Gary A. LaGrange Community Impact Award
Each Year United Way of the Tri-Valley Area seeks nominations from the community for the Gary A. LaGrange Community Impact Award. This award recognizes significant service and contributions to Greater Franklin County by an individual, business, or organization. This year’s award recipient is Erica Emery.
Erica grew up in Farmington. In 2013, Erica and her partner started Rustic Roots Farm and has been giving back to the residents of Greater Franklin County ever since. When Erica and Dave opened their fields to the community in 2013, they began to see an immediate trend in who was picking up- or rather, who wasn’t. “Our farm shares weren’t attracting seniors. We wanted to be all inclusive, all ages and backgrounds,” Emery said. Emery began applying for the state funded senior farm share program in an effort to get fresh vegetables to home-bound seniors. Every year brought a new application, and every year Rustic Roots was turned down. Finally, Emery decided to take the matter into her own hands. She approached Father Paul Dumais from St. Joseph’s in Farmington, seeking a foundation to build her idea. Dumais didn’t hesitate. He not only agreed to the partnership, but offered Emery seed money to get started and connected her with a local effort through Catholic Charities that provides companionship to isolated seniors. The partnership has now opened the doors to Rustic Roots vegetables for 10 different seniors living in Franklin County, half of whom get the food delivered straight to their homes by Catholic Charities Outreach Coordinator Stephanie Crowe. Each share gets $120 worth of seasonal crops into the hands of those in need."
Erica has been very involved in the Western Maine Farmers Market and the growth of the Maine Harvest Bucks (MHB) program at the Farmington Farmers Market. This helps get fresh food into the bellies of SNAP beneficiaries. (For every dollar in EBT sales, SNAP recipients receive a MHB voucher that can be redeemed for $1 in fresh fruits or vegetables.) Erica has been very involved in SWARM (Strong Women Advancing Rural Maine) which in 2020 raised over $10,000 for the local food pantries in Franklin County. She is also the chair of the Greater Franklin Food Council and has recently written and received grants for the Food Council to engage a school garden coach and to hire a part-time program coordinator.
Erica’s nomination read: “Erica's work has in and of itself, brought a sense of "community" back to the Greater Franklin County communities. I would have to say that her efforts have in essence been about bringing a sense of what a community used to be and still should be since she started in 2013.”
Erica has served on the United Way Board of Directors and received the 2018 Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award.
While Erica was chosen to receive this year’s award, she is in very good company. The following were also nominated and are recognized for their service to Greater Franklin County: Spruce Mountain Adult Education Staff; Susy Sanders; Franklin County Sheriff’s Office; and Mary Dunham.
About Gary A. LaGrange:
Some people show their special spark even when they’re trying not to…to seek joy in what you give, not what you get … this was Gary LaGrange. Gary’s commitment to serving others was life long. His passion for helping people with energy conservation fueled his career with Maine Community Action agencies, including building and repairing homes, facilitating fuel assistance programs, conducting energy audits and teaching home buyer education. He was often asked to go the extra step to help a homeowner, and this he willingly did, often on his on time.
Volunteerism had a constant presence in Gary’s life … playing Santa for Headstart classrooms each holiday, directing hundreds of Christmas packages to happy children through Operation Santa Claus and fueling his love for the arts by spending many hours bringing sets to life with the Sandy River Players. Upon retirement, Gary devoted himself to volunteering full time as a lead volunteer with the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area program called the Community Energy Challenge: building interior storm panels to save homeowners’ energy and providing energy education help to control their fuel costs – a simple idea with powerful and cost-saving results. He was also a 5th Degree member and served on the Executive Committee of the Wilson Grange, as well as a site manager for East Parish Housing Ministry, helping rehab homes with visiting mission groups.
Gary took immense pride in acting without expectation, and encouraging others to do the same. He walked beside us all towards a better community and that is truly impactful. Gary left a loving family and community behind passing away, December 15, 2013. The United Way is honored to continue his legacy of caring with this award.
Crystal Cook, United Methodist Economic Ministry
Rev. Susan Crane, Ecumenical Heating Fund
Trish and Gordie Flint
Tri-County Mental Health Services
Peter Judkins, Franklin Savings Bank
Flo and John Caldwell, Stratton/Eustis Food Pantry
Verso Androscoggin Mill employees
Brent and Bertha Smith
The Board of Western Maine Homeless Outreach
Judy Frost, Western Maine Community Action
Shannon Smith, Wilton Blueberry Festival
Katie Hallman, RSU 9
Erica Emery, Rustic Roots Farm