Volunteers Seek to Strengthen Farms in Central Berkshires

Nov 29, 2012

A farm in Egremont, MA
Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

A grassroots initiative designed to strengthen the agricultural economy and address the needs of area farmers has kicked off in the Central Berkshires. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports…

Keep Berkshires Farming, an initiative that originally began in the Southern Berkshires two years ago, and then was adopted in Northern Berkshire Communities, began a new campaign in the central Berkshire county towns of Pittsfield, Lanesboro, Lenox, Dalton, Hancock, Peru, and Hinsdale. A cooperative effort between the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Hudson Valley-based Glynwood, seeks to improve access to healthy local foods and strengthen local agriculture.

Virginia Kasinki, director of community-based programs at Glynwood, said that her organization first started a Keep Farming initiative in the Hudson Valley ten years ago. She says the initiative has brought farmers to the table in community discussion.

She said since the program first began in New York, it has allowed the agricultural community to provide themselves with tools to re-energize farming and a means of economic development.

Agricultural Census data last collected in 2007 shows that 65% of Berkshire farmers are operating at a loss, 48% rely on outside sources of revenue, and the average age of farmers in Berkshire County is 58. The average farm’s income sits around $39,000, and rising costs of land, rising food prices, and a lack of processing infrastructure are all barriers to growth.

Some good news is that there is a growing interest in farming the Berkshires, with 121 farms added between 2002 and 2007, and 94% of farms are family owned.

However, despite all of this data, Amy Kacala, a senior planner at the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, says that many important details of the Berkshire agricultural economy are often over-looked and out-dated.

That data includes finding out what the demand for certain products is, what farmers would like to produce, and what farmers need. To help find specific detail, the Keep Berkshires Farming initiative has split the county up into 5 regions. At the North Central region kickoff, farmers and other stakeholders began the process of organizing and determining the community’s needs. The volunteers will next conduct an assessment, and by next year, develop an action plan.

Gordon Clark of the Food Bank of Western Mass. attended, and discussed with organizers on what the region’s emergency food shelters need.

Clark said that in Berkshire County, the demand for emergency food is on the rise, and providing those in need with local food would have significant benefit.

A kickoff for the Keep Berkshires Farming in South Central Berkshire County, is schedule to take place in January.

More information can be found here:  http://www.keepberkshiresfarming.org/