TOWNSHEND—Slowly but surely, the healthy food conversations among at least four local and vocal Windham County advocacy organizations are moving forward.
Spurred on by a $2,000 grant from the Meeting Waters YMCA, the four groups were brought together on Feb. 15 at the Townshend Church by Post Oil Solutions for a potluck supper and progress reports.
The four groups received varying amounts of money.
Claire Adams, an officer of the West Townshend Community Project, described the success of the project’s first community sustainable agriculture venture this past summer in which a dozen families bought $30 weekly shares for food supplied by a variety of farmers and producers. She hopes to double that participation next year.
She also described the operations of the thrift shop she runs with some help on the second floor of the building from which the project operates in West Townshend.
The shop is open Wednesday and Saturday mornings. The shop, she said, has proved to be almost too popular, considering the excess bags of clothing now waiting for a home.
The West Townshend building, owned by Zach Caldwell, a former Vermonter who now lives in Boulder, Colo., was recently appraised at $150,000. The project unsuccessfully offered that amount to purchase the structure.
Negotiations are ongoing, according to Robert Dugrenier, another officer of the project, who pointed out that the group cannot pay more for the building than its appraisal amount, according to the rules of certain agencies, such as the Preservation Trust of Vermont, if it continues to seek help from these agencies.
The building, which also houses a community post office, is a popular venue for concerts featuring local musicians. The project expects to spend its grant on a freezer.
John Muise talked about the Townshend Community Garden, which began about three years ago on 5,000 square feet of land in 4-by-20-foot plots donated by a Townshend cemetery. He said nearly 100 percent of the land was used the first year, though use has diminished somewhat since then.
Gardeners, he said, are mostly planting tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash with a few braving winter crops such as onions and garlic.
“At first, I did 10 plots of potatoes that I donated to the food shelf,” Muise said. “I think this year, I’m going to plant two plots in Gilfeathers to donate to the Wardsboro Gilfeather Turnip Festival.”
His goal for this coming season is to get enthusiastic gardeners to work with local eighth graders to teach them about crops and other entrepreneurial details of food production.
“Next year, I’d like to have kids plant ingredients for salsa production, and then to process the food and can it,” he said.
He also pointed out that using cemetery land is very convenient, because there is water available. And he would like to encourage people to volunteer at the gardens and to donate tools and soil improvement materials.
Joe Winrich helps to run the Townshend Food Shelf at the church on the common, along with Pastor Christine Dyke and other volunteers. Winrich said that next year he would like to do a separate children’s shelf for the Monday night program.
He thought stocking food that came in small containers, (such as applesauce) and snacks (such as nuts, dried fruit, and shelf-stable yogurt) could teach kids about the healthy food choices they can make.
Sherry Maher is a co-founder with her husband Tim Stevenson of Post Oil Solutions. Among its many initiatives are the Thursday Farmers’ Market in Townshend on the Common and the Saturday Winter Farmers’ Market in Brattleboro at the River Garden.
Maher wants to enhance the ability of shoppers to use EBT (food stamp) cards, as well as other coupon programs that include giving free coupons to people spending more than a certain amount at the market.
She also announced a Townshend Farmers’ Market poster competition among middle schoolers to help promote the market.
Also making a few remarks at the meeting was former state Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee, who called Vermont “a food state” where “a real renaissance” was taking place.
Allbee, who said that he grew up on farms in Brookline which had been in his family for several generations, said it was exciting to hear about “all that is going on to build and sustain a local food culture.”
The Healthy Communities Coalition of Windham County, an initiative of the Bellows Falls-based Meeting Waters YMCA, is offering tools and assessments relating to healthy living to leaders within its communities.
Meeting Waters YMCA, also known as the “Y Without Walls,” because of its broad reach in southeast Vermont and southwest New Hampshire and because it is among the few YMCA chapters in the country without a physical building, recently received about $42,000 from the Holt Fund.
The Fanny Holt Ames and Edna Louise Holt Fund, named after two Grafton sisters, was fully funded as a charitable entity in 2000; the fund makes grants to qualified not-for-profit organizations that provide health and medical services to individuals living in and around Grafton.
Steve Fortier, the executive director of Meeting Waters YMCA, explained that the Y had invested $20,000 of the Holt grant to fund 10 mini-grants of $2,000 each, such as the one for the Townshend region.
Before giving the grants, Fortier said, those applying had to submit planning and assessment components in their applications.
Post Oil Solutions, having already created what they call “Community Conversations” in Brattleboro and Bellows Falls, invited the other organizations to participate in a third conversation in the Townshend area.
One part of Post Oil’s research was a food survey to determine how different income groups go about managing their food-related lives.
Post Oil received 99 responses on forms distributed at farmers’ markets. Of those, 40 came from people earning $35,000 or less. The average age of respondents was 57.6.
Some highlights: Most (61) do their main food shopping at Hannaford (24) and Price Chopper (19) in Brattleboro and River Bend Market in Townshend (19). Fewer than half (22) receive government benefits, such as food stamps.
Thirty-six responders said certain foods were difficult to access, including vegetables, fruit and meat, mostly because of cost and transportation. The same number of respondents wanted better access to community gardens, information on government benefits, help with filling out forms, help with budgeting, and access to transportation and child care.