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Berkshire Agricultural Ventures rakes in almost $1M in federal grants

Don Perdue
Berkshire Agricultural Ventures

A Berkshire County agricultural nonprofit has received almost $1 million in federal grants from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Glenn Bergman is the Executive Director of Great Barrington-based Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, formed about five years ago.

“To assist in the local agricultural economy, to improve it, to make it stronger, and both at the farm level and at the production level," he explained. "So people working with local food, whether it's restaurants or producers, or it's a farmer or someone trying to get into farming at many different levels, whether it's animal production, wool, vegetables, fermented products, things like that.”

Of the two grants that BAV has received from the USDA, one is from its Regional Food System Partnership to the tune of nearly $500,000.

“We are going to go out and partner as we have been doing with local processors and livestock growers to get them together at the table over a period of three years to work on additional funding to help them both streamline the process, improve the process, improvement basically at the processing level and to also assist with storage and logistics of getting product from the farm to the processor to the consumer," said Bergman. "And nobody is doing that for these local small farmers or processors at the present time, except for us in our region.”

Bergman says that about 85% of the country’s meat is processed by about half a dozen large companies.

“The inefficiency for the local small farmer is that they're nowhere nearby for the small farmer to use and utilize," he said. "So we need to come up with something that works for the small farmer. And that's what this USDA, the RFSP grant is about, is helping the small farmers and processors work together to bring the price down a little bit, and to also get the product to market here in our region. And by doing that improving the local economy of agriculture for these farmers and processors. These are small businesses, these processors, working on really tight margins. Many of them are family-owned, a few of them are women-owned, and they don't have the resources for technical support around process improvement, financial planning. And so that’s what we’re providing for them.”

The second USDA grant comes in at just under $500,000 from its Local Food Promotion Program. To fulfill it, BAV will team up with Pittsfield’s Berkshire Organics to focus on streamlining local food access for folks in the region.

“That is a big issue for farmers," said Bergman. "The need is great in our region. It is estimated that only about 12% of food consumed in our region is local food. We want to get that up to 30%. To do that, we- There's a demand for local food. That is by far very clear, both in meat product, and in general, farm or locally produced product. And so our goal is to help increase that percentage of local consumption of product and become more self-reliant in this region on local product and build that economy. We're talking about jobs, we're talking about trying to save farmland, working and collaborating with many different people to try and also save this farmland specifically for agricultural use, not just conservation use.”

The effort isn’t limited to Berkshire County.

“We're looking at the processors that surround this area," said Bergman. "They're in Columbia County, Dutchess County, Litchfield County, and even just a little bit east of us from the Berkshires. But we're looking at this as a regional program, not just one county.”

You can learn more about Berkshire Agricultural Ventures here.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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