Keep Berkshires Farming seeks to boost agriculture in the area


PITTSFIELD -- The local farming movement is offering you a seat at the table.

Today, an initiative called Keep Berkshires Farming will kick off its Central Berkshire County campaign at a 6:30 p.m. event at the First Baptist Church of Pittsfield.

Keep Berkshires Farming is a group of volunteers working to understand the region's food system and to collect data and find ways to strengthen the local agricultural economy and markets, while increasing everyone's access to local food.

Originally initiated nearly two years ago by the Great Barrington Agricultural Commission, Keep Berkshires Farming is now extending its efforts through the entire county, with support from the Glynwood Center, a nonprofit in Cold Spring, N.Y., and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

The Keep Farming movement began nearly 10 years ago in New York's Hudson Valley, and a pilot study was performed in Chatham, N.Y., in 2003.

Virginia Kasinki, director of community-based programs for the Glynwood Center, said the goal was "to find a way of getting the community more engaged with agriculture and getting people to understand the impact agriculture has on the community -- not just in terms of food, but in terms of space, health and the economy."

Kasinki said the Keep Farming strategy enlists interested volunteers to engage farmers, residents and elected officials in working together to use surveys to identify a community's agricultural and food needs and produce data-driven programs to fill the gaps.

Melissa Adams serves as a regional representative from Glynwood on the project.

According to a Keep Berk shires Farming flier, one in five families with children struggle with hunger and food insecurity in the Berkshires. More than 60 percent of adults in Western Massachusetts are considered overweight -- the highest in the state.

The flier also states that most of the region's food is transported almost 1,500 miles before reaching local tables versus being sourced within the county.

Amy Kacala, senior planner with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, said the county is currently sectioned into five areas for Keep Berkshires Farming, each which will have its own working group.

The Great Barrington region and northern Berkshire region have already surveyed their communities and are in the process of identifying needs.

Central Berkshire will commence its work at tonight's event at the First Baptist Church. The goal is to have the rest of the county surveyed by the end of 2013.

Kacala said at tonight's meeting, people can learn how to volunteer for the project and will be given data collection materials.

Ultimately, the county's survey results will be folded into the new regional development and sustainability plan being formulated for the Berkshires.


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