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Roots Rising rolls out no-contact Virtual Farmers Market

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PITTSFIELD — In the age of social distancing, strolling a farmers market and picking through freshly grown agricultural products seems like a world away. But, the group that runs the Pittsfield Farmers Market has found a way to continue to safely provide local, organic food to residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Saturday, Roots Rising rolled out its Virtual Farmers Market in what organizers described as a "soft opening," with the hope of expanding its reach as the coronavirus crisis continues.

Roots Rising co-director Jamie Samowitz and board member Sue Kelly were among those on hand for Saturday's launch and described the process from order to delivery.

Under the program, customers can visit rootsrising.org and place their orders for Saturday pickup. Customers can opt for curbside pickup at 730 Tyler St. or delivery to their home with a $25 minimum order. All deliveries will be no-contact, with items left on the doorstep and no signature required.

All told, 15 volunteers helped distribute food to 100 local households through delivery and curbside pickup, according to Jess Vecchia, co-director of Roots Rising, and nine farmers and producers provided locally made products.

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"We can see right away that the need is huge, especially right now," she said. "This community wants to be accessing local food — farmers need assistance reaching people who can't make it to their farms and farm stands."

On Saturday, the typical order ranged from five to 15 items for the first week, for a total of about $4,000.

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"All of that money goes into the pockets of local farms and food producers," Vecchia said. "That money goes right into their pockets and that much local food goes right out into the community. ... We don't take a penny from those sales."

Customers who receive SNAP benefits currently cannot pay for their orders using those benefits online or via phone and, due to safety protocols, Roots Rising cannot take those SNAP payments in person for the time being.

In light of that, Samowitz and Kelly said Roots Rising is offering a $30 food credit and $5 delivery credit to SNAP recipients, those who recently have lost their job or those in economic hardship because of the pandemic.

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In the meantime, the group is continuing to advocate to allow online and phone SNAP purchases and hopes to expand the market's reach in coming weeks.

"With one week under our belts, our plan is to refine systems and expand the market," Vecchia said. "Next week, we'll move to delivery only and we'll deliver countywide. We'll also increase the number of vendors who sell with us."

The Virtual Farmers Market is made possible by emergency money provided by the Berkshire United Way, the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Berkshire Agricultural Ventures and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com and @BobDunn413 on Twitter.


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