Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on local food, sharing the bounty, and community gardens. It covers both North and South County.
As we reap the lush summer harvest of our vegetable gardens, pick up our weekly CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) share or load up on arugula, tomatoes, and peaches at farmers markets scattered throughout the Berkshires, it’s heartening to know that less affluent folks are increasingly getting access to healthy food. New and creative approaches are emerging for growing and distributing produce — particularly, local produce. Abundance can be shared.
According to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, roughly one in eight people continues to experience hunger in this part of the Commonwealth, an eye-opening fact. Furthermore, one in five children lives in food-insecure households. More needs to be done. According to its website, The Food Bank “rescues food that would otherwise go to waste,” thereby providing it to various outlets such as food pantries, shelters and more.
On Sunday, June 29, Share the Bounty, a project of Berkshire Grown, is celebrating its 12th anniversary. Launched by Jonathan Hankin, an architect and realtor at Wheeler and Taylor (see related article), it came under the umbrella of Berkshire Grown in 2008. Its raison d’être: community food justice.
Encompassing Berkshire, Columbia and Litchfield counties, this nonprofit purchases shares in local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, thereby offering much-needed income to farmers during the “off-season.” When the growing season rolls around, the farms donate a percentage of their harvest to those in need.
“We are supporting farm to pantry partnerships,”explains Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown. “The beauty of this concept is that it forms a bridge between hungry people while promoting local agriculture. A win-win situation.”
To bring this about (fresh food is time sensitive, i.e., perishable), volunteers must soon distribute the produce, including cheese, to local food pantries and soup kitchens. Folks who qualify can also pick up bags of the week’s “bounty.”
This season, Share the Bounty is pairing over 14 farms with a variety of recipients. A true match-making operation.
“We experiment; we create partnerships between farms and pantries and between farms and food kitchens. We also create partnerships with Women, Infants and Children [WIC], the federal nutrition program for pregnant women, infants and young children,”explains Zheutlin with a twinkle in her eye.
A similar initiative (sponsored in part by Berkshire Grown) is currently at work in North County: Hoosac Harvest, a citizen-based organization. Its mission is to “support and encourage access for North Berkshire residents across all income levels to sustainably-raised, locally grown food while building relationships between the land, each other, and food.”
Their approach is to subsidize one-fifth of qualified members’shares (similar to a getting a scholarship) in two CSA farms: Square Roots Farm in Lanesborough and Many Forks Farm in Clarksburg. The subsidy consists of a no-interest loan at the beginning of each season. Later up to 50 percent of the share cost may be forgiven, and “the remaining cost may be paid with federal SNAP (formerly food stamps) dollars,”explains its website. An example of yet another bridge; in this case, one between federal and local.
Similar programs are mushrooming throughout the county. While they each hold a particular twist, they ultimately serve a similar philanthropic purpose: social justice. The outcome is tangible, immediate —and yes, edible.
Also in North County, a group of Williams College students back in 1987, initiated The Berkshire Food Project. Today, it provides meals five times a week at the First Congregational Church in North Adams. It also plays the crucial role of offering nutritional education, much needed in the U.S where there are alarmingly high rates of obesity and diabetes, a growing epidemic, particularly among young people.
A more recent and nifty concept called “Suspended Groceries”sprang up this year among Williams College students.
Suspended Groceries sells coupons at the checkout counter of a local health food store, “Wild Oats,” which in turn go to The Berkshire Food Project and are later redeemed. Better than food stamps.
In Pittsfield, the “Revolution Garden Project”(a catchy title!) initiated by Carrie Petrik-Huff who has a background in farming, recently embarked in a more hands-on way to grow produce in one’s own backyard. With a $35,000 grant from the Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC), her modus operandi involves building and installing 4 x 8 foot raised vegetable beds equipped with soil, seeds and plants for homeowners and businesses. Food justice is at work here since by purchasing one you donate another. Carrie Petrik-Huff is also at work, literally. She does all the building and installing on site.
Heading out now to weed my own raised beds, overflowing with kale, collards, tomatoes —and yes, weeds, I’ll peer at those beds with a new eye. Why not duplicate them for another family?
For more information about how to purchase a tax free raised bed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Part 2: Community gardens: Gideon’s Garden at Tafts Farm in Great Barrington, the Immigrant Center in Pittsfield, and more.
The title of this series comes from the name of a soup kitchen in a beautiful church courtyard where I volunteered this winter in San Miguel.