New Community Project: Starksboro Area Food Justice and Regenerative Agriculture Initiative
As it was for many people around the globe, 2021 turned out to be a much different year than planned as the pandemic and its associated impacts continued. Here were our goals for our Food Justice and Regenerative Agriculture Initiative this past year:
- Increase food security and justice for the communities we serve. In particular, respond to the increased needs created/exacerbated by the pandemic.
- Reduce the carbon footprint of our operations.
- Increase public knowledge about Regenerative Agriculture.
- Establish NCP as a local resource to address Food Insecurity/Food Justice, Food Waste, and the Climate Crisis.
- Establish NCP as a local Community Organizing Hub and Educational Center through outreach and constructive programs.
As a result of the ongoing pandemic, many of our plans and projects had to be changed again. We had to maintain safety protocols, adapt to the cancellation/reduction of our intern and volunteer programs, and find additional resources to respond to the persistent economic instability has elevated levels of food insecurity, energy poverty, rural isolation, and poverty in our community. We also struggled to begin the growing season in a near record drought. With so many aspects of our work changed, and increasing demands on our services, we had to get creative in order to keep our operations going. We learned new ways of working together and being in service to others while staying mindful of COVID precautions. We developed new relationships and partnerships that helped increase our capacity to serve. We continued to adjust our farming practices to be more resilient to the increased environmental challenges we face. Here are examples of work and projects from this past year.
Increase food security and justice for the communities we serve: In Vermont, we went from 1 in 5 people being food insecure before the pandemic to 1 in 3 today – here is how we have been responding.
- Maintained our weekly Food Share Program as a curbside pick-up and food delivery model distributing 156 food boxes a month. Our food rescue program diverted nearly 7,500 cubic feet of useable food from the landfill to those in need.
- Became a distribution hub for the Everyone Eats Program. Everyone Eats is a Federally Funded Coronavirus relief program that provides nutritious meals to hungry Vermonters while supporting Vermont restaurants, farmers, and food producers. In the first half of the year, NCP worked with Bar Antidote Restaurant in Vergennes and Rise VT to deliver 160 meals per week. After a pause owing to decreased funding, NCP connected with the Giving Fridge in Middlebury, Frog Hollow Farms, and Viva El Sabor to revive the program. Viva El Sabor is a women’s collective comprised of the spouses of migrant farmworkers in Addison County. We currently distribute 75 meals a week through this latest effort.
- Constructed a second Little Free Pantry located at the old Jerusalem School house in South Starksboro. Our first Little Free Pantry was installed in October of 2020 at the Baptist Church in the village where we hold our Food Share Program. Little Free Pantries are free standing structures that helps provide emergency food supplies to anyone who needs them 24/7. We felt expanding this initiative was crucial when we learned there were several food insecure people and families in this part of our community who could not travel to our Little Free Pantry in the village. The Little Free Pantry initiative is aimed at reducing barriers to access for emergency food aid. We typically have to restock the pantries every 2 days.
- Helped facilitate the construction and delivery of a Little Free Pantry unit for the Charlotte Congregational Church’s (UCC) Food Pantry program.
- Became a distribution hub for the Mount Abraham Union School District’s Take Out School Meals Program. This Coronavirus relief program supplies meals to families with children who rely on the school meal programs over the weekend and on school holidays. NCP distributed 100 breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal kits each week until funding expired in June.
- Became a distribution hub for Age Well Vermont’s Grab and Go meal program. Through this new partnership, we are now distributing 65 prepared meals a week to folks aged 60 and up. One thing we have learned during the pandemic is that there is a tremendous need among low income seniors for healthy prepared meals. This program has been funded into 2022.
- Petitioned the Town of Starksboro’s Selectboard to increase the Community Garden again by one third. In 2020 we had also increased the garden by one third. The proposal was approved and NCP worked with Lewis Creek Farm’s staff to add another 2,900 square feet of new garden space that NCP will expand into next year to expand produce production. We also again sponsored two plots to reduce barriers to access for low income residents who want to garden.
- Supplied vegetables from our Food Justice Garden weekly to our Food Share Program starting in early June. This year we supplied peas, beets, lettuce, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, squash, brussel sprouts, onions and cauliflower.
- Despite our regular intern program being cancelled, a year-long drought, and a reduction in volunteers working in the gardens, we still produced 1300 pounds of produce for our Food Share Program. That is a 300lb increase from the previous year. We were able to achieve this through expanding the number of plots we planted and adding 8 additional rows of staple crops like carrots, beets, onions, and potatoes.
- We began several important infrastructure projects that are still in progress owing to permitting delays, supply chain issues, lack of contractor availability, and reduced numbers of volunteers. These projects include the construction of two additional greenhouses (one will be heated with a woodstove), the expansion of the community garden irrigation system, and the construction of a second multi-bin composting system with rainwater catchment. These projects will be completed in the spring/summer of 2022.
- Some of our increased vegetable surplus was shared with the Starksboro Town Food Shelf and included in their Thanksgiving boxes. This has been on our goal list since the program was founded in 2015.
- Completed the construction of two raised beds in our 10’ x 15’ greenhouse at the Community Garden. The beds are 4x15 and were planted with fall and winter greens that are now being harvested for Food Share.
- Increased the amount of produce at our Food Share Program through a new partnership with the non-profit H.O.P.E. (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects) of Middlebury. This program helps direct donated produce and gleanings from area farms to local food pantries like ours.
- NCP had sufficient funding this year to purchase food when needed to help ensure a steady supply for our Little Free Pantries.
- NCP’s local staff person, Pete Antos-Ketcham, was invited to become a co-chair of the Addison County Hunger Council. A coalition of non-profit organizations throughout the county focused on fighting food insecurity and poverty. This opportunity has allowed us to forge new partnerships that have directed new food resources into our community.
Reduce the carbon footprint of our operations: While much of our focus last year and this year has been responding to the emergent increase in food insecurity in our community, we were still able to complete some important environmentally focused projects as well.
- Continued to maintain a flow of local produce made available to our Food Share Program lowering the food miles and carbon footprint of the food we are providing our community.
- Developed and implemented a new rotational gardening plan that allowed for several plots to be planted in carbon and nitrogen fixing cover crops while not reducing our yield. This was a key component of our Regenerative Agriculture Initiative to incorporate more opportunities to demonstrate how these agricultural practices can sequester carbon and help fight climate change.
- Added a new rainwater catchment system that feeds via a gutter into a 275 gallon tank (recycled IBC tote tank). Once it began raining again this fall, we were able to use this water for cleaning produce reducing electrical use.
- Purchased a row seeder and a broadfork for use in the gardens. The hand powered seeder allowed denser planting of crops that increased yields while reducing exposed soil where weeds can grow. The broad fork is an essential tool for allowing minimal disruption of the soil when turning in compost or extracting root crops and thus eliminating the need for a rototiller.
- At the First Baptist Church (where our Food Share Program is held), we were able to add a new energy efficient chest freezer to increase our food storage capacity. We added a thermostat that allows this unit to also operate as a super-efficient chest refrigerator also. We also upgraded the electric service so we could move another refrigerator in the kitchen and an exhaust fan to help increase air exchange.
- Purchased an E-bike to help us further reduce the need for driving the truck and make it more possible to haul a bike trailer with food deliveries and tools.
- Filled our Community Woodbank with 7 cords of firewood for the winter. We received funding to help purchase other heating fuels for people without stoves that find themselves in an emergency heating situation.
- We received a grant so NCP can assist a low income resident with the purchase and installation of an air-source heat pump. This will help reduce their costs and displace fossil fuels. Owing to supply chain delays for heat pumps, this project will be completed over the winter.
Increase public knowledge about Regenerative Agriculture: With the pandemic still curtailing in person events, our opportunities to meet people and provide educational opportunities remained limited. We did however get to do some new and unexpected outreach that we are very proud of including:
- For the individuals and groups that we were able to work with this season (mainly this fall), we were able to provide a tour and in-depth discussion of Regenerative Agriculture and how NCP has begun implementing these practices in our gardens.
- We had many unexpected and wonderful opportunities to do outreach through media this year. This spring NCP was featured on WDEV’s call in radio program, The Vermont Viewpoint to discuss our City Market/Onion River Co-Op seedling grant award. In June, we presented at the Charlotte Congregational Church on Food Justice. This fall, we were interviewed for a forthcoming documentary called Reimagining Addison County which is a project of United Way of Addison County and is a look at people and organizations working to create a different vision for the future post COVID. In November, we were interviewed on WVTK about NCP as a local recipient organization of donations from the annual Hannaford grocery store food drive.
- Partnering with the Starksboro Energy Committee, NCP helped promote the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity Weatherization Program.
- Gave tours and workshops on Regenerative Agriculture to the groups that were able to work with us this season– See below.
- In late 2019, we established a monthly drop-in free community meal featuring locally produced food. This became an increasingly popular event in town. We completed two meals before the pandemic hit. This was a big loss and couldn’t have come at worse time as these opportunities to bring people together are needed more than ever in this divided country. In order to help bring this program back as soon as possible, we are working to build an outdoor community gathering space – see below.
- 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 our 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.
Establish NCP as a local Community Organizing Hub and Educational Center through outreach and constructive programs: 2021 saw NCP take new leadership roles in the community helping respond to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.
- In 2021, we welcomed several new community members as core volunteers supporting our Food Share Program.
- We developed and grew new partnerships with Rise VT, The Addison County Hunger Council (on which NCP is now a member), Hunger Free VT, United Way of Addison County, H.O.P.E., Middlebury Natural Food Cooperative, the Baptist Church of Huntington (Neighbor Helping Neighbor program), the Charlotte Congregational Church (UCC), City Market/Onion River Co-Op, Laberge Insurance Agency/The Cooperative Insurance Company, The Giving Fridge/Care of Vermont, Viva El Sabor, and Age Well Vermont. Each of these new partnerships has helped us in achieving our mission during these challenging times through financial support, in-kind donations, new volunteers, and most importantly solidarity.
- We worked with two Middlebury College student interns this fall whose work with us was a service learning component for a class in Middlebury’s new Privilege and Poverty academic cluster focused on Food Justice.
- We worked in the garden with the Middlebury College Women’s Basketball team as part of United Way of Addison County’s Fall Days of Caring service event.
- We worked with the Youth Groups from the United Church of Hinesburg and the Charlotte Congregational Church. These groups provided much needed help in the gardens, helped maintain our space we use at the Baptist Church, and stacked wood at our Community Woodbank.
- We closed the garden season out with by hosting 18 students from Middlebury College. They helped us complete our harvest while learning about NCP’s programs and about Regenerative Agriculture.
- 68 volunteers provided 3,841 hours of service to NCP’s programs.
Thanks to the very generous support of the City Market/Onion River Cooperative’s Seedling Grant Program, NCP’s work was not cancelled. We have worked hard to adapt, with attention to caring for individuals in our community who are isolated and/or experiencing food insecurity for the first time – both of these situations that were common in our rural area and were made even worse by the pandemic. As the pandemic has shown us, now more than ever we need to build up our communities to be more resilient to the future public heath, economic, and climactic challenges that may come –especially robust local food systems. We greatly appreciate your support this past year in helping us meet our mission.
2020 Grant Amount: $4,800.00
New Community Project (NCP) Vermont is pleased to submit a proposal to City Market/Onion River Co-Op’s Seedling Grant program to support our Starksboro Area Food Justice Garden and Regenerative Agriculture Initiative. We are requesting a grant of $1,500 to support NCP’s efforts to plan, design, develop, and expand organic gardens at our Sustainable Living Center and Village Community Garden in Starksboro that will support our weekly Food Pantry program. Support from the Seedling Grant Program would assist us in purchasing seeds, building materials, tools, soil amendments, mulch, season extenders, bike trailer, food storage, and rain water catchment/irrigation systems necessary to launch this next phase in our program. With the unprecedented challenge of the climate crisis and growing food insecurity in Vermont, we see a tremendous opportunity help address these issues through the development of a robust organic garden program designed to supply our local Food Pantry. Over a 120 people a month now rely on NCP's Food Pantry program for all or part of their monthly groceries. Expanding our Food Justice Gardens will help increase access to fresh produce by low-income families while utilizing a method of production that will reduce our ecological and carbon footprint.
Project Background and Need: In 2015, NCP’s Board of Advisors approved the establishment of a second Sustainable Living Center (the first is in Harrisonburg, VA) in the New England region help meet our mission in this region of the country. Sustainable Living Centers put NCP’s principles into practice. They model, teach and advocate for energy efficiency, eco-building principles, sustainable transportation, engagement with their communities, and outreach to people on the margins of society. Pete Antos-Ketcham (formerly of the Green Mountain Club) was hired to establish a center in Starksboro Vermont where he lives.
Starksboro is a rural community of 1,700 residents with a significant portion struggling with some level of poverty. This is most easily seen by how many our neighbors struggle with Food Insecurity. Currently, over sixty families now rely on the town operated Starksboro Area Community Food Shelf for all or part of their monthly groceries and this site is only open one day a month. Food supplied to the Food shelf is mostly packaged and processed foodstuffs. Families often have little access to fresh produce as part of their allotment. If produce is supplied, it is usually canned or frozen and sourced from other parts of the country which carries a high environmental impact. Imported food has a high carbon footprint compared to locally produced food. Despite a recent resurgence in farming, Vermont imports most of its food. Imported food carries a high price both in terms of cost and carbon footprint. And while Vermont ranks 11th nationally with regards to poverty, local statistics show that an increasing number of our neighbors lack food security and nutritional diversity. NCP's Food Justice Garden initiative is aimed at providing a solution to the issues of climate change and social justice where they intersect.
Additionally, imported food (a product of conventional agriculture) has a higher carbon footprint. This is not only because of distance traveled (1500 miles on average), but because conventional agriculture relies on chemical fertilizers and tilling it tends to release carbon from the soil. According to Project Drawdown, regenerative agriculture enhances and sustains the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content and improving productivity. Regenerative agriculture focuses on no tilling, cover crops, in-garden fertility (minimal external nutrients), no chemicals, and regular crop rotations. Together, these practices increase organic matter resulting in healthier crops while sequestering carbon in the soil. It is estimated that at least 50 percent of the carbon in the earth’s soils has been released into the atmosphere. Bringing that carbon back into the soil through regenerative agriculture is a perfect opportunity to address both human health and climate change while making our community more resilient.
With the unprecedented challenge of the climate crisis and growing food insecurity in Vermont, we see a tremendous opportunity to address these issues through the development of local, regenerative, and resilient food systems that support our low income neighbors and educate everyone about the role local regenerative agriculture can play in fighting both poverty and climate change. NCP's Food Justice and Regenerative Agriculture Initiative is aimed at providing solutions to the issues of climate change and social justice where they intersect in our rural community.