By: Heidi Lynch
For everyone who had the chance to visit the Rutland Winter Farmers Market at the Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC) over the holidays, the words “community” and “cornucopia” may have been used to describe the experience. Local foods and goods were in abundance and high demand in Farmers Hall, home of the Rutland Winter Farmers Market, as we gathered to take home a taste of Vermont to celebrate family festivities and the beginning of 2016.
When community volunteers first mobilized in 2012 to transform the underutilized West Street property, it was evident Rutland was dedicated and motivated to bring this market center, educational facility, and shared use Community space to life. That momentum has remained strong. This summer more than 150 individuals volunteered throughout the course of 12 weeks to implement VFFC’s Health Care Share, our first collaborative outreach program that began at Vermont Farmers Food Center in 2015. Every Wednesday, during the growing season, volunteers arrived, arranging as many as 75 reusable bags along rows of tables inside VFFC. Shortly after the bags were aligned, local farmers arrived and unloaded totes of vegetables and fruits that volunteers packed into the bags.
Working with local organizations like Rutland Farm & Food Link's (RAFFL), Rutland's Nutrition Coalition and the University of Vermont's Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), Health Care Share supported the creation of a new market niche for small scale and beginning farmers in our area. Local families and individuals looking to improve their health and become more comfortable cooking, eating and, purchasing fresh local foods, enrolled in the program through their Primary Health Care Providers and the Rutland Regional Medical Center Community Health Team, to receive a weekly farm share with recipes, storage tips, and cooking class opportunities. Reflecting on the 12-week program one member shared, “My family really liked it because we experimented with some vegetables we would never have tried.”
Year one was a great success and thanks to seed funding provided by the Bowse Health Trust of Rutland Regional Medical Center, Health Care Share is now up and running and set to expand to 125 Members in 2016. Not only does the program increase consumption, awareness and value of local foods, it aligns with the VFFC’s mission to create new markets and support new farmers in making a living in our region.
Interested in helping with this innovative community project? Become a Cultivating Member by sponsoring a share or part of a share for a family, Mail Your Contribution to Vermont Farmers Food Center PO Box 1008 Rutland, VT 05701 Memo: Health Care Share or call 802-342-4219. Stay tuned to our website at vermontfarmersfoodcenter.org for volunteer opportunities. Thanks for your support! We look forward to growing this initiative together.
*VFFC acknowledges funding from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Inc.