Every level of this supply chain, from farmer to newly-trained baker, is creating opportunity and investment in the community – putting money back into the pockets of local residents. Meet the small community behind Unity Barn Raisers.
Unity, Maine, is a small town with a population of about 1,900, located in the south of the state. Like many small rural towns, it has seen a decline in family farming and in the local business economy in the last decade. Poverty and hunger are on the rise in the state. According to the Maine Millennium Commission on Hunger, 40% of Maine school-aged children are hungry or at regular risk for going hungry.
It is within this context of economic and social decline that a group of Unity residents got together to figure out how they could get more money into their town for community revitalization. This first meeting was the informal start to the Unity Barn Raisers (UBR). While the group’s initial focus was on downtown revitalization, local residents soon expressed their concern over the state of the farming economy as well. The UBR realized that rural and downtown economic development would have to go hand in hand in order to truly improve the community’s economic health.
Unity Barn Raisers received a three-year Community Food Project Grant in 2004 for a project called “Serving More Needs Locally: A Community Food Project in Central Maine.” The project’s goals included a focus on alternative food relief, intended to shift the local emergency food system away from a reliance on food banks to a system where more food is sourced locally from farms, gardens, and food processors.
UBR works with the Good Shepherd Food Pantry to partner with local organic farmers to get fresh produce into food boxes. It also promotes the Plant a Row for the Hungry Campaign, is creating a Community Farm Share Program, and is expanding the community meal program to incorporate more local and regional foods. The monthly community meal is held in the Unity Community Center, and is a popular local institution, allowing the whole town to come together and providing an important social outlet for the elderly and other isolated individuals.
Photo: Unity Community Center, via Unity Barn Raisers
Beyond work directly with community emergency food providers, UBR commitment to development of small enterprise seeks to address the root causes of hunger and poverty in the community. The organization is working with farmers to encourage the production of organic grains – including some native varieties that haven’t been grown in the region in almost 200 years. In partnership with a local grain processor, they have created New England’s first organic grain mill, along with a bakery, which provides job training to low-income adults. Every level of this supply chain, from farmer to newly-trained baker, is creating opportunity and investment in the community – putting money back into the pockets of local residents.
The big vision Unity Barn Raisers have for the community is just beginning. There are plans for development of an environmentally-friendly, inter-generational housing complex, with support for seniors and features to attract young families. UBR staff envision a neighboring community supported agriculture (CSA) farm as well as a public beach at the local lake. The UBR vision for unity is both practical and holistic, built around a growing economy of strong local businesses and sustainable farms. The unity they envision is one without hunger or poverty and no one lacking basic necessities.
To meet more people and organizations growing the movement for access to healthy, nutritious food, click through the WhyHunger Storytelling project.