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Lanesborough’s Red Shirt Farm is looking to become a hub for Berkshire local foods with new store, kitchen expansion

Josh Landes

A farm in Lanesborough, Massachusetts is undertaking a major expansion that will add a farm store and commercial kitchen to its property along Route 7.

Red Shirt Farm sits on 10 acres in the rolling hills of Berkshire County just south of the sprawling Mount Greylock State Reservation.

“We’re regenerative farm, which means that we work with nature, and everything we do is about supporting soil health and animal welfare, which isn't always the case on a lot of farms," said farmer Jim Schultz. “We produced two acres of intensive organic vegetables that we raise in a no-till way, which means that we're not turning over the soil with all sorts of equipment. And we also raise pastured heritage chickens, turkeys, and pigs. And heritage breeds are breeds that have been around for hundreds of years prior to the factory farming revolution. So, there are animals that still have their basic genetics and can reproduce naturally and grow at a natural rate, unlike a lot of the animals that are in the conventional food system now.”

Schultz, who spent years working as an educator in the Pittsfield Public School system, has been working the land and participating in the local food economy with the rest of the Red Shirt team for over 20 years.

“Since we've been farming, there's been a resurgence in local food production and people wanting local foods," he told WAMC. "So, we've seen a growth in farmers markets. We've been at the North Adams market for going on seven years, I think. And when we started, there wasn't nearly as much traffic as there is there is now. So, I think there's been a growth in that way. And then also, in recognition of CSAs. And CSAs are Community Supported Agriculture farms, where people are members in the farm, and that's something I think that there's definitely more awareness and more members, people wanting to know where their food is coming from and how it's grown and knowing the farmer that’s growing it is really what a CSA is all about. And we've seen a growth in that trend as well.”

The decision to undertake a $700,000 project to add a farm store and commercial kitchen to the Red Shirt property is line with that trend.

“It's going to be hopefully a community resource, one for the food, it's going to be a place where we market all the food that we grow," said Schultz. "But more importantly, in my opinion, it's a place that we're going to be aggregating and being a hub for all the other farmers in Berkshire County who don't have quite the luxury that we do of being directly on Route 7. We've got 5,000 cars that go by us every day, 7,000 in the summer. And so, it's a perfect spot for visibility.”

Schultz has big ambitions for how the commercial kitchen can impact the local food economy.

“If you have tomatoes that are blemished, customers don't want them," he said. "What you do with them? Well, we feed them to our pigs. But it would be much better if we could value-add those into salsas and sauces and things like that, can them, jar them and have them available year-round to all of our customers. So, we'll be value-adding our own products, but also making this kitchen available to other farmers to do the same thing. We are very adamant about food security and food access, that everybody should have access to the food that we're growing. So, we're [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and [Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program] certified, we have free and reduced shares for our CSAs. But here at the store, we also want to have our food be accessible to the entire community. So, we'll be extending those SNAP and HIP benefits as well, but also providing workshops for folks to learn how to process, prepare, and preserve the food that they're getting in our store.”

So far, Red Shirt has raised $350,000 for the project in grants and is carrying out a public fundraising campaign to help ease the burden of debt the farm will assume to cover the rest.

Economic leaders in the region are hailing the move, which they say is exactly what the Berkshire farming community needs.

“Over the last few years, one of the big identified gaps that we've seen is the value-added production level of support for the industry, whereby businesses can actually – farmers, for instance – can actually turn their product into something that has a higher value when it goes to market," Benjamin Lamb told WAMC. "So, having a shared kitchen space with a capacity to support other small farmers in processing their own goods is enormous.”

Lamb is Director of Economic Development at 1Berkshire, the regional economic development, marketing, and tourism organization for the county.

“The ability to have a another sort of hub whereby local product can be distributed at a local scale is a huge need, by being able to have a store where it's not just Red Shirt Farm, but it's also the other surrounding smaller farms, having a physical storefront where they can sell their stuff is going to allow the local population to access locally made and produced and grown food, but also, it contributes to our agritourism industry, where visitors are also looking for that authentic local food experience and can actually gain access to it year round,” said Lamb.

Schultz says that beyond bolstering the Berkshire farming economy, the Red Shirt farm store and kitchen plan comes after a stark reminder about the role of local food producers in a system still coming out of the pandemic emergency.

“We saw what happened with the supply chains during COVID, and how the store shelves quickly emptied," Schultz told WAMC. "And that's because we as a nation are dependent on a food system that is shipping food from 3,000 miles away, from California, from Florida, from South America. So, the importance of small farms regaining a foothold in the community and being the core resource of that community, not only for its food security, but also for community building. And I hope that that's what this project will do for Lanesborough.”

Construction on Red Shirt Farm’s new store and kitchen is expected to be completed later this year with a soft opening as early as December. A grand opening is planned for early 2024.

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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