In rural and under-served corners of the Berkshires, getting fresh local food onto the family tables can be a challenge. Now, two government grants totaling more than $1.4 million are breaking through barriers to rural food access and affordability.
Berkshire Grown is steering both programs, with a team of food-savvy local nonprofits and area farmers, in an intricate network connecting growers, distributors, and consumers.
Under a Massachusetts Department of Agriculture grant, locally grown food will supplement supplies at area food pantries and community meal sites. Also, CHP Berkshires’ medical practice locations around the county will offer food bags to area residents. Participating farmers will benefit because grant funds will be used to purchase their crops, which will be passed on for free to recipients.
This grant of $550,000 will be distributed over 18 months. Of this amount, $315,000 is earmarked to buy farmers’ produce, especially from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and woman-owned farms.
A three-year USDA grant of $890,293, administered by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, will fund two mobile farmers’ markets, which will be on the road later in 2023.
Between the two grants, participants include Berkshire Grown, Berkshire Bounty, CHP, Berkshires, and Southern Berkshire Rural Health Network.
“Each of these local organizations brings something complementary to the table in this web of farmers, consumers, and food security issues,” said Margaret Moulton, executive director of Berkshire Grown.
In Adams, farmers Meg Bantle and Laura Tupper-Palches established Full Well farm in 2018 with food justice in mind.
“Working with Berkshire Grown and other local organizations aligns with our mission of providing our community with fresh produce regardless of their finances while remaining a viable business,” said Tupper-Palches. “This is a way for us to build food security without sacrificing our revenue – because in the end, farms staying afloat is crucial for food security.”
Mary Feuer, Director of CHP Family Services, said CHP medical practices are excited that they will have free food available twice each month. CHP calls it “Food for All,” and anyone can come and grab a bag.
But free food distribution is not a first for CHP: Through several other state and private grant programs, CHP already acquires CSA shares and other food to distribute to WIC and nutrition program clients.
By September, Berkshire Bounty and Berkshire Grown (a local organization that seeks out excess fresh food donations from stores and other sources) will likely be on the road with two leased mobile farmer’s markets and a late summer harvest.
“Northern Berkshire County is a key priority for our rolling markets,” said Moulton. “We couldn’t be more excited about this creative new food security collaboration.”
$550,000 from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Local Food Purchasing Assistance Grant. Participants are Berkshire Grown, Berkshire Bounty, and Community Health Programs.
$890,293 from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service/Regional Food System Partnerships Participants: Berkshire Grown, Berkshire Bounty, CHP Berkshires, Berkshire United Way and Southern Berkshire Rural Health Network, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.