BROOKS, Maine — A Waldo County nonprofit organization focused on fostering sustainable food systems will shut down later this year, according to a unanimous vote earlier this month by its board of directors.

Community members are rallying around the Newforest Institute and plan to hold two potluck suppers and meetings in the next couple of weeks to brainstorm ways to continue some of the work that was done by the nonprofit.

Frank Champa, a co-owner of Ralph’s Cafe in Brooks, one of the organizers, said Wednesday that community members are encouraged to bring ideas about a new group that they would like to see rise “out of the ashes” of the nonprofit.

“I think it’s something that everyone wants and needs,” he said.

The Newforest Institute, which is located on about 300 acres of land off Route 139 in Brooks, was founded in 2007 by Russell and Andrea Read along with George and Kimberly Callas and Rachel and Read Schuchardt.
The couple still owns the property, and Andrea Read, who is on the board of directors, said Wednesday that financial and organizational troubles sparked the decision made July 9 to wind down operations.

“Certainly, it’s hard to create a nonprofit that’s sustainable anyway, and since 2008, it hasn’t been any easier,” she said, referring to the Great Recession. “After a while, if it’s not sustained with enough diversified funding, eventually it’s not viable.”

Since its beginning, the Newforest Institute brought dozens of interns from all over the country to the property where they worked and learned about sustainable agriculture and other skills. The nonprofit also held many educational workshops for community members on topics such as beekeeping, composting, permaculture and conservation.

Read and other board members hope that the end of Newforest Institute might be the beginning of something else beneficial. In a letter written to the nonprofit’s supporters, the board directors wrote that they would like community members to purchase the land to continue the institute’s efforts, to build a tool lending library, and to continue developing a “permaculture learning and demonstration site.”

“If we planted a few good seeds, I feel OK with that,” Read said. “I just hope that the land where we were is a little bit better looking than it was, a little bit more productive. I just appreciate the community in Brooks participating the way it did. It was good work to be doing at the time, and we’ll see what happens next.”

She said she and her husband would like to find a “good steward” to purchase the 10-acre parcel that now is home to the Newforest Institute’s gardens, barns and renovated house.

According to Champa, one of the best things that the nonprofit has done for Brooks is to bring new people into the community.

“I’m certainly one for local and sustainable and all that Newforest stands for,” he said. “But what I liked is that the group itself brought a different kind of person to the Brooks area.”

David Wessels is the garden manager of the institute, and was himself a farm apprentice for six months three years ago.

“The apprentices are pretty fired up about this, and interested in having it go on,” he said. “For me, the big thing is that it brings people together on this piece of land. It’s a community commons, in a way.”