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West River Community Project picks up momentum

Thrift store, food cooperative lead activities at former West Townshend General Store

TOWNSHEND—The West River Community Project held its annual meeting on Nov. 10, and heard Board President Clare Adams report that the local West Townshend group is still trying to buy the West Townshend Country Store and Community Post Office, where the meeting took place, at the junction of Route 30 and Windham Hill Road.

An offer of $150,000 to owner Zack Caldwell, formerly of Windham and now a resident of Boulder, Colo., for this once-vital village landmark was rejected, Adams said, but perhaps there is some wriggle room.

She added that one of the goals of the project was to revive the building as a center for local food, art, and music, as well as a coffee house and a place for other as-yet-unnamed community uses.

A non-profit, the two-year-old organization is slowly gaining momentum. It is finishing this year with a vigorous concert schedule, an active thrift shop that took in about $3,500, and a busy community sustainable food pilot program that bought and sold about $8,000 of food to a dozen members.

Members paid $30 a week from about April to November for a broad range of food, plus a $10 registration fee.

Departing from the standard community sustainable agriculture formula that supplies members with a specified amount of whatever its farm produces, this program, under the auspices of the Windham Farm and Food Network (WFFN), is a multi-farm, non-profit operation.

Fifteen farms produce for the WFFN, which is run by the University of Vermont Extension.

The network delivers to schools and hospitals. It also serves stores, some non-profit and some for-profit, that pay a higher delivery fee.

Adams explained that she and others developed the pilot program with the WFFN and recruited the 12 members. The food is delivered weekly and boxed by and for members who pick up their orders. Adams said the model program was very successful and she hopes to increase membership for next year.

Robert Dugrenier, board vice-president, said the food cost about 40 percent less than retail prices. Some of it was organic, some not; Adams thought most of the supplies fell into the “at cost” price range.

“We were a pilot program testing out a new concept,” Dugrenier said. “We can order online and in bulk from what’s available, including produce, eggs, cheese, yogurt, and granola, and we hope to buy a freezer for next year for meat.”

Adams said she hoped to include baked goods and more dairy products. The group is working on arranging for food stamp use.

The thrift shop on the second floor of the West Townshend building is another popular feature of the project’s operations, now open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and other times at random.

And of major interest from the beginning are the monthly concerts, which will now also feature a potluck dinner.

Sally Newton organizes the schedule and books the musicians, mentioning bluegrass, old-time string band, and folk rock as some genres of music featured this past year from local bands and musicians, including the Town Hall Boys, Hungry Town, Joe Chagnon, Laura Molinelli, the old-time string band with Sally Newton, Michael Donahue, and Alicia Moyer and Gene Morrison, and the Kelly Stand.

The next efforts for the project are mostly logistical, and they relate to arranging for new appraisals for the building and conforming to nonprofit requirements, as well as following guidelines established by the Preservation Trust of Vermont, which has helped the group to proceed.

Those interested in getting on the concert email list may send email for further information.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #128 (Wednesday, November 23, 2011).

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