By Yvonne Daley
Sunday, Aug. 16 — RUTLAND — This Sunday, a dinner auction will be held at the Vermont Farmers Food Center, home of the winter market, to raise funds to build a shared-use commercial kitchen and food storage and preparation facility.
Three years after purchasing a dilapidated former warehouse and adjoining buildings along with 2.93 acres of property on West Street, the state’s most successful year-round market seeks to continue its vision of having agriculture serve as an economic engine for the region and beyond.
The dinner will be a premier event with food grown locally and prepared by local chefs and New England Culinary Institute staff.
Funds are being raised to qualify for a federal program that allocates money to spur economic development in targeted low-income areas. The food center qualifies due its location in the city’s northwest neighborhood. The property on West Street provides a panoramic view of downtown Rutland and sits at the western gateway to Rutland City.
The master plan for the property envisions a place where producers of agricultural products from fresh, prepared to frozen food can be readied for storage and sale. In creating a food hub, the hope is to grow businesses and the concomitant jobs, in which prepared food will be made with primarily Vermont ingredients.
To match the federal New Market Tax Credit allocation, the Vermont Farmers Food Center needs to raise roughly $250,000, which will be supplemented by other sources.
For the past three years, volunteers from all over the county have worked together to clear the property, paint and update the main market building, put solar panels on the future food-storage facility, upgrade plumbing, electrical and heating services and create an educational kitchen. These projects constitute more than $300,000 in voluntary labor, donations and services.
An antique rail car recently placed on the property will be used for events but more importantly links the market to Rutland’s historic past as a railroad center for the Northeast. A safe pedestrian pathway was created to connect the market to the northwest neighborhood.
Center organizers are already at work creating export markets, envisioning an economy in which area growers feed the community while also serving distance markets hungry for Vermont products.
The food hub will be used for community dinners, educational courses on growing, preparation and storage of food, including freezing and canning, and other food-related activities.
As much as 200 tons of vegetables and fruit will be stored in the facility for sale and use through the winter months. Farmers can rent storage space to reduce their infrastructure and energy costs.
The center has been directly involved in training young farmers in organic and innovative growing and storage methods, substantially increasing the number of farms in the area.
The dinner will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. at 251 West Street, followed by live and silent auctions featuring services from plumbing and fly-fishing lessons to mushroom hunting and tree pruning, gift certificates and interesting and unique items. City aldermen will be auctioned off for a half-day of work.
The dinner cost is $20 for adults $10 for children under 10. All proceeds benefit the food center. For more information, go to www.vermontfarmersfoodcenter.org.