Monkman VTNFS D30165Like many parts of the Northern Forest, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (NEK) depends on tourism for a significant part of its economy. The region has a lot to offer those who find it: premier multi-use outdoor recreation options, delicious local food (and beer!) and charming inns. Yet standing out in a crowded Northeast tourism market is a challenge, one that requires expertise and digital marketing savvy that is often beyond what individual communities and businesses can muster on their own.

Abby Leethy NW Gourmet Girl crpdA $20,000 grant from the Northern Forest Center is helping entrepreneur Abby Freethy expand Northwoods Gourmet Girl from its origins as a producer of all-natural pantry staples into a full lifestyle brand. 

Freethy founded Northwoods Gourmet Girl in Greenville, Maine, in 2005 to produce healthy alternatives to common items such as ketchup, mustard, relish, jam, preserves and desert sauces. She’s ready to grow her business, for herself and for Greenville.

The matching grant from the Center will help Freethy launch a new line of branded, food-oriented home goods ranging from dinnerware, glassware, and pottery to kitchen islands, farm tables, chairs, benches, and bookshelves. All products are based on proprietary designs and most are produced by Maine-based woodworkers and craftspeople.

 “I want people to experience the food in the environment in which they would enjoy it, for instance by sitting at the farm table,” said Freethy. She’s making this possible by converting the first floor of her home into a destination where people can experience her food products in a home-like setting furnished with Northwood Gourmet Girl-branded home goods.

The Northern Forest Center recently awarded $14,000 in matching grants to enable nine businesses in downtown Greenville, Maine, to improve the facades of their buildings. The matching grants leveraged more than $35,000 of private investment in downtown Greenville—the heart of the Moosehead Lake region. 

Greenville facade grants program map

The Northern Forest Center is working closely with partners in the Maine Woods Consortium to build local capacity to improve the destination appeal in high-potential Rural Destination Areas across the Maine Woods. The concept of “destination development” is to strengthen the amenities, quality services and attractions that make places attractive to live in or visit.

Participants in the Community Development AcademyThe new Community Destination Academy (CDA) combines a 6-part, professionally led workshop series with direct financial and technical assistance to support implementation of local destination development projects.

Modeled on Oregon’s successful Rural Tourism Studio, the Destination Academy is built around three goals:

  • Build the capacity of local Destination Development Teams to advance a shared vision for their area;
  • Deliver skills training on topics including visitor experience development, marketing, fundraising, and more;
  • Support team-based project implementation to demonstrate tangible progress and to strengthen working relationships among destination area stakeholders.

The Center launched the first Destination Academy in the Moosehead Lake region this spring in partnership with the Maine Office of Tourism, Piscataquis County Economic Development Council (PCEDC), and Destination Moosehead. The 20 attendees included a mix of local business, non-profit, and municipal leaders—representing all the critical elements of a successful destination development effort.