Network Partner Highlight: Vital Communities

Samantha Cave


Vital Communities is a non-profit organization in the Upper Connecticut River Valley  that brings together citizens, organizations, and municipalities to address issues requiring a regional perspective. Vital Communities serves the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire, extending to 69 communities within both states. While Vital Communities is active in many areas of community development, including Transportation, Energy, and Leadership, the Valley Food and Farm program (VFF) is particularly focused on food systems. The VFF program focuses on the complex and important relationship between people and agriculture  in the Upper Valley region, and aims to keep that relationship alive and well.
VFF offers a wealth of information to community members, including helpful guides for local eating, resources for farmers, and a farm-to-school network. To help consumers eat locally, they offer a database farmstands, farmer’s markets, and CSA’s which helps citizens find locally produced food nearby. Their website also has a regularly updated blog that often showcases delicious recipes that utilize local ingredients. Additionally, the Power of Produce clubs at farmer’s markets offer fun information and activities to get children interested in local food. These are some of the many ways Vital Communties are helping Upper Valley eaters find local products and support the local food economy.
In addition to assembling resources for consumers, VFF also works to support local farms. Examples of VFF’s offerings for farmers include a new-farmer program (which includes one-on-one advising to answer any questions), and the Upper Valley Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) program which meets twice each month at a host farm for a tour given by the host farmer. This is a great opportunity  for farm apprentices, interns, and staff to learn about successful farm models, other agricultural topics, and get to know the farming community.
The farm-to-school network is a broad resource that helps local schools develop their own farm-to-school programming, and offers one-on-one consultation. The VFF website features listings of member schools, as well as free ‘Harvest Lessons’ curriculums that are hands-on way for children to learn about local and seasonal foods. The organization also offers a “FarmRaisers” program, which takes typical school fundraising and turns it into a program with farm products for sale.
Vital Communities and VFF host a range of events, a recent example of which was the Upper Valley Food Hub meeting on September 26th. Folks from around the region gathered and discussed the possibility of a shared use “food hub” that could be used for a number of different functions surrounding food, including a storage area, a sales or processing center, distribution, or even a kitchen. If started, this food hub could act as a “modern grange” of sorts that addresses the current infrastructure limitations constricting farmers in the area, preventing agricultural growth. The New Hampshire Food Alliance recognizes the impact a hub like this could have on the area, with infrastructure limitations being a factor within our Viability Initiative.
Over 70 people came to the meeting from many facets of the food world, including farmers, entrepreneurs, food recovery workers, and interested community members. The meeting included breakout sessions to determine the priorities of the hub. The overall feeling was that the hub would best serve the needs of the community by acting as a storage space and commercial kitchen. This would allow people to aggregate their products into one place while also expanding business. The next steps for the food hub are to create a working group which will meet  this winter to conduct a feasibility study and identify more sources of potential funding for the project.
Valley Farm and Food is a great resource for anyone interested in the production and consumption of food. Their website is easy to navigate and has many different aspects to it that will appeal to anybody interested in the food system. As a broad organization, Vital Communities is able to successfully look at this issue from a number of perspectives