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Pittsfield Awarded Grant To Support Healthy Food Efforts

The Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market at the city's Common
Facebook: Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market
The Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market at the city's Common

The city of Pittsfield is among a group of 26 communities recently awarded a grant designed to revitalize neighborhoods through healthy food-oriented efforts.The Kresge Foundation is committing $75,000 to Pittsfield and a number of area organizations to support existing and develop new initiatives in the Morningside neighborhood. The community surrounding the once-thriving General Electric facility is designated by the state as a transformative development area. Megan Whilden, Pittsfield’s former cultural development director, wrote the grant application for the city as a volunteer. She says the planning award will help a number of organizations plan specific projects.

“Some of the proposals that were in the grant include encouraging the development of multicultural restaurants in Morningside,” Whilden said. “They already have wonderful Colombian, Polish, Mexican and Chinese restaurants because it’s such a multicultural and diverse neighborhood. One thought is to bring in a local food truck owner who’s been teaching classes about food trucks and do training for people who are interested in operating their own food truck.”

After starting with food booths at Pittsfield’s monthly street festival 3rd Thursday, Whilden says a number of entrepreneurs have gone on to open restaurants. She says another idea is to expand community gardens in the Morningside neighborhood.

“Also working with local artists to add artistic aspects to the gardens so that they become more beautiful and promote as places for the community,” Whilden said. “For example, IS183 art school has already worked with the folks at Pittsfield Community Gardens that’s at Morningside to do art around gardening and fresh food.”

One of the organizations included in the grant is the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market, in its fourth year. Manager Jess Vecchia says people still don’t about the market or how it works. The grant will support outreach efforts and identify barriers to accessing healthy food.

“Is transportation an issue?” Vecchia explained. “Are people able to get to the market? Do people know about SNAP benefits and double value program?

In addition, the Alchemy Initiative, which oversees the farmers market, is launching a youth workforce development program by working with Berkshire Botanical Garden. The grant is expected to assist in the planning process.

“Using local farms and community gardens as living classrooms and teaching teenagers about where their food comes from, connect them with the natural world and develop essential life skills,” Vecchia said. “They will work on the farm and they’ll learn things like accountability, leadership, conflict resolution and healthy lifestyle choices. So we’re not necessarily training these teens to be farmers, but giving them the skills that they’ll need in the workplace and to be part of the community.”

Vecchia says participants will also work in soup kitchens and food pantries along with attending workshops run by Williams College professors and others working in the food industry.

Whilden says more than 500 communities applied for the Kresge Foundation grant. After a year of planning, the 26 winning communities can apply for $100,000 implementation grants.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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