DEXTER - An idea simmering on the back burner for years is coming to a full boil in Dexter. When the Fossa family gifted the Dexter Regional Development Corporation with their downtown property several years ago, the idea of a farmer's market/general store was "one of the top three on the list" according to Judy Craig. But there was no money to make improvements to the building.
Recently when local farmers brought concerns forward about market losses, the DRDC had a new version of that old idea. Why not create local markets for local farmers?
"We decided to take action and look out for ourselves," Craig said. "We have the Fossa building. We've had offers of renting or selling, but it just wasn't the right time or it wasn't enough money. To rent, it would need too much work. So fate, I think, came into play. If you wait long enough, the right thing comes along, and that's what happened."
The DRDC has ambitious plans to assist local farmers and revitalize downtown.
"Farmers are losing markets – especially organic farmers," Craig said. "We see no reason milk should be shipped out of state, processed and then shipped back so we asked 'Why aren't we doing this locally like we used to."
Craig said that a core group of people came together around the idea of creating a local creamery and a farmer's market. Most had Dexter roots going generations back, and though individuals hadn't kept in touch over the years, there is a sense of trust that moves the group forward.
"When somebody says they'll do something, they follow through," Craig said. The group has been meeting, and growing, regularly for several months. Two of the farmers involved are checking out equipment and other markets doing similar projects. The group is talking with state officials and trying to design something that will be good for their own community, but also for farmers and communities statewide who want to follow the trail being blazed.
Craig said she envisions the plan has three cornerstones. First is the former Fossa general store, which once fully renovated, would sell ground wheat, produce, meats, eggs, chicken, bakery items – all locally produced. The store would also house an ice cream shop offering locally made dairy treats.
"We want a kitchen in the store to do demonstrations like kids coming in to learn how to prepare vegetables and dips for health snacks," Craig said. "Eventually, we hope to have a building where we will have a certified kitchen where people can actually do canning of their products so they can be sold in the store. These are lofty ideas, but doable."
The second cornerstone is the creamery. Milk, cream, ice cream and yogurt would be produced there. Butter might be, as well, though an individual local business is considering taking on that operation. Third, in order to reliably meet demands, the business would need warehousing space.
The Dexter Creamery and Farmer's Community Project is still very much in the design phase. Discussions are ongoing about how to structure and oversee the business, which will be a non-profit. The creamery will be a LLC while the store will be owned by the DRDC, which is a non-profit organization. Any profit made will be reinvested into improving the enterprise, Craig said.
"We're trying to support local farmers so they can add on hands, plant more wheat or beans," Craig said.
Products not available from Dexter producers, such as buffalo meat, honey, maple syrup, produce and goat cheese, may come from other producers within a 50 mile radius, Craig said. The idea is to offer locally produced, homegrown foods that provide affordable, healthy items while simultaneously supporting local farmers. Organic items may be offered if research indicates that local consumers would be willing to pay the higher prices for these items.
The group is in discussions with a company that provides delivery service to health food stores within that 50 mile radius. If something can be arranged, it will provide additional markets for local produce in addition to the Dexter store.
Heart of Maine Resource Conservation and Development is working with the Dexter group. Software is being developed that will allow consumers to go online and place grocery orders to be picked up at the Dexter store later. Eventually, Craig also envisions home delivery of locally-grown grocery items. Another component of the software will allow farmers to input the crops and products they have available for sale.
Craig said that the USDA and the Maine Department of Agriculture are aware of the project and have shown interest. So have two local school districts who may serve locally grown foods if they are an affordable option. The Sebasticook Valley Chamber of Commerce has also taken an interest, as has the Tiger Wellness Program. The Abbot Memorial Book Club has formed a focus group to look at warehousing options and organization structure for the group.
As of now, the Dexter Creamery and Farmer's Community Project is waiting to hear the outcome of a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant application that would pay for Fossa building renovations. An announcement of grant recipients is expected on August 7. Those interested in more information may call Craig at 924-3067 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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