Federal funds awarded to study Bennington farms, local food efforts

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BENNINGTON — Recently awarded federal grant money will fund a study of the town's food systems, local farms and food businesses.

The $30,000 grant to the Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC) will be used to evaluate the area's food production, processing and delivery; and to determine the area's strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement, according to Liz Ruffa with Northshire Grows. BCRC partnered with the Manchester-based nonprofit for the study.

"A healthy, thriving food economy and community are the ultimate goals, with food-related business development being the lever for job growth," Ruffa said.

BCRC is one of 19 entities across Vermont that received competitive Rural Business Development grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and other officials announced the $1.3 million in funds — an effort that aims to create jobs, strengthen local businesses, and support community institutions — during a ceremony at the Barre Opera House on Friday.

"Small businesses started by entrepreneurial Vermonters have been a significant part of why Vermont is in the midst of an agricultural renaissance," Leahy, the senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a news release. "These resources will help Bennington County identify what specific steps are still needed to boost the number of businesses growing local food, or creating locally made products."

Ruffa said the grant "will fund a baseline study of all areas of Bennington's food system with an eye towards access and affordability and opportunities for business and job growth."

Northshire Grows will work with Ken Meter, food specialist with the Minneapolis-based Crossroads Resource Center; Rose Wilson, a business development consultant from Norwich; and AmeriCorps VISTA Elyse Belarge, Ruffa said. The study involves interviewing local stakeholders and visiting farms and food businesses.

Ruffa said the hope is to conduct a larger study next year of all of Bennington County and southern Vermont. Both studies will be completed "with an eye towards determining niches and opportunities to grow our local food economy," she said.

"Vermont communities are notable for their individuality, both in the challenges that they face and the assets that they possess to overcome those challenges," Ted Brady, USDA's rural development state director for Vermont and New Hampshire, said in a news release. "By supporting the efforts of local nonprofits and municipalities, USDA aims to empower these communities by turning these assets into job creating activities, strengthening local economies and adding to the communities' economic resilience."

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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