West Rutland Farmer Greg Cox is president of the Vermont Farmers Food Center, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting local agriculture and the region’s food economy.
Last year, with lots of help from the community, the group turned an old iron factory into a popular indoor winter farmer’s market.
Standing in the cavernous space, Cox says the power of volunteers and grassroots dreaming can’t be overstated.
He says he was part of the local Creative Economy discussions that took place in Rutland eight years ago. “And so many good things came out of that and I saw so many people that came to help volunteer here and get this place underway,” says Cox. “It was like we should do this again and find out now what’s the community looking for? Because on a periodic basis those needs within any community changes.”
Cox says to get current feedback he asked local business leaders, a doctor, an educator and an executive with the Vermont Foodbank to help him lead a public discussion.
75 people showed up to take part and their ideas ranged from: starting computer programming clubs for kids, doing more to harness local recreational resources, improving the city’s sidewalks, expanding CSA deliveries to area businesses, and creating healthy eating programs for low income families.
Lyle Jepson, Director of Stafford Technical Center, reminded the crowd that the city’s kids are an amazing resource.
Jepson talked about how 250 of his high school students would be donning green unity in the community T-shirts the next day, to rake leaves.
“And you might say - why are they raking leaves on a school day?” “Well,” says Jepson, ”they’re raking leaves because they’re going to senior citizens lawns and they’re going to help out senior citizens who have helped them have the things that they have at school. They’ve paid taxes for years and years and years and it’s something little that we can give back. And,” he adds, “I haven’t had a kid among those 250 who said why are we doing this?”
Jepson and other panelists stressed the importance of creating a strong sense of community and taking ownership of it.
Cindy Wight, head of the city’s parks and recreation department spoke of how moved she was recently to have 100 volunteers show up to help build a new playground.
“And I really believe that giving your time and leveraging money . . . it allows everybody to have that sense that this is our community, it’s our parks. It’s not a city park it’s not a city street or city sidewalk, it’s our sidewalk,” says Wight. “And that’s all of us working together, so I guess that’s my big message - how do we make this our city?”
Jennifer Pattillo says showing up at events like this help. Pattillo manages a local clothing store and says there are a lot of new businesses opening up downtown, and she’s noticed a growing sense of pride in the city - something she wants to help nurture.