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Commissioner of Agriculture Randle discusses current state of farming during Berkshire County tour

Berkshire Grown Exeutive Director Margaret Moulton said that farms in Berkshire County have “a strong collaborative spirit,” which has bolstered the region's agricultural sector.

Berkshire County — Berkshire Grown held its annual farm tour on Tuesday, July 9.

The mission of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is to support and promote local agriculture in Berkshire County.

The tour started at River Run Farm in Great Barrington, which is the planned future home of Off the Shelf Farm. The tour also included Greenagers/April Hill Farm in South Egremont, Dancing Greens Farms/The Farm in New Marlborough, and the Berkshire Mobile Farmers Market in Monterey.

Members of multiple local organizations and the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources and state Agriculture Commissioner Ashley Randle all took part in the tour.

Members of local organizations, farms, and the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources at the beginning of the Berkshire County farm tour on July 9. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.
The Berkshire County farm tour was organized by Berkshire Grown. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.
Off the Shelf Farm employee Cecelia Clary preparing egg sandwiches for attendees. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.
More than 50 people attended the July 9 tour. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

In an interview with The Berkshire Edge, Commissioner Randle said that, coming out of the pandemic, the current state of agriculture and farming in Massachusetts is strong. “We had new farms that opened during the pandemic, and we really saw a new interest from consumers in supporting their local farms,” Randle said. “We’ve seen that continue since the pandemic with a lot of new and beginning farmers starting their farms in Massachusetts.”

Randle said that there are currently over 7,000 farms all across the state. “I would say that, while the state of agriculture is strong in Massachusetts, there are certainly challenges that are not unique just to this state,” Randle said. “There are labor challenges, along with high land prices that makes it difficult for farms to expand or enter the agriculture industry. But I would say that, overall, agriculture is strong in Massachusetts because of the support of the state, along with the diversification that we’re seeing taking place on farms that has helped farms to become sustainable.”

Randle credited several of the state’s agricultural programs in helping farmers. “The state has a land licensing program to help new and beginning farmers access land at a reduced rate,” Randle said. “Through that program, the state works with farmers to find land that they can purchase to build out their farms. Land prices are one of the biggest barriers to new and beginning farmers, as well as farmers who are looking to acquire more land to sustain their operations. Through our work at the department, as well as our partners at the American Farmland Trust and Land for Good organizations, we’ve been working together through our agricultural preservation restriction program to be able to protect more farms, which makes land more accessible to farmers.”

Randle also credited the state’s grant programs in helping the agriculture sector. “We have some of the most robust grant programs in the country, whether it’s for land access, climate resiliency, healthy soils, as well as infrastructure,” Randle said. “One of the grant programs that’s really become a prominent program is the food security infrastructure grant program that was launched by the state in 2020 to help farms respond to both short-term infrastructure needs as well as long-term needs. There is a strong state investment in our farms, as well as leveraging federal funds as much as we can to support farms. In terms of labor, the state is in the process of doing a workforce development study to look at what types of programs we at the state can launch to help support labor needs.”

Berkshire Grown Executive Director Margaret Moulton (left) and Off the Shelf Farm co-owner Anna Houston (right). Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

Berkshire Grown Exeutive Director Margaret Moulton said that farms in Berkshire County have “a strong collaborative spirit,” which has bolstered the region’s agricultural sector. “Massachusetts is incredibly lucky because we have an incredible, supportive, and innovative Department of Agriculture,” Moulton said. “They’re looking a lot at climate change, and they’re also looking a lot at how to support small farmers and businesses. The department has done a lot to support agricultural organizations like Berkshire Grown and others that work to support local food and farms.”

Moulton emphasized the uniqueness of the farming community in Berkshire County compared to other farming communities in the region. “We have a lot of small farms in Berkshire County,” Moulton said. “We’re not like the Pioneer Valley or the Hudson Valley, which has acres and acres of continuous, contiguous farmland. Our farms are made up of small patches. I think our farms are pretty strong, but they struggle with the same things that any small business struggles with, including outreach, marketing, and how to get their product out to as many people as possible. And staffing is hard across the state, including finding staff for farms and farmers’ markets. But to me, the common thread of all of these farms is that community collaboration and partnerships are what support local farms in the Berkshires.”

Off the Shelf Farm co-owner Anna Houston, who co-owns the farm with her husband Rob Perazzo, credits organizations such as Berkshire Grown in helping her business. “Where would we be without Berkshire Grown?” Houston said. “We are grateful to the organization for all of their support over the years. I can’t speak for all Berkshire County farm owners, but there is a mixture of success and challenges for them. The economy is suffering a bit, and I think people are watching what they are spending because the price of everything is going up. But I would say that there has been support in other ways from organizations and the state.”

For more information about Berkshire Grown, visit its website.

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