Berkshire Business

Coordinating farmers markets: Federal grant will help form Berkshire Market Collective

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PITTSFIELD — There are 20 independent farmers markets currently operating in the Berkshires, according to two local food agencies. With help from a federal grant, an organization is being formed to coordinate their efforts.

The Berkshire Market Collective Project is being formed with the help of a three-year $238,595 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that has been awarded to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and two partner organizations — Berkshire Farm & Table and the Alchemy Initative.

The two local organizations had applied for the grant from the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service Farmers Promotion Program in 2016, but sought the BRPC's help with it earlier this year.

The Berkshire Market Collective will address the growing needs of these 20 independent markets by building capacity, addressing market challenges, and providing an ongoing support network to farmers market managers, while increasing customer volume and sales in order to contribute to the region's economic development.

"The Berkshire Market Collective is a fantastic way to connect the farming industry to the statewide demand for accessible, healthy foods," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who chairs the state Legislative Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture.

"The Berkshires have many positive attributes — among them is its dedication to local farms and businesses," said U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, in a statement. "This grant will be a major resource for producers and consumers alike in continuing to promote the array of goods produced in this region."

NEED IS THERE

The Sustainable Berkshires Project, developed in 2014, indicates that the resident demand for fresh vegetables is more than twice the current supply and the demand for fresh fruits and berries is roughly four times the current supply, according to BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns.

"Despite a more than adequate customer base, local farmers continue to struggle to make ends meet during a relatively short growing season," he said. "BRPC hopes to address this by serving as a neutral facilitator of the Berkshire Market Collective and building capacity of the 20 independent farmers markets in the region."

The collective's objective are to create a resource for market managers to share information, knowledge and expertise; and meet with market managers to assess the needs and challenges of each individual market. A discussion forum and toolkit will be created to share information, streamline market operations, provide training and reduce the administrative burden of managing a farmers market.

The collective will also determine a baseline of sales in dollars and initial customer counts to document the volume of sales increases and percentage changes in customer count over the course of the three-year project. the projects will also develop a unified marketing strategy to create opportunities rather than barriers and promote each of the independent markets though a universal campaign that is contemporary, customer-friendly and cost-effective.

The work will begin with outreach to market managers, development of a strategic plan and three-year timeline, and a search for marketing design and data collection vendors. Information-gathering sessions will take place before the end of the year to begin the development of a resource-sharing network. For information about the collective contact BRPC program manager Melissa Provencher at 413 442-1521 ext. 22.


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