(Note: This is Part 4 in a series of blog posts highlighting the incredible work being done by our 2020 Seedling Grant recipients. You can find Part 1 on the Abenaki Land Link project here, Part 2 on ACORN’s Online Wholesale Market here, and Part 3 on 350 Vermont’s Rewild Vermont project here. Check back in regularly to hear about other projects!)
For the New Community Project, as for many of us, the past year has required flexibility in the face of ever-changing pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic. New safety protocols, limited intern and volunteer programs, and elevated levels of food insecurity, energy poverty, rural isolation, and poverty in the Starksboro community all required adaptation and new ways of thinking. Through these challenges, the Initiative achieved many milestones in pursuit of their goals and built a foundation for even greater impact in the future.
One of NCP’s central goals is to increase food security and justice in the communities they serve. The need is great – in Vermont, one in five people faced food insecurity before the pandemic, but fully one in three do today. To help meet this growing need, NCP became a distribution hub for the Everyone Eats program, Mount Abraham Union School District’s Take Out School Meals Program, and Age Well Vermont’s Grab and Go meal program. They also increased the amount of local produce in their food share programs in several ways. They successfully petitioned to increase the size of the Starksboro Community Garden by one third, significantly increasing its capacity and providing new opportunities for Starksboro’s low-income residents who want to garden. This expansion was made possible with help from staff at Lewis Creek Farm in Starksboro.
NCP also laid the groundwork for greater growing capacity by beginning construction of two new greenhouses. These spaces, along with two new raised beds in the existing greenhouse, will provide more local produce year-round for the food share programs. Additionally, they expanded the community garden irrigation system and constructed a second multi-bin composting system with rainwater catchment that allows NCP to wash produce while using less electricity. These infrastructure projects, along with technical upgrades including the purchase of a row seeder and a broadfork, an energy-efficient freezer, and an e-bike for deliveries all contributed to decreasing NCP’s carbon footprint – another central goal.
Like many organizations with an educational component to their mission, NCP had to pivot to find new ways to teach and build community around regenerative agriculture. To help create a COVID safe space for community gatherings, NCP partnered with the Town of Starksboro and other organizations to develop a pavilion located next to the Community Garden. This multi-purpose space will allow NCP an outside, well ventilated space to conduct workshops, host volunteer groups, and offer free community meals. In 2021, progress was made in developing a level building area, laying down gravel, and building stone retaining wall. The timber-framed pavilion will be constructed in 2022.
We are so proud that our 2020 Seedling Grant helped ensure that NCP had the space to pivot in response to the pandemic. The pandemic has shown how critical it is that we build up our communities to be more resilient to the future public heath, economic, and climactic challenges that may come, and has especially shown the importance of robust local food systems. We can’t wait to see how NCP advances these goals in the future!