By Diana Bowley BDN Staff: DEXTER, Maine — Dexter is circling around its farmers to ensure they survive so local residents can continue to get wholesome and fresh farm produce.
Organizations from the local book club to the Dexter Regional Development Corp. have been working with local farmers behind the scenes for months on plans that would both support the farmers and improve the region's economy.
"We all feel that we need to become, in the climate of the country, locally self-reliant and this is the first step in doing that," Judy Craig, town councilor and Dexter Regional Development Corp. president, said Friday.
The group has adopted a "three-prong" approach: the development of a local creamery where milk would be pasteurized and where other milk-derivative products such as ice cream, yogurt and cheese would be made; the creation of a year-round farmers market on Main Street; and the purchase of a warehouse to store the local goods. They also envision wholesaling the local products to health food stores throughout the state.
"This is all a big, old idea with lots and lots of local support," Craig said. She said the organizers are working to secure grants to help move the project forward.
Craig said a search is being conducted for a building that could be used for the creamery and the farmers have a search under way for equipment needed for the business. She said organizers envision a processing plant that would have a glass partition where visitors and residents could watch milk being pasteurized, and butter and ice cream being made.
"We're doing lots of legwork right now," Craig said. "We're each going in a different direction to try to get information to bring back to the next meeting."
Residents also are being asked to weigh in. In the town's comprehensive plan survey, residents are being asked whether they would pay a little extra for organic products and whether they would support local farmers.
The organizers envision the products made at the creamery, as well as locally grown or raised products within a 50-mile radius, would be sold at the farmers market downtown. Those products would include honey, locally grown meats, and maple syrup as well as garden produce.
Craig said the Fossa building location owned by the corporation is being eyed for the market. Because the building is in "very bad disrepair," the group hopes to secure a $250,000 grant to remove the building and replace it.
"When we first got the [Fossa] building, the first thing our vision was for it, was a farmers market," Craig said. "This will take it to the next level."
The Town Council last week agreed to support the submission of a Community Development Block Grant for the communitywide effort. While the town would be the applicant, no local property taxes would be used, Craig said. Any match would be provided by the corporation, she said.
The town's part-time economic development specialist, Jason Bird, is writing the grant on behalf of the town. USDA officials also are working with the organizers.
The project is growing in support daily, according to Craig. Local doctors are enthused because of the wholesome quality of local produce and its relation to good health. In addition, a school official in the region expressed his interest in the possibility of offering the fresh produce and milk products in his school system.
"While we're supporting our local farms and becoming more self-reliant, we're also becoming healthier," Craig said.
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