By Ethan Weinstein
RUTLAND—Congressman Peter Welch visited the Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC) Friday, July 16, after earmarking $1.6 million for the nonprofit.
The House Appropriations subcommittee approved Rep. Welch’s funding request and it will likely pass by vote in the House next week. Then, it will be off to the Senate for further consideration.
Greg Cox, board president of VFFC and owner of Boardman Farm, led Rep. Welch and many of VFFC’s board members on a tour of the grounds, explaining how the earmarked funds would be spent.
VFFC plans to construct commercial and educational kitchens, which would feature a custom cut room inside its 8,000 square foot “Blue Building.” The space would allow people to bring their USDA slaughtered animals to process as they see fit. “Up to 50 jobs are going to be created around these projects,” Cox said.
In addition to the kitchens, VFFC plans to build a climate controlled storage facility available to rent by farmers. Controlled storage sites with multiple temperature and humidity settings are often a luxury that’s out of reach for small farmers.
Ultimately, the initiative would provide resources for small farmers that are typically only available at industrial scale, decreasing production costs and building business relationships between farmers.
“We’re gonna work to make our dreams for Rutland a reality. And our dreams are to rebuild our local food system,” Cox said.
Rep. Welch was excited to hopefully provide funds to support Cox’s vision of supporting local farmers and, in doing so, the local economy.
While these vision, utopian in scope, once seemed improbable, VFFC has disproved the doubters and affirmed its inspirational mission time and time again.
“I just love being here,” Welch said. He spoke of the disheartening partisanship he faces in Washington, the polar opposite of the camaraderie that has created VFFC. “When you’re here in Rutland, it’s just people coming together to solve problems,” he said.
VFFC is home to the Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market, which has brought in over $2 million in revenue while expanding access and availability of locally produced food.
In addition, the organization runs the Farmacy Project, which provides local produce to community members dealing with diet-related health issues. The program has fed over 1,700 residents since it began in 2015.
“If you eat good food, you have a better chance of reaching your fullest potential. If all our members of our community eat good food and reach their full potential, we have a better community. That’s our plan,” Cox said.
To some, that may sound like an impossibility, but Cox and VFFC’s track record has continued to defy naysayers.
“The food center was born as a change agent. We aim to change Rutland and to do things in a new and dynamic way,” said Cox.
While the federal funds are far from a sure thing, Cox believes that the commercial kitchens and climate controlled storage facilities will be built regardless; it’s just a matter of time. Much of VFFC’s infrastructure, such as its greenhouses, was built with volunteer labor and donated labor and money.
Rep. Welch said that when Cox first told him about his plans to create VFFC, the project was so revolutionary, it seemed untenable. “It was totally impossible for me to visualize,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s good to be a person who just doesn’t know better — like Greg.”