Pittsfield farmers market seeks grant to increase access to fresh food

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PITTSFIELD — Fans of the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market are being urged to vote often for the group, as it competes for thousands of dollars in a national grant campaign that will support community and school garden and farming projects.

The organic seed and food purveyor, Seeds of Change, will be giving away a total of $300,000 in grants — in increments ranging from $5,000 up to $20,000 — to schools and communities. Pittsfield is among the 850 schools and community organizations across the country vying for funds.

Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market Manager Jessica Vecchia said that if Pittsfield can secure a grant, it will be used to support low-income families in getting better access to healthy food and nutrition programs.

To promote the city's participation in the contest, Vecchia said, "We're doing a lot of social media to get out the vote: Facebook, e-blast and Instagram."

Now through April 18, anyone can cast one online ballot per day at www.seedsofchangegrant.com. Once on the website, click on "Voting Gallery," and search for "Pittsfield" to find and click to vote for the market. Voters across the country will determine the top 50 applications. Seeds of Change will then choose 24 applicants to receive awards — two schools and two communities each getting $20,000, and $10,000 each going to 10 schools and 10 community groups. Vecchia expects the grant winners to be announced before the summer.

Seeds of Change aims to enhance the growth of local agriculture by financing backing organizations that teach adults and children about the food they eat and how it's grown.

With half of the city's residents placing into the low-income bracket, the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market from July to October 2015 instituted the "Double Value Program," for those using SNAP, WIC, senior coupons and other federal nutrition benefits.

"For example, every dollar in benefits a mother spends, she receives an equal amount in coupons — doubling her purchasing power," Vecchia said. "Last season, in just 13 weeks, the program put over $20,000 worth of fresh food on the tables of families in need."

A Seeds of Change grant could help expand this effort.

The market's 2016 weekly season at The Common on First Street is scheduled to start Saturday, May 14 and run through Oct. 15. Its hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A program of Alchemy Initiative, in partnership with the City of Pittsfield, the market debuted in 2013. Each Saturday up to 30 vendors cater to hundreds of people seeking fresh produce, meat, breads, flowers and plants, as well as hand-made items. In addition, the market features live music, chef-led cooking demonstrations, workshops, special events and family-friendly activities.

For more information about the market, visit farmersmarketpittsfield.org or email info@farmersmarketpittsfield.org.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233


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