June 25, Newport — The Vermont Land Trust, in partnership with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) and ShiftMeals, a program that provides healthy food to people affected by the COVID-19 economic crisis, are working together to ensure that an acre of land at Bluffside Farm in Newport will increase food production and food access in the Northeast Kingdom. Located on the shores of Lake Memphremagog, Bluffside Farm is owned and operated by the Vermont Land Trust to serve as a community hub for recreation, farming, and land access.
In a typical year, a VYCC youth crew grows vegetables at Bluffside Farm as part of the VYCC Health Care Share Program at North Country Hospital, providing families experiencing food insecurity with fresh food and nutrition education at their doctor’s offices. COVID-19 prevented the youth crew from farming the land this year, though the partnership continues with Bluffside Farm serving as a pick-up site for the Health Care Share Program.
“Like many organizations, COVID-19 threw us a curve-ball,” said Tracy Zschau, vice president for land conservation at the Vermont Land Trust. “Rather than let the land at Bluffside Farm sit fallow, we put our heads together with VYCC and ShiftMeals to grow a more limited selection of crops and open up part of the farm for a new community garden.”
“This fabulous collaboration has allowed us to not only keep Bluffside Farm in production, but to also run our Health Care Share Program at North Country Hospital in a challenging year,” said Susie Walsh Daloz, director of the Food and Farm Program at VYCC. “It ensures that there are more people in the Newport community accessing local, fresh food.”
ShiftMeals launched in late March as a local food response to COVID-19. Building on the strong network of Vermont’s local food, ShiftMeals has provided 40,000 free meals and collaboratively launched seven community gardens throughout the state, including one at Bluffside Farm.
“These gardens are being planted to empower folks who are experiencing unemployment, food insecurity, or social isolation, to grow food for themselves and their neighbors,” said Jean Hamilton, one of the leaders behind ShiftMeals. “While COVID is bringing many challenges to our communities, we are also seeing new opportunities to empower communities to nourish themselves through collaboration and collective action.”
ShiftMeals and the Vermont Land Trust are seeking a local farmer coach to coordinate the community garden at Bluffside Farm, and volunteers who can commit five to eight hours per week caring for the garden and maintaining an area planted to potatoes and indigenous Abenaki squash by VYCC. In exchange for their service, gardeners will receive fresh produce that they help to grow.
Two open houses for interested volunteers and community members will be held at Bluffside Farm on July 2 — from 10:30 to noon and again from 5:00 to 6:00 pm. To learn more or sign up as a volunteer visit, www.shiftmeals.org/join-our-grow-team.
The Lookout Foundation provided funding to support this initiative.