Growth council gets $10,000 grant to boost agriculture

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RUMFORD – The River Valley Growth Council has received a $10,000 grant to expand agricultural offerings.

“This is another avenue to explore for economic development in the area,” said council Director Rosie Bradley.

Part of the money from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education project will be used to establish an Agricultural Commission to develop a plan to expand agricultural products and attract new opportunities such as renewable energy.

Much of the land in Rumford is in the Androscoggin River flood plain, which curtails development but not agricultural endeavors.

The growth council and the Rumford town office are taking applications from people interested in serving on the commission. It is hoped the commission will begin meeting in late June.

Once a plan has been written, it will go before public hearings and be acted on at the annual town meeting in June 2007.

As part of the research for the agricultural resources and needs of the community, two surveys are now being offered.

One, sent out last week to the nearly 50 farmers in the River Valley area, asks the types of products produced, whether or how the local farmers’ markets are used, how they could be improved, and a variety of other questions related to the three farmers’ markets operating in the area.

The second, a customer survey, is available at the growth council, town office, library and other places throughout the town. It asks about the use of the farmers’ markets, the types of products purchased, how the markets could be improved, and the types of products customers would like to see offered.

That data, too, will be compiled and analyzed by the Agricultural Commission.

Bradley said the growth council is also looking to use a portion of the third or fourth floor of the River Valley Technology Center to offer a kitchen incubator for the commercial production of food products.

Bradley said one long-term goal for the agricultural community is to establish a year-round facility for offering locally produced products.

The growth council had received another NSARE grant of $5,000 several years ago to grow quinoa, a gluten-free grain that can be used as a flour, cereal and other grain-like products. It was grown twice at a farm in Canton, then the project was turned over to the University of Maine research farm in Monmouth where several strains of the grain are being developed. Bradley said the university is close to pinpointing one or two that will grow well in Maine.

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