Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust has purchased the former Workers’ Credit Union Building in Orange to serve as the new home for Quabbin Harvest, the retail store and headquarters for the North Quabbin Community Co-op.
Mount Grace and the Co-op are joining together to support local farms with a robust local market for their produce. "The opening of a locally owned market on Main Street in Orange is the culmination of years of work and thousands of hours of volunteer labor,” said Amy Borezo, President of the Board of Directors of the North Quabbin Community Co-op. “The Co-op is thrilled to collaborate with Mount Grace on this project and begin transforming this building into an outlet for the best produce and products our region has to offer."
“This is a real game changer for our district,” said State Representative Denise Andrews. “I am absolutely thrilled that the Co-op and Mount Grace can come together to advance affordable good quality food produced locally. I invite everyone to visit and support the Co-op, which will provide healthy food choices for all of us and great benefits to downtown Orange.”
Energetic efforts of volunteers from Orange, Athol, Petersham, and Warwick laid the ground work for future renovations. AmeriCorps members from around the state met at the property on June 4 for a second clean-up day as part of Mount Grace’s Massachusetts Land Initiative for Tomorrow AmeriCorps program. On the inside, teams prepped walls for painting and floors for refinishing among other tasks. Outdoor work included cleaning up the parking lot, removing debris, mowing, and clearing weeds. Creation of a new garden was begun with help from Deb Habib, Ricky Baruc, of Seeds of Solidarity Farm, who installed raised beds in the garden.
“It’s great to be able to get so much done in a day,” said Co-op President Amy Borezo. “This is truly a community-built and community-owned market, and we are thrilled to have support from the MassLIFT-AmeriCorps members.”
One local supporter has already made a $25,000 pledge for start-up costs towards the purchase and maintenance of a commercial building in downtown Orange. Mount Grace must now raise an additional $25,000 in donations, which will be matched by the start-up pledge.
“Mount Grace sees this partnership with the Co-op as a strategic farmland conservation tool to address the gaps in our local food system and keep our region’s farmers on the land,” said Mount Grace Executive Director Leigh Youngblood. “Increasingly, land trusts are becoming aware that land conservation alone is only part of the solution to keep our farms in production. Increasing access to affordable farmland, processing and storage infrastructure, local markets, and distribution networks is just as important.”
Under the proposed partnership Mount Grace will own the building and lease space to the Co-op for its retail operation. The new store will provide greater visibility, extra floor space to expand inventory and product offerings, and a street-level entrance and parking. Both groups will collaborate to make the building a center for the whole community and a site for activities that demonstrate and strengthen the connections between local farms, local food, and the local economy. The market will provide healthy, local food for co-op members and shoppers, including distributing co-op shares to seniors and low-income residents of the North Quabbin region.
The Co-op approached Mount Grace for assistance with its search for a home in late 2012. “Mount Grace has been helping local farms find new ways to protect their land and sustain their work since the 1980s,” added Mount Grace Executive Director Leigh Youngblood. “Our mission is to benefit the environment, the economy, and future generations by protecting land and encouraging stewardship. We’re excited to collaborate on a project that will provide the infrastructure our farm partners need to expand their sales, reach new customers, and keep their farm land and farm businesses viable for the long-term.”
The innovative partnership has received national attention, and in June, filmmakers from The Conservation Fund will arrive to shoot footage of the project for a video compiling some of the most creative work The Conservation Fund is currently supporting around the US. “This effort is all about giving residents of Orange and the nearby communities better access to locally-grown, healthy food – which not only supports local farmers and producers, it also improves the overall quality of life for everyone,” said Reggie Hall, Director of the Fund’s Land Conservation Loan Program. “We’re excited to help make this dream a reality for Mount Grace and the North Quabbin Community Co-op, and we look forward to seeing their vision for the site take shape and become a wonderful gathering place in the community.”