Food Connects hosted their Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on December 12, 2019, at their Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) Business Park location to celebrate the unveiling of their new 1,000 square foot cooler and freezer.
Over 50 Food Connects’ staff, board members, funders, partners, customers, producers, and family members joined to celebrate this milestone. Guests sampled Food Connects’ products, prepared by Harley Sterling, School Nutrition Director of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, and his staff at the Farm to School Cafe. Richard Berkfield, Executive Director of Food Connects opened the evening with gratitude towards all those who supported Food Connects throughout the years and, more recently, the Cooler Campaign.
“We moved in here a little over a year ago with a few ideas about how to turn this place into our new warehouse,” Berkfield told the crowd. “For a long time we had masking tape on the floor representing two large boxes, one frozen, here and another cold there. As you might imagine, we felt constrained. And the reality was the cooler wasn’t going to be big enough for our growth trajectory and we would have to do something again soon. It didn’t feel right.”
The Food Connects team knew the space had potential to help the organization grow, getting more local food to more community members in the region. With the help of the BDCC, Food Connects was able to identify a space adjacent to their offices for expansion.
“At the BDCC we are always on the lookout for folks and businesses that have a bit of a growth mindset—that’s definitely Food Connects,” remarked speaker Adam Grinold, Executive Director of the BDCC. The two organizations have worked together for several years in support of workforce development around food systems. “[They’re] already a job creator with 14 people supporting the mission here, this new location has tripled the storage capacity, it’s close for both collection and distribution access. Food Connects is more than just a food distribution company, they are food systems leaders.”
The support from the BDCC has been invaluable in getting Food Connects where they are today and with the funding from the High Meadows Fund as well as many other generous individuals and businesses, Food Connects was able to raise $200,000 to make their dream of an expanded Food Hub become a reality.
Gaye Symington, President of the High Meadows Fund, also spoke at the event. The High Meadows Fund promotes vibrant communities and healthy natural ecosystems in Vermont. Their Farm to Market Initiative is focused in particular on increasing the sale of Vermont farm and food products through wholesale and institutional markets that recognize, and are willing to pay for, the value of fresh, healthy local food.
“Food Connects matters,” remarked Symington “because they are focused on buyers who value high-quality food. Food Connects matters because they make sure a greater share of the consumer’s food dollar can get back to the farmer. And Food Connects matters because as they demonstrate this approach can work, they nudge the rest of the food distribution system to better serve farmers and producers as a key element of the food system.”
Food Connects’ new cooler and freezer will allow them to offer their wholesale customers—including schools, hospitals, independent groceries, and business food programs—more options for using local products in place of commodity foods. This increase in capacity will allow them to build market channels for more producers and consumers in Southern Vermont and New Hampshire, the Upper Valley, and Western Massachusetts. And the timing of the new facility couldn’t be better—Food Connects hit over 30% growth for the second year in a row, totaling over $550k in local sales for 2019.
“We have so much gratitude to all of our many partners and supporters,” said Berkfield. “Producers, customers, donors, staff, board, and other advocates along the way have gotten us to this point. We are excited for the impacts our expanded Food Hub will have on our local economy and to bring you more local food.”
To watch the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony online and see pictures from the event head to: www.facebook.com/FoodConnects
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 70 local farms and food producers to over 130 buyers in southeast Vermont, southwest New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts. Their educational services focus 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.