Did you know that the Northshire is home to over 100 local farm and food businesses? That Wilcox Dairy recently received a $20,000 grant from the Working Lands Enterprise Fund? That Act 148, Vermont's universal recycling program, is solid waste legislation that focuses on recyclables and organics?

Northshire Grows is a resource platform and community network for growers, food producers and agriculture-related businesses in the Manchester and the Mountains area. With support from the High Meadows Fund and the New England Grass roots Environmental Fund, Northshire Grows has been launched to facilitate stronger coordination and communication for the Manchester/Dorset area's local food economy and to explore new opportunities for the region's advancement.

Bennington County is in a great position to learn from best practices around the state in food system innovation and collaboration. There are niches that re main unfilled, and Northshire Grows welcomes the opportunity to listen, learn and help bring our region into this exciting state wide conversation. Information about the F2P Net work, including its goals and plans to increase local food consumption and to broaden access to local food for all Vermonters, is available at www.vtfoodatlas .com

In collaboration with Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL), Northshire Grows hopes to increase awareness of the many programs and services that RAFFL and other statewide agencies and businesses offer to both farmers and consumers, which vary from from technical assistance programs to cooking classes featuring local produce. At a recent community meeting, Northshire Grows learned that improved ground coordination, transportation and access to better consumer education are all priorities that area community members would like to see.

Burr and Burton Academy has recently joined RAFFL's Farm Fresh Connects Market, a weekly online farmers' market that is offered to area businesses through an aggregation and distribution service administered in North Clarendon by the Vermont Country Store. RAFFL, Northshire Grows and BBA hope to expand this market to Northshire growers and consumers in the coming months by adding a hub in Manchester.

In addition to including a North shire section in this year's RAFFL Locally Grown Guide, a publication that is distributed from Manchester to Middlebury throughout the year, Northshire Grows hosted a community meal and conversation in May to discuss issues and opportunities for the area. Four more meetings are planned over the summer in Peru, Shaftsbury, West Pawlet and Manchester. A region-wide meeting to create an action plan will be convened in the fall. For more information, please visit www.northshiregrows.org.

Liz Ruffa is the project director of Northshire Grows.