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There is a bustling energy towards a local economy. From food, to services and goods, the desire to buy and serve locally is growing. Sally Erickson of Eastport feels strongly toward the power of local and with this powerful mission is launching a new product,Vejibags.

“I really see the direction of economic health, not just in Washington County but the whole country, as moving in the direction of local,” Erickson says. “Local can often feel limited, though. We don't have our share of goodies here in Washington County, we need to import some to make our local economy work.”

After moving to Eastport with her husband Tim two and a half years ago, Erickson had dreams of attaching a greenhouse to the southern side of the house. Though code would not allow it, property became available across the street from the couple, and Erickson set to work after attending a greenhouse project workshop at the University of Maine at Machias.

“There is a growing niche here for winter greens,” Erickson discovered at the workshop, so she started producing an abundance of greens to supply the local buying clubs in Eastport. Getting the greens to the market, however proved challenging, as when stored conventionally in plastic, the produce would often be slimy and limp when market day arrived.

After searching around the internet, Erickson found that the best way to store greens was to keep them damp but breathing, something that plastic does not allow for.

A self-described “child of a child of the depression,” the first vejibags Erickson made were crafted from cheap and recycled fabric that were sewn into bags. Using these to bring her greens to market, the idea caught on, and when needing a new direction, Erickson's heart was with the bags and making them a more viable product.

Spreading her idea around town with friends, a core group of six women met last June to flush out the planning stages.

Always an energy-buff, and environmentally passionate, Erickson wasn't completely satisfied with her product, and after consulting with a fiber conscious friend, she embarked on a greener journey for Vejibags.

The cloth bags are now 100% organic, U.S grown cotton from Texas. Erickson points out, however, that though the cotton is from Texas, it helps the local economy there; there is small percentage of cotton farmers in the U.S that grow organically. Though it would be cheaper and more economical (in the traditional sense of the word) to use imported materials, the mission behind the vejibag is something much bigger.

Hearing in city-council and development meetings the chorus of “jobs, jobs, jobs” as the necessity for the city, Erickson took the opportunity to use her Vejibags as a creative, local economic boost. A number of designs were considered, and a graphic label created by a local silkscreen printer now dons the front of the bags, which are all hand sewn by local women who work in their own homes on a piece-work basis.

Erickson's switch to a locally based organic diet was spurred out of health necessity. “Good, fresh, organic and local food costs more, but it has value,” she says. “Anything with value will cost more, and that value is not getting sick.” The preventative measure of eating healthy may cost more, but it's an investment and gets to the root cause, rather than spending money later on doctor visits and pharmaceuticals that much of the time mask symptoms.

Upon researching environmental issues for a film that Erickson and her husband made, What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, in 2007, the high costs of shipping conventional food with fossil fuels struck her as something that in a small way, in their own live's the couple might be able to control. “Taking care of each other in a closed loop is what makes sense to me,” Erickson says. “That's what the greenhouse, the vejibag and my husband's local music grew out of.”

Vejibags can be purchased on the website www.vejibags.com, Three Chicks Creations and Alterations in Eastport, and will soon be available at The Commons in Eastport as well.

There will be a launch party for Vejibags on Saturday, March 16 from 4 – 6 p.m. at the Eastport Arts Center. The public is invited to attend.

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