Ending racial inequity is inseparable from supporting local food systems
Berkshire Grown stands in solidarity with everyone fighting for racial equity and racial justice, and with them, we affirm that Black Lives Matter.
In this time of country-wide crisis, we continue our work to support local farmers and food producers, and to share their fresh, locally-grown bounty with all community members. That work has taken on deepened relevance as the Coronavirus has laid bare our broken food system; we can clearly see that returning to the previous "normal" is not an option.
To support local agriculture as a vital part of the Berkshire community, we need to be accountable to the history that created this economy and landscape, and that history includes slavery on a very local level. Not many New Englanders feel comfortable with the idea that enslaved people created the agricultural landscape we treasure, but were it not for enslaved Africans in the 18th century, Colonel John Ashley (of Elizabeth Freeman's fame) could not have cleared any of his 3,000 acres in the Sheffield plain, land which was acquired by early colonists' invasion of native nations. Ashley could not have grown a single crop or transported it to market without the labor of enslaved individuals. Similarly, the Philipse family in the nearby Hudson Valley depended on a multitude of enslaved Africans for field labor as well as managing their farm and mill complex. Black people turned these prime soils into farmland three centuries ago, but to this day they have little or no equity in farmland in Massachusetts or elsewhere in the U.S.
We must acknowledge our debt to the Berkshires' agricultural history that includes slavery and stolen lands, and we need to understand that our locally-grown and produced food is not affordable to everyone in the Berkshires. Ending racial inequity is inseparable from the work of building equitable local food systems. At Berkshire Grown we are stepping back to assess what work we need to do to help dismantle the inequities in our food system, and to develop strategies for how we can work alongside those who are leading the fight for food justice and racial equity.
Much of what we all need to do is learn, and the managers of the Great Barrington Farmers Market have provided an informative list of resources and action steps, some of which you can access here.
As a staff, we commit to learning more about racial justice and food sovereignty by undertaking the
Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge
over the next 21 weeks, and dedicating a portion of our weekly staff meetings to this discussion.
Together is how we make change, and Berkshire Grown commits to working with you to build a just and fair food system in the Berkshires and in our nation.
A Deeper Look Below the Ground
by Martha Jackson Suquet
Berkshire Grown member farms produce an amazing variety of food, from fresh fruits and vegetables to meat, dairy and eggs (not to mention flowers, wool, medicinal herbs, etc.). Farmers use different methods to maximize production and quality, but at the root of every bite of local food you eat lies one thing: soil health.
What is soil health, and why is it critical to farmers and consumers? While some people think soil is "just dirt", the reality is that under the ground you'll find a complex web of organic matter, living organisms, rocks and minerals, and more. Soil science is too complex a subject to cover in detail here, but it's important to know that healthy farm soil relies on several key factors:
- Organic Matter: Living or formerly living materials like compost improve nutrient availability and soil structure.
- Nutrients: Healthy soil contains macro and micro nutrients in forms that plants can access.
- Structure: Plant roots, nutrients and water need to be able to move through the soil; healthy soil isn't compacted.
Farming without managing soil health risks stripping soil of nutrients and damaging its structure. Plants and grazing animals can take a lot of nutrition from the soil, while heavy tractors and foot traffic can cause compaction. Relying too heavily on chemical fertilizers, insecticides, or herbicides can also affect the living soil web and result in poor soil health.
Successful farmers use regenerative practices to ensure that their soils are able to stay healthy and productive from season to season. These practices vary from farm to farm, and include different strategies like cover cropping, incorporating compost into the soil, rotational grazing, minimizing tillage, crop rotation, and keeping tabs on their soil through regular testing. Farmers need to be creative and strategic as they balance the needs of their soil with their need to produce crops for market.
We asked several of our member farms for examples of how they care for their soil. At
Red Shirt Farm
in Lanesborough, farmer Jim Schultz tries to "minimize tillage to preserve soil structure and soil biology" while creating "a soil that holds more water...and grows more nutritious, more resilient crops". Evan Thaler-Null at
in New Lebanon, NY uses draft horses in the field as part of a "soil-based system [focused] on diversity, cover cropping, composts, minerals amendments, and careful crop rotation".
Melinda Cruzen of member farm Berkshire Worms understands the importance of healthy, biologically active soil and uses vermicomposting (composting with worms) to improve soils. She observes that "plants want to grow. We are just trying to give them the best environment possible to thrive--and the best environment for plants is healthy soil."
So, the next time you bite into a crunchy locally-grown carrot or enjoy a grass-fed steak, remember the complexity of the soil that produced your food, and the hard work that farmers put into keeping their soil healthy for future seasons.
Hungry for more? Keep an eye out for more soil health stories in upcoming newsletters.
Soil health isn't just a concern for farmers. You can get the most out of your home garden
by paying attention to your soil, whether that's with soil testing from a lab or simply observing your soil from season to season and making improvements where you can. For the home gardener, soil health improvements can include adding compost, mulching, and finding ways to avoid rototilling. Home gardeners can learn more about soil health in the garden from the Cornell and UMass Extension programs.
*Please note that the soil testing labs at both universities are currently closed due to COVID-19. Soil testing is available through Dairy One in Ithaca, NY.*
Berkshire Grown in the News:
annah Van Sickle
The Berkshire Edge,
June 10, 2020
Berkshire Grown introduces new resources to connect farmers during pandemic
The rhythms of the natural world have been particularly alluring to me since hunkering in at home this spring. More than once over the past 90 days, I've imagined the comfort to be found in farming: not so much the rising before dawn, but the waking each day knowing the dewy fields held the promise of work - dare I say distraction - with the knowledge of a tremendous reward come June. Since COVID-19 arrived and irrevocably changed the surrounding Berkshires landscape for so many, Berkshire Grown has evolved at a quick clip. In particular, the local nonprofit, the mission of which is to keep farmers farming, has transformed its in-person workshops and farmer-to-farmer networking events into a series of evening web chats and podcasts for farmers, who are hopefully not too exhausted by day's end to utilize them.
Read the full article here.
he Berkshire Edge, June 12, 2020
Local schools to provide access to food during summer months
The stone wall outside of Farmington River Regional Elementary School has been a saving grace of sorts for the district's students and families since the building closed in mid-March. "It's difficult to pull up to the school and take food from someone," food service director Kendra Rybacki told The Edge in a recent phone interview. But that is exactly what families have been doing each Tuesday morning for the past 13 weeks. "I try to make it as discreet as possible, using the same person [to greet families] each week, [but I have to wonder]: How many more families would use this service if it looked different?" Rybacki, in her 21st year at Farmington River Regional School District, spent the past three months working with a core group of volunteers to provide weekly food boxes for families. As the regularity of "school" ends for schools across southern Berkshire County, an integral variable remains: Summer vacation can be anxiety-provoking for families who rely on the myriad supports the school year provides, among them access to healthy meals.
June is Dairy month!
Amelia Conklin, Sky View Farm. A picture is worth 1,000 words. Berkshire Grown photo.
Milk is packed with important nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, potassium and Vitamin D. Milk is an excellent source of protein. Drinking milk and digesting dairy products may prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures and helps maintain a healthy weight!
Here are some Berkshire farmers who make it possible for the tall glasses of cold milk and other nutritious dairy products to reach your table. Visit their farm or join their CSA, and they will sell you milk, cheese, and other dairy products direct from their farms. Now, that is fresh and local!
Hawthorne Valley Farm, Ghent, NY
North Plain Farm/ Blue Hill Farm
Sky View Farm, Sheffield, MA
Coming this summer:
High Lawn Farm Creamery Shop, Lee, MA
What We Are Reading:
By Alex Robinson for Modern Farmer
Farmers Groups Fear Coronavirus Aid Won't Reach Hardest Hit Farmers
Farming organizations say farmers of color and small growers will likely fall through the cracks.
Farming groups fear black farmers may face barriers when it comes to CFAP.
Last week, the US Department of Agriculture said it had approved $545 million in direct payments to nearly 36,000 farmers and ranchers who have struggled during the pandemic, as part of the $16-billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).
The program has been touted as the largest single direct payment to American farmers in history. And yet farming organizations are worried that CFAP won't do enough to help many small growers and farmers of color who have been among some of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
By Sarah Gardner for The Berkshire Edge
Food security starts here: The next generation of Berkshire dairy farmers
Two next-generation farmers help guarantee food security in the Berkshires.
Darrell Turner was planting corn at his South Egremont farm in May when a neighbor stopped and asked him what he was doing.
"We have a lot of city people, like that neighbor, who are usually only here on the weekend," said Turner, 36. "They didn't realize that we actually farmed in the area."
It took the pandemic for the general public to realize that most of the food we eat in New England comes from somewhere else. It also made them realize a good way to avoid shortages was to turn to local producers. Massachusetts farmers have reported a run at their farms for eggs, meat, cheese and veggies since the lockdown began. "They are suddenly interested in what we're doing," Turner says.
What the Berkshires have in abundance is milk. Seventeen of the state's 117 dairy farms are in Berkshire County. They manage most of the farmland and inject millions into the local economy each year. Massachusetts is more food-sufficient for dairy than for anything else and most of the milk is bottled or processed into products sold in state. That's important when 24% of the state's residents are now facing food insecurity
The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook:
125 Homegrown Recipes from the Hills of New England
by Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner
with Chef Brian Alberg
2020 Guide to Local Food & Farms
Now more than ever, connections to local food and farms hold our community together.
Berkshire Grown's 2020 Guide to Local Food and Farms is the region's best guide to farms, farmers markets, and restaurants offering local foods.
Use this Guide to find farm stands, CSA farms, pick-your-own farms and orchards, as well as locally sourced, value-added products like charcuterie, preserves, and fermented foods.
Connect to the Guide here to see descriptions of Berkshire farms, farmers markets, restaurants and local food businesses, with addresses and a detailed map. Or, pick up a printed copy at your local grocery store or farm stand. Keep the Guide handy and use it frequently!
Shop Local Now!
Find Farms and Food Producers offering Home Delivery, Farm Stands, Farmers Markets, CSA's, Online Ordering, and Retail Outlets stocking local goods.
Greenhouse Business for sale
in Lee, MA. The Golden Hill Nursery has 41 years of business and a great following, farm land available and potential to add a farm market. If interested, please email.
General Manager at Wild Oats Market, Williamstown, MA.
for complete Job Announcement.
Support Berkshire Grown, local food, and our farmers.
Stay in Touch
Berkshire Grown's e-newsletter comes out monthly.
Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Andrea Caluori, Program Manager
Jess Camp, Program Manager
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Membership and Office Manager
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