“Smart Growth” is a term we hear more and more often. It is the idea that as communities plan for the future, they consider the highest and best use of every resource – land, infrastructure, organizations and people. From housing to transportation to energy to food; community developers and planners are asking how Smart Growth principles can be applied to ensure a sustainable and dynamic future for their communities and their residents.
How is USDA involved in these efforts?
Consider Brattleboro, Vermont. With a population of 12,000, Brattleboro sits on the state’s southeastern border, and is a vibrant mix of industry, art and education. Brattleboro’s downtown district was one of the first communities to take advantage of Vermont’s Downtown Program giving it access to state tax credits and shining a spotlight on its rich history. Its vibrant downtown is an inviting mix of shops, restaurants, offices and an art deco theatre and hotel. Anchoring one end of the downtown is the Brattleboro Food Coop.
Founded in 1975, the Brattleboro Food Coop started as a local buying club. It eventually grew into a popular retail destination featuring a wide range of products from nearby farms in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. By 2003, the Brattleboro Coop was outgrowing its space. It considered moving to a new location outside of downtown. The Board of the Coop, however, decided that its mission was much more compatible with a Smart Growth solution to its expansion needs. In the meantime, the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) and Housing Vermont, were looking for a solution to Brattleboro’s need for more mixed income housing that was easily accessible to downtown’s services and amenities. With support from a loan guarantee from USDA’s Business & Industry Loan Guarantee Program, the Brattleboro Coop remained downtown in a new, highly energy efficient building with expanded retail space. The new Coop space was originally envisioned as a two story building. Through innovative partnerships, an additional two stories on the new building were sold to WWHT and Housing Vermont. Though the Coop and the housing complex have separate ownership, they have similar commitment to the sustainable future of Brattleboro.
The results are stunning. The new Brattleboro Coop Building opened in June, 2012. It now boasts over 14,000 square feet of retail space, supporting up to 100 jobs. Over 60 percent of the products come from nearby farms. The building also hosts a commissary kitchen and classrooms for cooking classes. 24 beautiful, energy efficient, mixed income apartments in the heart of downtown Brattleboro occupy two stories above the Coop.
Recently, the Brattleboro Coop won a 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement as awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These awards, which began in 2002, recognize exceptional approaches to development that respect the environment, foster economic vitality, enhance quality of life, and provide new opportunities for disadvantaged communities. “The new Cooperative Building incorporates money-saving and innovative environmental features while fitting with the character of a traditional walkable New England town” noted the EPA. “Community members were the true champions of this project, insisting on a downtown location for their co-op that integrates both the grocery store and mixed-income housing”.
The Brattleboro Coop is profiled in the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Compass as an example of how local food systems can anchor community development and planning. You can find other examples of how the Federal Government is supporting local food’s role in communities across the country on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass Map.