The Center for an Agricultural Economy, a non-profit organization based in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, is the recipient of a $70,000 grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to support its organizing campaign and issues assembly that will launch the Northeast Kingdom Organizing Project.

“As a member-led organization, NEKO will be a vehicle for people to have a voice in critical decisions that impact their lives,” said Martha Braithwaite, lead organizer.

The Hardwick-based Center for an Agricultural Economy envisions a future with thriving landscapes, healthy local food and vital, equitable communities and believes a place-based agricultural economy and intentional community development is the path to this future.

For many years, the center has been working in the local food system, within communities and with farm and food businesses. “But we also knew we weren’t moving fast enough,” Braithwaite said.

In 2015, the Center for an Agricultural Economy began a listening campaign designed to uncover some of the larger challenges related to food access, equity and independence in the local community. Staff spent a year learning from community members, low-income neighbors and faith-based communities about what challenges people in rural Vermont.

“The results were varied, but it led us to realize that we can’t do this work alone,” Braithwaite said. “Food equity and access are tied up in other issues such as transportation, livable wages, childcare, opiate addiction and generational poverty.”

Out of this work has grown the Northeast Kingdom Community Organizing Project, a regional network of partners who believe that working across sectors and groups is a critical approach to successfully addressing our issues of rural poverty and food insecurity.”

She added, “As a group, we believe that community organizing around issues is a critical strategy to change the future for the better. We also believe that the tent is wide enough for many partners to work together.”

An equitable food and agricultural economy has created empowered, interdependent communities with shared mutual goals, within the greater Hardwick region that are socially and economically thriving and contribute to a vital ecological future, is the organization’s stated vision.

“We are very excited that this grant will allow us to dramatically accelerate the pace of our organizing,” Braithwaite said. “Community organizing is slow and deliberate work. Surfacing the root causes of issues that negatively impact our communities and building relationships among leaders ready to take action together to address them takes time.”

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development was founded in 1970 by the Catholic bishops of the United States as their domestic anti-poverty program. Designed to address the policies and structures that perpetuate poverty to create sustainable solutions, CCHD empowers poor and marginalized people to join together and make decisions to improve their lives and neighborhoods.

The CCHD national collection date is the Sunday before Thanksgiving.