BRATTLEBORO -- U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan opened a day-long tour through southern Vermont and New Hampshire Tuesday with a stop at the Brattleboro Food Co-op.
Merrigan was in Windham County, and in Cheshire County in New Hampshire, to support food co-ops and small farms, and to promote USDA's Know Your Farmer program which links consumers with small farms in their area.
The Co-op secured a $4-million USDA Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan for its new $9-million building and Merrigan got a tour of the new co-op from General Manager Alex Gyori.
Gyori led Merrigan and a small crowd of USDA staff members on the tour which highlighted the local products that the co-op stocks in all of its departments.
Merrigan said USDA recognizes the co-op as a model project that promotes local food and creates jobs.
"This store is an example of how everyone benefits when you invest in local agriculture," said Merrigan. "The co-op has been a round for a long time and this takes it to a whole new level."
Merrigan and her staff also looked at the new apartments on the second and third floors of the co-op.
The apartments are owned and managed by the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust.
Merrigan was in Brattleboro last year while the co-op was under construction and she said she was impressed with the store, which opened last month.
Gyori told Merrigan that produce sales were
She said the co-op's commitment to stocking locally raised produce, meat and dairy supports the local agriculture economy while giving consumers more options when seeking out local products.
"When the co-op does well it means more opportunities for local farmers," Merrigan said.
Later in the day Merrigan went to three farms in Walpole and Keene, N.H. and then toured the site of the Monadnock Community Market Co-op in Keene.
The Keene co-op, which is set to open in early 2013, also secured a USDA guaranteed loan to help with construction.
In the evening she spoke to students at Keene College about the opportunities for young people in agriculture.
Merrigan has been visiting colleges across the nation to talk about agriculture and has appeared on more than 30 campuses
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.