We are launching Upper Valley Everyone Eats! Between September 8 and December 18, approximately 2,500 meals from local restaurants will be available weekly across the Upper Valley’s Vermont community meal programs and food pantries. These nutritionally balanced meals, made in part with ingredients from local farms and food businesses, are being offered through a new Vermont state program which pays hard-hit Vermont restaurants $10 per meal to create nutritious meals for Vermont residents in need of food assistance at this difficult time. Get the details!
The Climate Change Leadership Academy Class (2CLA) of 2020 graduated in May amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We would like to highlight the inspiring climate leaders who attended the leadership academy meetings. In addition, we want to share the projects that leaders designed and plan to launch in order to take meaningful action on climate change mitigation and adaptation in the Upper Valley.
The first 2CLA graduate in the spotlight is Cecily Anderson. During her 2CLA experience, Cecily appreciated the smart and articulate facilitators who presented at the meetings. Cecily, who is an illustrator and artist, is passionate about sustainable agriculture and aware of the potential for farming practices to mitigate climate change. She decided to pursue an art-centered, self-driven project she calls The Climate Farmer Project, to celebrate farmers who are leading the way in land-based climate change techniques in the Upper Valley. The main goals of the Climate Farmer Project are to support farmers who are fighting climate change; help local consumers understand the connection between local food choices and climate; and encourage people to implement practices themselves.
Cecily sees value in promoting farmers who are investing in practices such as improving soil fertility and water retention, rotational grazing, cutting farm emissions, and sequestering carbon. In the Upper Valley, many farmers are using their land to draw down carbon. Cecily has a handful of farmers in mind and wants to highlight a diversity of growers from across the board. Her plan is to interview farmers and create portraits that include a description of their farms and how they are working to combat the climate crisis. These portraits would be displayed in public spaces like schools, libraries, co-ops, and farmers markets.
Another goal of the project is to emphasize the growing value that climate-conscious food has for consumers. This may incentivize food retailers to create a system in which farmers are rewarded, through the marketplace, for their climate mitigation and adaptation techniques.
One aspect of The Climate Farmer Project that aligns well with 2CLA’s mission is to inspire home growers and farmers to adopt practices that combat climate change, however big or small. As climate leaders, it is important to call attention to how our food choices support climate action and educate others on how they can take action through land management.
Giving recognition to farmers who are installing mitigation and adaptation practices in the local Upper Valley foodshed is valuable work. COVID-19 threw a wrench in the works, prompting Cecily to pause her project. Moving forward, Cecily hopes to find a funding source and set aside time to launch the thoughtful project she designed.
Reprinted from the Summer 2020 Sustainable Hanover newsletter, this article addresses how to reduce food waste and its considerable climate impact. Author Nancy Serrell is a graduate of Vital Communities’ 2019-20 Climate Change Leadership Academy (2CLA).
By Nancy Serrell
Food is always on my mind. And now that we’re in throes of the coronavirus pandemic, I have plenty of company. Most of us these days are thinking about food – how to get it, how to prepare it, and how to avoid becoming ill with COVID-19 while we’re trying to feed ourselves.
The virus also has changed our behaviors around food. We’re at home more, cooking most of our meals at home, trying to space out trips to the grocery store, and too many of us are struggling to accommodate household budgets decimated by furloughs and layoffs. While those inclined toward culinary pursuits are baking sourdough bread and re-growing scallions, the rest of us just wish it were easier, faster, and less expensive to put all those meals on the table.
The good news: by making small changes in the way we plan, shop, store and prepare food we can stretch our food budget, save time, and extend the life of the food we buy. A step-by-step strategy for making those changes, along with tips and tools, has been developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through a campaign designed to cut down on the amount of food we bring home from the market but never eat. When food scraps go to the landfill, they create methane, a potent greenhouse gas. That wasted food is a vastly overlooked driver of climate change, contributing an estimated 8 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. We throw out more edible food than you think: each year, one third of the food purchased by U.S consumers is tossed out. But food waste is about more than what goes into the trash. Getting food from farm to fork takes an enormous amount of resources—energy, land, and water — and conserving those resources for future generations will require collective action. But right now, during lockdown, there are things each of us can do.
The EPA’s Food Too Good to Waste campaign presents a “wasted food challenge” along with steps we can take to better manage the food in our kitchens. The program has been implemented in dozens of states, and people who have participated have been able to cut the amount of food they toss as much as 50 percent. They also reported saving both money and time, and most found the steps rather easy.
The strategies for the challenge lend themselves well to managing food during COVID, and you may already be doing some of them (or know you should). First: to cut down on how often you shop, make a shopping list with weekly meals in mind. Even more important: do a household inventory before you head to the store. Research has shown that you can save money and reduce food waste by taking stock of what is in your fridge, freezer, and pantry, then planning meals around what you have on hand. This is the way our grandmothers cooked, and the food cultures of the world have always featured well-loved dishes use repurposed foods — leftover rice became fried rice; hard, stale bread became pappa al pomodoro.
As we try to shop less often, we are bringing home more food than we’re used to. To make our food will last until the next shopping trip, it helps to pick up a few tips about food storage, and the EPA campaign has plenty to offer. For example, the fridge door is warmer than interior shelves, so milk shouldn’t go there. Apples and bananas naturally emit the fruit-ripening hormone ethylene, so don’t store them together unless you want them to ripen rapidly. Nor should apples or bananas be stored near ethylene-sensitive veggies or fruits like avocados, grapes, lemons, or limes. Another storage tip: Befriend your freezer. Parsley stems, the ends of the onion you’re slicing, peels and trimmings from carrots can be tossed into a freezer container to be used for soup stock. There are cooking tips too: Chopping half an onion for a recipe? Chop the whole thing, and store the prepped remainder in the fridge or freezer, ready for a stir fry or sauce.
More tips, tools, and strategies to help you toss less, eat well, and save money are available in a simple online toolkit, the 10-Minute Fridge Reality Check, produced by StopFoodWaste.org. It includes a downloadable Shopping List with Meals in Mind, a Fruit and Veggie Storage Guide, and an Eat This First sign to designate an area in your fridge for food that is likely to spoil first.
When it comes to food, the pandemic has in many ways created this generation’s Depression moment. A recent survey found that 56 percent of consumers say they are avoiding food waste and saving leftovers for future use. One of the drivers of this food planning strategy is COVID-19 unemployment. But the specter of dairy farmers dumping milk and plowing crops back into the soil, eggs being destroyed, and chickens being euthanized as the loss of retail markets forced producers to discard tons of food worldwide has made us reassess the value of food. Like our grandparents, we may well come out of COVID with a new culture of responsibility around food. It’s some comfort to know there’s a lot we can do from our own kitchens.
Remember when performances looked like this? (That’s Opera North performing at Blow-Me-Down Farm in summer 2019.) Needless to say, times have changed.
How do you do your work when its usual nature involves bringing people into close proximity in indoor locations — a nonstarter in these pandemic times? Four Upper Valley professional theaters offer examples. And while you’re reading this, consider donating to your favorite arts organizations and artists to help them get through these tough times. Arts in the US generally operate with narrow margins and bargain budgets; if we want them to be around to lift our hearts and tell our stories, we need to support them.
Opera North, active mainly in the summer, usually stages two full productions in the Lebanon Opera House. In the past two summers, it has also offered shows at the magnificent Blow-Me-Down Farm venue the company has been creating on the banks of the Connecticut River in Cornish NH in partnership with the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park — two summers of collaboration among circus artists, singers, and orchestra in a mash-up of performance and music drew in people who might not have expected to enjoy opera.
This summer is different: no LOH shows, but three performances at the Cornish site: “Bluegrass and Broadway” on Saturday, August 1, featuring Klea Bankhurst, an actress, singer and comedienne, and Plainfield legends Pooh Sprague and the Four Hoarsemen; and Mozart’s The Magic Flute on Thursday, August 6, and Saturday, August 8, sung in English by a cast of 10 singers with a 24-piece orchestra. What’s more, tickets are free, thanks to some generous donors. Click here to obtain those free tickets.
Opera North is a member of Vital Communities’ Vital Economy network (formerly known as Local First Alliance.)
This White River Junction theater company has held no live events since the shutdown began but has been using digital platforms in varied and engaging ways. Play Date, a play reading class with online discussions and performances curated and led by Northern Stage and its family of artists, takes place every other Friday through September 25 (next one: July 17). Online performances include an engaging production of the only play we know of based on a Vital Communities program: Elisabeth Gordon’s Small Town Trilogy, based on actual exchanges on the Norwich Community Discussion List. It’s still available for viewing. A July 1 online discussion on the Robin D’Angelo book White Fragility, facilitated by Brittany Bellizeare, a nationally known actor, teaching artists, and diversity and inclusion consultant, is available for viewing; email firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll be sent the link. So many people expressed a desire to continue the conversation that Northern plans to hold additional sessions in the coming weeks (details to come).
All these online events are offered for free, although donations are needed from those who can afford them. Writes the company: “Even the most vibrant not-for-profit theater companies operate with a narrow margin between success and failure, and a challenge like this is unprecedented in our lifetime. We hope those who are able will make a donation.”
As for the 2020-21 season set to begin this fall, BOLD Associate Artistic Director, Jess Chayes writes: “Northern Stage is currently on the cusp of announcing an exciting fall line-up of brand new virtual programming while remaining open to the possibility of live performance if circumstances allow. Beyond the fall and winter, we are remaining flexible and imaginative so we can best respond to changing health and safety guidelines due to COVID-19.”
Opera North is a member of Vital Communities’ Vital Economy network (formerly known as Local First Alliance.)
This White River Junction-based theater was poised to hit a new peak this spring when Esai’s Table by Nathan Yungerberg, a play it helped develop (and shared with the Upper Valley), was to open in New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre. Days before opening, COVID shut down all New York theater. (Hear about the play’s history here.) A mystical, heartbreaking exploration of Black Lives Matter themes, it was a great example of the classic and contemporary African American theater it is JAG’s mission to develop and present.
Bouncing back from that setback, Founder and Producing Artistic Director Jarvis Green (one of Vital Communities’ 2019 “Heroes & Leaders”) has used JAG as a platform for powerful online programming on racism, holding a series of interactive digital conversations with Black artists across genres discussing “Black theatre, Black art, Black organizing, Black joy, Black critical thought, Black fantasy, Black history, and more during a time of death, betrayal, and a global pandemic.” Participants have so far included award-winning playwrights Keelay Gipson and Stacey Rose, poet Major Jackson, choreographer Felicia Swoope, writer Desmond Peeples, and cartoonist Lillie Harris. Videos of past conversations are archived on the JAG website. (Consider a donation to help pay the artists who contribute to these online gatherings.)
To counter the blues from having to cancel its final two plays of the 2019-20 season, this Enfield theater, located above the town offices and library, decided to hold a contest for short plays set amidst this pandemic, featuring two or three characters. The 14 winners (see the list) will be given staged readings in the theater in the 2020-21 season, and some may be performed via Zoom in the near future.
The best-kept secret about solar energy is how affordable it can be. Thanks to changes in the market and technology as well as rebates and other financial assistance, people at any income level can reap free power from the sun that pays back its investment and is kinder to the environment.
Want to know more? On Saturday, July 18, from 10 to 11 am, Sustainable Woodstock and Vital Communities will host an informational meeting on Zoom about creating affordable solar opportunities for all Upper Valley residents, including those with low to moderate incomes. Norwich Solar Technologies, Twin Pines Housing Trust, and Norman Sun LLC will be leading a discussion about how private individuals and companies can collaborate with the nonprofit sector to develop solar energy designed for low- to moderate-income households.
We will explore how partnerships between the private and public sectors can help income-sensitive Upper Valley residents add solar energy to their homes. We will also explain how these same benefits can apply to nonprofits, municipalities, and other entities without a tax burden! Case studies will highlight how this has been done in Vermont, but the model can work in New Hampshire as well.
This event is ideal for: non-profit managers, representatives of financial institutions, city/town planners & planning board members, local energy committee members, select board members, town managers, city mayors, regional planning commission staff, regulators, legislators, solar developers, and any resident interested in affordable solar!
Register for the meeting through Eventbrite, and you’ll receive Zoom instructions by email.
Yes…Local as Usual, Safer than Ever.
Pick Your Own strawberry farms opened this past weekend. Get out there and pick the delish! There is nothing like ripe berries. So good. Each berry that comes into season is better than the last. And Pick Your Own keeps the farms that feed us in business. If you are healthy, have cash flow, and are okay with the guidelines, you can impact local business success by picking strawberries and/or future PYO crops. A win-win.
Here are the details on new guidelines for Pick Your Own, and remember, always call ahead before you go to be sure the farm’s PYO is open that day, as well as to familiarize yourself with the farm’s COVID-19 adaptations.
Pick Your Own is allowed in both New Hampshire and Vermont, and you can search for PYO farms in the Vital Communities Guide. New Hampshire farms have best practices from the state and Vermont farms have Guidance from the state, so you can be sure farm PYO guidelines are based on the known science and rules.
What is different this year:
- Kids under 13 may not be allowed to pick. As Edgewater Farm says, it’s the saddest rule ever. It’s the rule in Vermont and some New Hampshire PYO will be adopting the rule. It’s just hard for kids to stay in place, and not eat …
- You may not be able to eat on site, including during picking. A rule in Vermont, possibly adopted at New Hampshire farms.
- To create social distance, Vermont PYO must have no more than one person per 200 square feet of picking area, and people must maintain six feet of distance. Again, New Hampshire farms are largely following this rule. You may need to wait for space to open up before you can go into the fields, so get your patience ready.
- Wear face coverings! It’s suggested, and farms are allowed to require it.
- Picking containers will either be your clean ones from home, disposable ones provided by the farm for you to take home, and/or farm containers that stay on-farm and are disinfected after you use them.
Upper Valley PYO includes currants, summer raspberries and fall raspberries, blueberries, pumpkins, apples, elderberries, flowers, and more. You can be sure we will announce each crop on Instagram as it comes in.
Many small businesses are overwhelmed with navigating the new normal while implementing rigid safety and sanitation protocols. Staying afloat during this challenging time and with ever-changing information requires the ability to pivot, have perseverance, and passion. Join Pandemic Small Business Navigator, Denise Anderson, and fellow business owners for weekly forums to get answers to questions and share challenges and information during this critical period as we re-open our economy.
Recordings and resources from the Spring series:
July 1, 2-3:30 pm: “Well-Being in the Workplace: Managing Stress & De-escalating Conflict”
Share your pre-forum questions with Denise at email@example.com
We are making a video of this meeting to be shared later online. The video will show the Zoom boxes of those who speak and ask questions. If you wish to speak but not have your face appear, feel free to disable your camera. You may also watch the session online after it’s posted.
May 27: Restaurant and hospitality Zoom audio recording (forum starts at 14 minutes into the recording)
Andrew Chevrefil, Andrew.Chevrefils@vermont.gov, Vermont Department of Health
Gordon Lodewyk, Gordon.Lodewyk@vermont.gov, Vermont Department of Health
Michael Hinsley, firstname.lastname@example.org, Hanover Health Officer
Andrew Chevrefil, Andrew.Chevrefils@vermont.gov, Vermont Department of Health
Gordon Lodewyk, Gordon.Lodewyk@vermont.gov, Vermont Department of Health
Michael Hinsley, email@example.com, Hanover Health OfficerLori Hirshfield, Department of Planning and Development – firstname.lastname@example.org
Brett Mayfield, Health Officer – email@example.com
Scott Cooney, Fire Chief – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Bedard, Fire Marshall – email@example.com
Nancy LaRowe, Vital Communities Local First – firstname.lastname@example.org
Amy Spears, Vermont Chamber of Commerce – email@example.com
Kiki Keating, KikiNetwork Global Connections – firstname.lastname@example.org
Denise Anderson, Vital Communities Pandemic Small Business Navigator – email@example.com
June 24: The OTHER Covid-19 Laws, recording, password 4L%8^994
July 1: Well-Being in the Workplace: Managing Stress & De-escalating Conflict recording, password 9U&8+97t
Melissa.C.Levesque.Folsom@Dartmouth.eduJessica Geiben Lynn, Sr. Organizational Effectiveness Consultant, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Jessica.J.Geiben.Lynn@hitchcock.org
Officer Cori Santagate, Hartford Police Department, Csantagate@hartford-vt.org
Wellbeing in the Workplace – Resources
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 from anywhere in the US to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.
Psychology Today Website – To find a specialized therapist, refer clients to the Psychology
Today website where they can enter filters to help them find a therapist who takes their insurance
and specializes in what they are looking for – both by diagnoses and approaches.
DHMC Psychiatric Emergencies: (800) 556-6249, press 7 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
A group of volunteer licensed mental health counselors who are available for 30-minute
appointments to support residents of the Upper Valley who are affected in any way by the Covid-
19 pandemic. Individuals can take advantage of up to 6 sessions and can book the appointment
online through the website: uvcovidrelief.org.
NEW HAMPSHIRE COUNSELING AND SERVICES
West Central Behavioral Health
9 Hanover Street, Suite 2
Lebanon, NH 03756
Providing comprehensive mental and behavioral health treatment for adults ages 18+ and
seniors. Their clinical team develops a personalized plan of treatment designed to assist clints in
managing symptoms, improving health, and enhancing quality of life. They offer individualized
counsline sessions as well as psychiatric assessment, case management and emergency services.
GENERAL INQUIRES: (603) 448-0126
EMERGENCY SERVICES: (800) 564-2578
VERMONT COUNSELING AND SERVICES
49 School Street,
Hartford, VT 05047
GENERAL INQUIRIES: 802-295-3031
CRISIS LINE: 800-622-4235
HCRS provides creative, collaborative and compassionate health care services that are
responsive to the needs of our community. They provide emergency services, individual
counseling, adult outpatient and substance abuse programs and more.
CLARA MARTIN CENTER
39 Fogg Farm Road
GENERAL INQUIRIES: (802) 295-1311
CRISIS LINE: 800-639-6360
Serving children, families and individuals coping with behavioral challenges, emotional stress,
mental illness, alcohol and other drug problems. They offer counseling, psychiatric services,
consultations, short term crisis intervention, education for families related to emotional and
behavioral challenges, evaluations, respite care, housing, assistance in obtaining disability
benefits, help with finding and keeping employment, outreach and home-based services, alcohol
and drug treatment, a walk-in clinic and a 24-hour emergency service system.
What’s it like to navigate the pandemic when you’re the one signing the checks? Three Upper Valley bosses and business owners tell their tale, and why they value our support!
For the Lebanon Opera House, the pandemic has been an intermission—a really, really long intermission. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, LOH was forced on March 13 to suspend all programming by national touring artists, resident community arts partners, and the Lebanon school district. At present, LOH will be dark well into Fall 2020. Due to the absence of ticket sales—upon which, like many in the arts community, LOH relies heavily—the LOH Board of Directors made the painful decision to furlough three of its four full-time staff members in mid-April.
Executive Director Joe Clifford remains under full-time employment and he’s working feverishly to raise much-needed bridge funds, reschedule performances (including the Grammy-winning Béla Fleck and The Flecktones, on June 2, 2021), issue refunds for canceled shows, and book performances for 2021.
“As a ‘nonessential’ business whose mission is to build and bind the community through large-scale gatherings (i.e. performances), COVID-19 has struck at the very heart of our work,” said Clifford. “The nature of event planning dictates that we work months, sometimes a year, in advance. We simply cannot afford to cease the planning, booking, selling, and marketing of performing arts events. Of course, we’re operating on COVID-19’s timeline and the ability to host successful public events is no longer guaranteed. At this point, we’re fighting for survival. Our return to ‘normalcy’ will take many months as patrons slowly warm up to the idea of once again sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of their neighbors.”
A donation made to LOH through the TLC 4Ward program will have far-reaching ripple effects. The relative health of LOH’s operations directly impacts Lebanon restaurants, shops, and more than a dozen Upper Valley-based arts groups (Opera North, Revels North, and North Country Community Theatre among them) who set-up residence on the LOH stage each season.
Left Bank Books has been part of Hanover’s Main Street for over 20 years. Owner Nancy Cressman writes:
Building relationships with book-loving people is the foundation of our mission. Our longevity comes from serving a loyal local customer base and being a welcoming and peaceful spot full of over 9,000 interesting books for locals and tourists alike. Our collection is carefully curated to select authors who are esteemed in their fields. Our collection spans many interests, age groups, and languages. We have contemporary and classic literature, poetry, cookbooks, field guides, history, books by local authors and about our region, children’s books, art books; architecture and music are also well represented, as well as other fields of interest.
The challenge for us at this COVID moment is that we lost three months of revenue while we were closed, but the rent, electric bills, etc, kept coming. Summer is normally our busiest season, but with the Dartmouth students not on campus and tourist travel very curtailed, it means we will be looking to our local customers to support us by buying books. This is a hard ask, because so many local businesses need help in this time, but if you believe the Upper Valley needs a used book store where people can find titles that a bookstore selling new books would not have, and you believe that the retail experience can be one of discovery and friendliness, please consider donating to Left Bank Books. Our store’s model is a wonderful example of local sustainability. We gather books from the community and send them out again to new owners. We purchase books for inventory from library sales, which helps in their fundraising. We believe in reuse—thus we sell used books! We hire local people, including many book-loving teenagers for whom this is their first job. We are small, committed and hyper-local.
April Woodman, owner of 100 Mile Market in downtown Claremont, didn’t have time to respond in writing because she was staffing her store, as she does most business days. Her market, which opened four years ago this May, sells food produced within 100 MILES of Claremont. Pre-COVID, 1oo Mile Market had been slowly building its customer base. “Then the world went crazy,” she said. “We stayed open 37 days straight, we didn’t close.” Sales boomed. “People needed what they needed and there was a giant hole in the supply chain, and we helped fill it.” They had to make upfront investments in additional freezer and cooler space for local meat and dairy, so they are short the capital and time to create an online ordering platform for curbside pick-up. TLC funds would help with that. At present, orders come via a time-consuming jumble of phone, email, and text messages.
Got a few extra dollars due to pandemic restrictions on your activities? Consider helping local businesses and organizations through TLC 4Ward or patronizing those entities!
As part of an effort to better engage the southern portion of Vital Communities’ 69-town region, over five months in 2019 VC’s Mike Kiess visited towns and cities throughout what has come to be known as the Route 11 Corridor. These 23 municipalities clustered along that state highway and the Sugar and Black rivers, from Wilmot,NH, to Westminster, Vt.
“I’d usually set up one or two interviews in advance,” Kiess said. “But what was most fun was getting to the town a few hours early and walking down its main street and finding a place that clearly locals were going into,” such as a coffee shop or convenience store. “I’d start talking to people and asking them about their community, what they liked about it, what concerned them. I’d end up coming away with 8 or 10 substantial conversations in addition to the one or two I had planned. I’d always find people who offered a great perspective I wouldn’t have heard otherwise.”
What did he hear during this “diner diplomacy”? “People expressed a great deal of pride,” he said. “People are really devoted to their communities. They are honest about the challenges and shortcomings, but they want their kids to have a good experience growing up and feel that often it’s their town that makes that possible.”
Those dozens and dozens of conversations, coupled with lots of statistics about demographics, economy, and more, went into a 38-page report (“Route 11 Corridor Outreach Report”) presented in a February meeting of people from throughout that region. Now, after having to pause while everyone adjusted to the demands of the pandemic, the group will come together digitally for its second meeting on Tuesday, June 23, 4 pm.
In the February meeting, participants came up with a varied list of ways people in their region could work together to enhance life for its residents—including neighborhood clean-ups, shared sports and arts events between towns, workforce internships, volunteer-supported housing upgrades, composting, and community pride events. At the June 23 meeting, people will choose efforts to sign on to and will decide on next steps.
A lot of the faces in the room belong to people Mike met in those town visits and invited to participate in the longer-term effort. They include June Sweetsir and Hillary Halleck (Charlestown), Stacey Hammerlind (Newport), Beth Daniels (Southwest Community Services), Gary Fox (Rockingham), and Elyse Crossman (Claremont).
These 23 towns haven’t seen themselves as a region, historically. Older residents remember intense rivalries between high school sports teams. The area shares the impact of a decline in the industry that in the 19th-century built the urban centers of Claremont and Springfield. The region was also affected by the early 1960s decision to route Interstate 89 through Lebanon and Hartford rather than what was then the more populous and developed communities of Claremont and Springfield.
Cooperative agreements exist between towns for certain functions, and shopping and restaurants draw people into the region’s urban downtowns and shopping centers. Nor is it necessarily the goal of this process to get Route 11 to see itself as a “Lower Upper Valley.” “We’re not starting something new,” says Kiess. “We’re just weaving together relationships that already exist and looking for how Vital Communities can support these efforts.”
A searchable guide to local businesses of all sorts, expert help for businesses trying to survive the pandemic, and a crowdfunding platform that already helped save our local daily newspaper: these and more are part of an overall Upper Valley economic recovery effort in which Vital Communities has played a critical role.
It began when Vital Communities was asked to do what it does best: bring people together from across the Upper Valley to identify problems and create solutions. At a meeting of municipal leaders in early March focused on the health and municipal impacts of the looming coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon City Manager Sean Mulholland and Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin asked if Vital Communities could bring together local leaders around economic disruption.
Vital Communities started two weekly virtual meetings, one with people from local Chambers of Commerce and the other involving a broader spectrum, including a bank CEO, a town manager, a few local chambers directors, and economic development folks at the city, regional level, and state level. “At that time, everything was changing really quickly,” said Tom Roberts, executive director of Vital Communities, “so having a weekly phone call was helpful, just to compare notes, to join together, and to talk about what the needs were.”
The meetings helped get important new information to local businesses and helped everyone deal with puzzles like the federal Payment Protection Program and safely reopening. “It’s helpful for the different members to be able to ask somebody from a bank what’s going on with this, or someone on the city level about that,” added Tom.
So far the meetings have given rise to a number of developments that help our local economy in the short term and long, including:
- the creation of a discussion list for businesses to share information;
- the hiring of a Pandemic Small Business Navigator shared by Vital Communities and Grafton County Economic Development;
- a new Vital Communities Guide that lists local farms and businesses to keep money local by patronizing;
- a “buy local” advertising campaign;
- creating a community crowdfunding platform, TLC 4WARD, to support small businesses.
TLC 4Ward has already raised over $155,000 for the Valley News and has recently expanded to allow donations to many different local businesses through the site.
These meetings highlight the value of collaboration and shared information at a time when doubts and questions abound for many. We are stronger when we work together to solve our region’s challenges!