Under the big red apple by the Co-op driveway hangs a blue sign with a logo of a river, a bridge and some buildings. The river is the Connecticut, the river that connects us, and the buildings represent the communities of the Upper Valley. This is the logo for Vital Communities, our neighbors around the back and up the stairs. This non-profit organization brings together citizens, organizations and municipalities to address problems that need a regional approach, and to work for a better environment and quality of life.
Vital Communities fosters connections among the towns and cities and inhabitants of our Valley. Relationships – with other non-profits, businesses, individuals, and nature – are key to what Vital Communities does. It has a number of programs and initiatives, many of which will resonate with members of the Co-op.
Our shared interest in local food is an obvious connection. Valley Food & Farm Manager Becka Warren says that the program can help you not only find local farms, with the online Guide, but also bring more local foods to your schools and workplaces. Your school might be interested in farm-based fundraisers; your work might host a CSA delivery. FarmRaiser, explains Laura Dintino, is an alternative fundraising for schools. “Instead of selling candy or something families don’t need or want, how about selling fresh locally grown products? Check out FarmRaiser’s helpful web pages to get your school or PTA going on this great project.”
Laura, who is also Valley Quest Manager, says that Questing is a great program to get everyone out exploring the treasures of the Upper Valley. “Explore the natural and cultural beauty of the area with treasure hunts [many written by local school children]. Download Quests from the on-line directory or get our Best of Valley Quest guidebook at local bookstores or public libraries.”
Speaking of local stores, Local First Alliance is a coalition of independent area businesses, including our Co-op, dedicated to strengthening our region’s economy. To “think ‘Local First’ means making a commitment to strengthen our local economy,” explains LFA Administrator Emily Gardner. For every dollar spent at a local store or service provider, more than half will be reinvested in our community to create jobs, support charities, and increase our region’s sustainability. Shopping at a business with a Local First Alliance logo means you are choosing a business, or service provider, that is dedicated to keeping your money hard at work in our region where it can do the most good. “Need a store? LFA’s online local business directory can help direct you to members. Remember to keep it local and look for the logo!”
Another connection with local businesses comes via Birchstand, a White River Junction organization established to increase philanthropy to local non-profits, which has chosen Vital Communities to be one of its featured beneficiaries. People who donate to Vital Communities can get discount coupons to local merchants. This is a win-win-win: selected non-profits get donations, donors get discount benefits at quality merchants, and local businesses get new customers.
Vital Communities’ Leadership Upper Valley convenes the Leadership Institute, a 10-month program offering local and regional leaders and emerging leaders ways to learn more about the Upper Valley. “Participants get to know other leaders in our region and find out how to get involved through listening to speakers, touring businesses, discussing important topics and then participating in a community service project as a team,” Leadership Manger Stacey Glazer points out. “Registration is open for the 2014-15 class which begins in September (deadline is June 1); scholarships are available.”
As Co-op members know, energy efficiency and conservation, as well as developing renewable energy sources, are crucial to our future. Vital Communities “moves the Upper Valley toward energy independence by catalyzing local efforts to meet 80% of our energy needs through a mix of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources by 2030.”
VC’s Energy Program is now teaming up with town leaders, volunteers, and solar installers in Lyme, Cornish, Plainfield, Strafford, and Thetford to help residents go solar. Manager Sarah Simonds invites us to “look for Solarize Upper Valley events this spring!” And “visit Solarize Upper Valley to learn more, sign up for updates, and find out how your town can become a Solarize Community this fall.”
Vital Communities’ Transportation Program works with businesses, towns, transit companies, and interested citizens to reduce our reliance on driving alone. Manager Aaron Brown explains that their goal is to make it easier to bike, walk, carpool, and take transit throughout the Upper Valley. The Co-op participates in Smart Commute Upper Valley, a Vital Communities initiative working toward that goal.
As of February 1st, Vital Communities has taken on the administration of the community discussion lists (“listservs”) from ValleyNet, the ten-year-old consortium of discussion lists serving 20 towns and over 16,000 subscribers. “We’re excited to continue and expand this service in the Upper Valley,” says Executive Director Mary Margaret Sloan. This is yet another way that VC helps connect people in the Upper Valley.
Mary Margaret and a cast of others make Vital Communities run. Check out the staff directory , then match names to the faces that you’ll often see in and about the Co-op!