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Community Discussion Focuses On Providing Healthy Food To Northern Berkshires

Jennifer Chait, flickr

A state-funded wellness initiative in the Northern Berkshires is holding a community discussion on addressing the region’s nutritional challenges.

The North Berkshire chapter of Mass In Motion, a state-funded program that encourages health-conscious lifestyles through exercise, nutrition, and community involvement, is holding a community-wide event that will focus on connecting residents to fresh and healthy food.

Amanda Chilson, Project Coordinator for Mass in Motion, said that the Northern Berkshires has a comparatively higher rate of obesity than the statewide average, and that obesity is often caused by poor nutrition. Chilson also said that some regions of the Northern Berkshires can be referred to as “food deserts.”

"The access to healthy food isn't as easily accessible as other places, whether it be because of distance, whether it be because of lack of farms...things like that," said Chilson.                          

A panel assembled for tonight’s meeting includes individuals from a variety of backgrounds associated with providing food, including farms, meal centers, grocery stores, and schools.

Cory Nichols, Food Service Director for North Adams Public Schools, said he will present to parents about how schools can help children meet their dietary needs. Nichols also spoke about some of the challenges schools are facing in obtaining healthy foods, including how changing federal meal plan requirements are limiting the amount of choices provided to schools from suppliers.

"When this first rolled out the foods were very expensive," said Nichols. "But now as more manufacturers jump on board, the prices will become more competitive and hopefully our program and our kids will be able to benefit from that."

 And now that schools are dismissing for the summer, and children and families cannot rely on meals provided by schools, Valerie Schwarz of the Berkshire Food Project in North Adams, is encouraging parents to learn of the services available in their area, including free meals provided by the Food Project.

"We encourage people to bring their kids down here," said Schwarz. "At least that is one less meal that one less meal that they have to purchase and provide for their children."

Schwarz also said she wants to inform attendees of the Food Projects community gardens and mobile pantry program.

And Suzy Konecky of Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown said she will be discussing the connection between local farms and their communities.

“We need our community members to be active in supporting us by buying our products if we are to continue to succeed. And dairy farms are closing all the time and the reason why that's happening is because people often don't see themselves as being active in agriculture in their area."

And Amanda Chilson said it’s all about informing the community.

The Healthy North Berkshire Connecting Community Through Food discussion is being held on June 19th from 5 to 7 p.m. at 107 Main St. in North Adams.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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