PITTSFIELD — With some generous assistance from the state, Roots Rising has taken a major step toward the creation of one of its signature projects.
A nonprofit organization that empowers youth and builds community through food and farming, Roots Rising recently received a $430,219 food security infrastructure grant from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs toward the creation of a ”youth farm.”
The facility will serve as a work site for Roots Rising’s youth work crews, as a community and food hub, and as the headquarters for an organization that has never had a fixed centralized location.
“We’ve been hard at work behind the scenes and look forward to sharing more about this exciting initiative in the near future,” said Jessica Vecchia, who runs Roots Rising with co-founder and co-director Jamie Samowitz.
“The grant was really specific about what this could fund,” she said. “It allows us to purchase the equipment we need to get the farm underway.”
Roots Rising’s main focus is its youth work crews, groups of teenagers that form three times a year and operate in the spring, summer and fall — Pittsfield residents age 14 through 18 are eligible to join — and its operation of the Pittsfield Farmer’s Market, which began in 2013. It was the first farmers market in the Berkshires to be operated by teenagers.
The youth farm facility is currently in the design phase while Vecchia and Samowitz look for a place to locate the farm in Pittsfield. The two directors have been involved in the land research and acquisitions process for the last 18 months, according to Samowitz. They’ve narrowed down their options, Samowitz said, but have yet to commit to a particular site.
“Accessibility is important to us,” she said, when asked what Roots Rising was looking for in a location.
“We’re trying to be thoughtful and deliberate in this process to ensure that we select the right land for this project,” she said. “Moving forward with one parcel would be our next big step. Ideally, we’d love to be on the land in this calendar year.”
“It’s a lot more work and a lot longer of a process that we had anticipated,” Vecchia said.
Once the site has been selected, Vecchia and Samowitz have not set a time frame in which to build. The facility may also include an education center and a drop-in gathering space. Samowitz characterizes the entire project as a “multi-year and multi-phase” process.
“It will take years to implement,” she said, referring to the completion of the entire project. “We’re really in the beginning stages right now.”
According to Roots Rising’s website, the youth farm is intended to integrate the nonprofit’s food justice and youth development work while supporting the organization’s deepest goals, which are connecting youth to the land and making healthy food available to everyone.
“We’re really excited about this farm being a showcase for our innovative sustainable approaches to food production,” Samowitz said.
“The possibilities for what we can become and accomplish together are infinite,” said Roots Rising’s farm program manager Lauren Piotrowski. “It’s a different way altogether of thinking about community and agriculture.”
Having a centralized location will also be a plus for an organization that hasn’t had a place to call home since it was founded five years ago.
“We’ve been operating as a pop-up organization since our inception,” Samowitz said. “It’s allowed us not to have the overhead that other organizations have, but I think there’s so much more work we can do if we have a space where people can come to us.”