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WAMC News

Berkshire County planners prepare for farming future

By Patrick Donges

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-965196.mp3

Pittsfield, MA – The farming plan is part of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission's process for development of a sustainability plan for Berkshire County. The planning commission has received a $590,000 Sustainable Communities Planning Grant grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the project.

Commission Senior Planner Amy Kacala says the importance of farming as part of the overall sustainability of the county became evident as the commission worked with the city of North Adams and the town of Great Barrington. Both locations are developing their own sustainability plans, which include farming.

"Local food impacts a number of factors, so we thought it would be important to spend some time focusing on that."

Part of the plan will aim to find ways for farmers to bring "value added" goods to market. Kacala said simply canning some foods would make them more marketable on the local level, mentioning the state farms to school initiative as one potential place goods could be sold if properly processed.

"I do not believe that food is coming from the Berkshires, I believe it's coming mostly from Pioneer Valley and that's because they can process it to a degree where the schools can intake it and use it. Part of this is spurred by the fact that we see some of the farmers struggling. What local supports could be employed to support agricultural in another way, or for new farmers getting involved, what supports to they need? This planning process will look at both of those."

The county will be divided into five regional workgroups which will begin work on the plan. Planners will base their process on the "Keep Farming" program developed by Glynwood, a non-profit organization and working farm in Cold Spring, NY.

Virginia Kasinki is the director of community based programs at Glynwood.

"We developed the Keep Farming Community to bring together residents, local officials and farmers. Working in western mass is our first foray out of our immediate area."

Mary Beth Merritt is chairwoman of the Great Barrington Agricultural Commission, the group which first contacted Glynwood about using the "Keep Farming" program.

"Agricultural does lend itself to becoming part of the economic base. In our research we're finding that money or income that is generated by agriculture has a multiplier effect on the local economy, and a lot of the dollars that are generated stay in the community."

Kacala said community reaction to the program has been positive, and that the regional planning groups are beginning to organize and plan their next steps.