DEXTER, Maine — This Penobscot County community is rolling back the years to a time when people lived off the wholesome goodness of the land, shared their goods locally and worked cooperatively to support local farmers.
To do that, the nonprofit Dexter Regional Development Corp. has developed a three-pronged approach that includes renovating the former Fossa General Store into a year-round farm store and demonstration kitchen; constructing or renovating a building for a creamery where milk, yogurt and ice cream can be processed; and constructing or renovating a building for a warehouse.
The ambitious project has a groundswell of support from young and old alike, as well as the support of the state which awarded the town a $230,000 Community Development Block Grant on Friday to start the first phase — the renovation or replacement of the downtown Fossa building which was a gift from the Fossa family to the town.
“The grant is going to make a huge difference for the town of Dexter,” Judy Craig, Dexter Regional Development Corp. president, said Sunday. She said it would help improve the downtown and attract new businesses. In addition, she said, the grant gives the town leverage for other grants.
For local farmer Fred Sherburne, a fifth-generation farmer, it will mean his farm products can go directly onto tables.
“We would offer a fresher, better product to the local public, and the local public would support keeping that product coming and the farmer in existence,” Sherburne said Sunday. The milk his herd produces now is trucked to Vermont where it is bottled and then returned to Maine for store shelves.
“It just seems like the right thing to do,” Sherburne said of the local effort. “I would hope we could control our price as a farmer better by reducing the trucking costs, and the local food supply would help preserve farms in the area.” He said it would maintain the open space and farmland now being used, and, it is hoped, would open up more land, revitalize Main Street and help keep dollars local. “We should be more sustainable in our own area.”
Seth Bradstreet, state agriculture commissioner, who attended a corporation meeting on the topic earlier this month, was impressed by the all-volunteer effort and the ideas generated. Craig said Bradstreet told the gathering the Dexter meeting was one of the most exciting he had attended, and he found the supporters most enthu-siastic.
Craig, whose roots lie deep in Dexter, said work would begin soon on the Fossa project. That store would sell products made at the creamery, as well as locally grown or raised products within a 50-mile radius. It also will house a demonstration kitchen where residents, visitors and schoolchildren can learn how to can, freeze and cook the vegetables raised in the region.
The concept of keeping the goods in the region also has the support of some school officials who see a benefit in purchasing locally grown produce and milk, according to Craig. She believes local hospitals and boardinghouses also would be interested in supporting local farmers.
“It’s persistence, and it’s a lot of prayer and the support of people really wanting to make a change,” Craig said.
Sherburne said he has never seen a project where the pieces fit together so well.
“We need a more stable market for our product as a farm — the interest is high in the local production, the economy is poor for us so the local piece of that should help sustain us, and the enthusiasm of the people in the area seems to be in line with doing all of those things.
“It’s another sign from above that it’s supposed to happen this way,” he added.
Craig encouraged anyone interested in the project to attend the monthly meetings held the first Tuesday of each month to help move the project further.