West Townshend Community Project receives $50,000 USDA grant

TOWNSHEND — The West River Community Project (WRCP) in Townshend is one of 13 Vermont organizations that will share in more than $2.3 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants and loans aimed at creating jobs in rural Vermont.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden announced the grants during a news conference at Burlington's Intervale Community Farm on Sept. 12.

The funding will help small businesses, farmers, and forestry enterprises purchase essential equipment, gain access to affordable capital, and seek expert advice on how to grow and create jobs in rural areas, said Harden.

“The grants and loans we are announcing here in Vermont are about more than one farm, one person, or one organization. They are about creating an ecosystem that cultivates and nurtures a wide variety of producers and businesses by expanding knowledge and expanding markets,” she added.

WRCP, a nonprofit community organization formed in 2012 to promote local agricultural, economic, and social activities, will receive a $50,000 grant to purchase commercial equipment for a small community kitchen in the basement of the West Townshend Country Store.

WRCP Board President Robert DuGrenier said the USDA “really loved our project. It fits in nicely with what they are trying to do in rural areas. And we're the only group south of Montpelier to get this money.”

DuGrenier said the group has sought to build a fully equipped commercial kitchen for community members to use for cooking, baking, and processing and preserving large quantities of food.

“Farmers in the area have wanted to do more value-added products, but all the rules and regulations mean you just can't make it in your kitchen,” he said. “People had to drive up to Hardwick to use the kitchen up there. Now, we can have a certified commercial kitchen right here.”

WRCP already offers the use of its wood-fired oven and a spacious cold storage area to area residents for a fee. They also hope to use the new space for cooking classes.

The Townshend Farmers Market moved from the Common to the back lawn of the West Townshend Country Store this year, and is now combined with the WRCP's Friday Night Pizza Party. A café and local food market is open seven days a week inside the store, which also houses a thrift store and gallery space for artists.

“It's really amazing to see how many people around the West River Valley are drawn to what we're doing - both the year-round residents and the second-home owners,” said DuGrenier.

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