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Food Connects Builds Food Security Alongside Economic Recovery and Resiliency

www.foodconnects.org

Food Connects, a Brattleboro-based non-profit, raised over $700,000 in grants over the last six months to increase community food security, allowing the organization to step into a larger leadership role in the regional food economy. The organization, which delivers local food to community businesses, saw its food sales more than double since the pandemic struck, highlighting the rising demand for fresh, local food.

A combination of federal, private foundation, and corporate grants will add capacity to Food Connects’ local food distribution system. These projects are critical for food security and economic recovery. The most recent, $184,250 from the Northern Borders Regional Commission, will fund further infrastructure development—including cold storage, warehouse equipment, and a new refrigerated vehicle. These pieces are essential to Food Connects’ ability to increase the capacity of 90 farms and food producers, enable producers to reach new markets within and outside of Vermont, and better address food insecurity in the region.

Over 10 other private and corporate grants totaling over $400,000, from organizations including the Vermont Community Foundation and New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, helped Food Connects cover the cost of a new walk-in cooler, a fourth refrigerated truck, and three new staff members—growing the organization’s capacity to support local farmers and food producers.

Food Connects currently works with over 90 farms and food producers and over 135 wholesale customers. Its reach extends beyond the Brattleboro community, into the Keene and Peterborough areas of New Hampshire, the Bennington region, and the Upper and Pioneer Valleys, as well as to similar food hubs around New England. As a social enterprise, Food Connects focuses on making it easier for local food businesses to buy wholesale from local farms and food producers and on building shorter, more community-based supply chains that are less reliant on national or global networks and food suppliers. 

The funding from these generous organizations couldn’t have come at a better time. When the conventional national and international food supply chain struggled with disruptions and shortages that left many store shelves empty, Food Connects stepped in to offer our local, rural communities weekly deliveries of foods produced in our little slice of New England.

Food Connects saw its sales double since the pandemic hit and keeping up with the increasingly higher demand for local food requires more internal resources and improved infrastructure. “We are reaching our 2021 sales goals in 2020 and it has been a challenge to keep up with staffing, systems, and infrastructure needs,” says Executive Director and Founder Richard Berkfield. “We realize we are very privileged to have these problems of rapid growth while so many businesses are struggling or closing.” 

The combination of grant funds allows Food Connects to hire three new positions—a Food Hub Operations Coordinator, Sales Associate, and Local Food Procurement Coordinator. This new capacity will improve internal operations to more efficiently serve more local farmers and food producers and develop new markets to a larger geographic area. With the addition of these new employees, the Food Connects team will have quadrupled in size in the past two years.

“It's a strange feeling to see all this growth during such a challenging time,” says Berkfield. “It's become clear that what we do really matters in response to supply chain disruption, food security, and building economic resilience and recovery. We are all feeling very proud of our work and grateful to be doing it, which lessens the emotional strain of day-to-day COVID-19 reality and future uncertainty.”   

Food Connects is an entrepreneurial non-profit that delivers locally produced food as well as educational and consulting services aimed at transforming local food systems. The Food Hub aggregates and delivers from over 90 local farms and food producers to over 135 buyers in southeast Vermont, southwest New Hampshire, the Pioneer Valley, the Upper Valley, and Bennington region. Their educational services focus on Farm to School programming. Acknowledged as a statewide leader, the program supports over 30 schools to increase local food purchasing, school meal participation, and food, farm, and nutrition education. Together these core programs contribute to a vibrant local economy by increasing local food purchases by schools and improving students’ nutrition and academic performance. Additionally, Food Connects is frequently hired to provide leadership and consulting services for efforts aimed at transforming local food systems in the New England region.