vermont Distribution center.
What are your dreams for Rutland? Stop by the Vermont Farmers Food Center on November 3rd and add a pinch of your ideas into this recipe for success.
Read more about the Vermont Farmers Food Center at www.vermontfarmersfoodcenter.org and consider a tax-deductible donation today.
Lindsay Arbuckle is co-owner of Alchemy Gardens and has coordinated RAFFL’s Locally Grown Guide for the last three years.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.