Staff Blog

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This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

Garden Beds and the Food and Farm Initiative

Posted by: Jen Peterson on 3/28/2017

As I write this, I’m looking out at piles of snow covering the raised garden beds outside my window. Though they look like nothing more than indistinct bumps in a sea of whiteness right now, I’m reminded that amazingly I will be digging in the soil in those beds and planting peas and spinach in less time than one might think. Hard to imagine. Even harder to imagine is that in an even shorter period of time—less than a week—I’ll work my last day for the Vermont Community Foundation. 

Nine years in one place offers quite a bit to reflect on in terms of lasting accomplishments. No doubt about it, I will miss the people I’ve worked with—though many of those relationships will endure. But in terms of a legacy of work, the Foundation’s Food and Farm Initiative is one of the things of which I’m most proud because I know it will have lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of Vermonters all over the state. 

We completed our fifth and final competitive grant round of the Food and Farm Initiative in December 2016. We made 11 grants totaling more than $660,000, and half of the total granted out was made possible thanks to the partnership of our fundholders and other donors. This high level of support stands as a testament to the value that people place on both connecting more Vermonters with healthy local food and supporting farmers.

I’m proud to say that the networks of local food organizations we have invested in over the last five years are stronger and more unified in their goals as a result of this support. Every grantee has voluntarily attested to the value in providing consistent and ongoing time, space, and resources to think, learn, and plan together. As a result, they’ve been able to act more efficiently and faster to achieve a shared vision without risking duplication of work. 

I’m also so proud to say that we’ve supported projects researching and developing lightly processed produce that are really paying off—schools have been purchasing more local food from farmers. Simultaneously, we’ve supported work that has increased school meal participation by leaps and bounds. This all has meant more children in Vermont, especially those that are facing hunger and nutrition challenges, are eating locally grown food and seeing it as their own.

One example of the great progress that we’ve seen comes from the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) in Hardwick, which has been producing a line of lightly processed vegetables for institutions. In the lifetime of the initiative, CAE’s sales have increased by 84% and the number of schools they serve has tripled. You can read about some of the progress our grantees made have made here. And check back in the coming months for updates on the current projects!

The current grants are on an 18 month timeline. Everyone involved in this work—our donors, our grantees, and other partners—are true champions for our most precious resources in Vermont. I’m sorry to miss this next formative part of the work; there is still much to learn from this Initiative that the Community Foundation will be able to use looking ahead to future initiatives. I’m honored to have been a part of this initiative and to have helped build on lessons and successes over the years—and I can’t wait to see what happens next even after I move on from my role here at the Foundation. Much like the hidden garden beds outside, there’s a treasure trove of gifts awaiting a closer look and a willing hand to dig!

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