Is Food Still Saving our Towns? The Greater Cabot Landscaping Network

by Anna Kolosky, UVM Community News Service

CABOT – Growing up in Cabot, Allison Gulka saw the role local farms played in sustaining the community. After going to college and working in other places throughout the US, she returned to Vermont to go to grad school at UVM and took part in the UVM Farmer Training Program, an intensive six-month program for aspiring farmers. Now a committee co-chair with her husband on The Greater Cabot Landscaping Network, Gulka uses her knowledge to help educate others. 

“My husband, Matthew Millard, and I have been co-chairing the committee for the last five years,” Gulka said. “Before that, it was actually called the Cabot Agricultural Network. We decided to change the name to include surrounding towns and people who do other endeavors related to landscape, like forestry.”

While the Greater Cabot Landscaping Network – Farm to Plate, Strengthening Vermont’s Food Systems – has broadened its scope to include more enterprises, its focus mostly centers around food, community and agriculture, according to Gulka. A lot of its work lies in educating local citizens about sustainable agriculture and opportunities.

“We’ve held different series to bring speakers into town to talk about different agricultural businesses and business models,” Gulka said. “We want to inspire people to start up their own business or collaborate with others.”

One of their most recent projects was starting a pollinator initiative in Cabot and trying to turn the town into a pollinator-friendly place, Gulka said.

“Our main focus was to promote and support the working landscape by supporting pollinator populations,” Gulka said. “We put on a speaker series again and went on an educational campaign for the public. We also proposed a nonbinding resolution at town meeting to make the town a pollinator-friendly community.” 

However, with the onset of COVID-19, the group has refocused its efforts on connecting people to their local food system, Gulka added.

“I think we’re seeing that, in a lot of instances all over the state, people are even more interested in local food than they have been before, especially with the conditions of the pandemic,” she said. “We want to be able to support that in the community.” 

To support this interest in food, the network has launched a two-phase project with another group focused on local economic development. The first phase will involve developing a directory of food businesses and the second will be to launch a food hub, she explained.

“The first phase is developing a directory of town, agricultural, and food businesses. It may expand from there, and we hope to have that launched by June,” Gulka said. “The second is to hopefully launch some sort of food hub in town that provides a central location for people to buy from a variety of local vendors.” 

Modeled after Northwestern Vermont Grown’s online Guide to Local Farms and Foods in Grand Isle and Franklin Counties, the Cabot directory will primarily be a website people can visit to look up a product type or a farm name, Gulka explained. In the future, it will connect directly to an online ordering platform that will be used for the food hub.

“We want the directory to be able to be used by local people and by anyone who’s visiting in town or interested in the area,” Gulka said. “So, we’re mindful of that in the way we design and promote the directory.”

The directory will feature local orchards, maple producers, smaller dairy farms and diverse veggie businesses. While the directory will hopefully be released soon, the food hub is still in development.

“We’re hoping to have a soft opening for the food hub,” Gulka said. “The location is yet to be determined since we’re trying to figure out what our logistical needs are when it comes to things like refrigeration and space for sorting. But we recognize that this is kind of a cyclical thing with the seasons and we want to have something available this growing season for the community to use.” 

For Gulka and the Greater Cabot Landscaping Network, the main goal is to figure out the best ways to best support local farmers and businesses.

“Our goal isn’t to reinvent the wheel; we just want to support local agriculture,” Gulka said. “There are other directories that exist throughout the state, but we’re trying to be intentional about keeping it to a local scale and supporting small businesses.”

With the creation of the directory and the food hub, Gulka explains, the group hopes to continue fostering connection and collaboration within the Cabot community.

“We’re hoping that as new businesses arise there isn’t as much of a competitive nature as collaborative,” Gulka said. “For us, it’s about supporting the community, agriculture and the economy and figuring out what we can do to bring those all together.”