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North Berkshire County Networks Local Food With Local Need

Volunteers and workers plating a meal at the Berkshire Food Project
Berkshire Food Project
Volunteers and workers plating a meal at the Berkshire Food Project

By Charlie Deitz


North Adams, Ma – In Northern Berkshire County, community gardens, local farms and food pantries are taking aim at poverty through a project called Target Hunger. In part 2 of a 5 part series on local food production, WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz reports on efforts to feed one of the hungriest communities in Massachusetts.

Just outside of downtown North Adams, about a dozen students from Drury high school stand on the lawn of the First Congregational Church surrounded by bags and bags of fresh produce. They've just made the rounds collecting harvests from community gardens set up at the local schools, hospital and VA. Jennifer Munoz is a community outreach worker with Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's program titled Reach for Community Health "Gardens organically grown,started a lot of seedlings in the greenhouse."

Munoz is having the students weigh the day's take, and sort the produce for the various food programs in the city. 15 year old Bernie, whose dad runs the local VA, says the vets and students work together on that garden, "I don't know how much but we've gotten a lot for anyone who can't afford it."

The students hooked up with Reach through a program called Steps, which helps incoming freshmen get ready for high school. Munoz is working to make sure the students have something to do year round, "This is a theme that can run for the entire school year."

The First Congregational Church is also the home of the Berkshire Food Project, a daily hot meal site and food pantry run by Valerie Schwarz who notices that since the student program began, they actually have extra vegetables to give away after the daily meal, "We had a lot of zucchini, Adam gave them recipes for beets." She's referring to Adam Quimby, a chef by trade, who now works to prepare top quality meals for the hungriest people in North Adams, "This is a good job, it makes me feel good at the end of the day."

On this day, like most days over the summer the students and organizers are getting ready to prepare the day's meal. Bringing these groups together and working to create a sustainable system for local food production is Kim McMann, project coordinator at Target Hunger, a grant program launched by the Food bank of western Massachusetts, "Part of this is also helping people to learn that people like fresh vegetables."

McMann is overseeing the growing network of local food producers and making sure that everyone keeps an eye on the neediest residents. While the group works on preparing the meal, McMann takes me over to Square Root farm in Clarksburg a few minutes away, one of the farms that helps provide the bulk of produce and meats for the local pantries. McMann explains that Square Root is a Community Supported Agriculture group that holds 20 percent of their yield for low income members "We started a group called Hoosac Harvest to cut prices in half and work with each family."

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts reports that 11 percent of households in northern Berkshire have experienced moderate to severe hunger, and 18 percent are considered food insecure. McMann is happy that during the recession that rate hasn't gone up and the people are at least getting quality food from the local pantries. Back at the Berkshire Food project, Adam Quimby is plating the day's meal, chicken salad with vegetables, pasta and a few trimmings, "Getting their serving of vegetables,chips and pickles."

40 or so community members sit down to enjoy their meal, one of which is Roy Dupree a retiree who is stuck to his oxygen tank after getting asbestos poisoning years ago, but he's thankful for the meals he gets Monday through Friday,"So this is a godsend for a lot of people."

September is National Hunger Action Month