Support wanted in farming

Posted

Monday August 29, 2011

GREAT BARRINGTON -- A county-wide initiative is underway to quantify the impact and infrastructure of local foods and farming in order to foster greater support and address outstanding issues.

Keep Farming in the Berkshires is being organized on the county level by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Over the next year to 18 months, groups in five different regions in the county will organize and analyze the challenges and opportunities of their local agriculture as well as prepare a plan to impact legislation and address infrastructure challenges.

The most commonly cited farming data come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture, which is conducted every five years. But the census has its limitations locally, including identifying a farm only by its largest crop output and neglecting urban and community farms and gardens smaller than five acres, according to Amy Kacala, senior planner at the BRPC.

Kacala said the Keep Farming process, through surveys, outreach and farming forums, will enable a better understanding of the local situation.

"It’s harder to get a clear picture of what’s being produced locally without doing something like this," Kacala said.

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The project was started earlier this year in the southwest region with Keep Farming Great Barrington. Because both the BRPC and Great Barrington were in the process of setting up long-range master plans, the initiative was soon expanded to the entire county to couple with those efforts.

Ashley Lueders, a Keep Farming Great Barrington coordinator, said the ability to coincide with regional planning can only aid in raising the profile of local agriculture needs.

"The Keep Farming initiative often times doesn’t dovetail [with regional planning]," said Lueders. "We’re lucky in that sense, in that it’s a real opportunity for the community to really vision out where agriculture fits in to the larger planning process."

Keep Farming Great Barrington has already set up its volunteer coordination team. The goup is in the midst of outreach efforts, though they are still seeking volunteers in the five towns of Alford, Egremont, Great Barrington, Mount Washington and Sheffield.

The local efforts are following the Keep Farming model established by Glynwood, a nonprofit based in Cold Spring, N.Y. But Kacala said the Berkshire Keep Farming movement will likely deviate slightly from the Glynwood model to accommodate the size and diversity of the county’s local farming.

While the results of this process will likely include recommendations on food policy and farm-friendly local bylaws, Kacala said the biggest impact will likely be non-regulatory. She said plans will look to address infrastructure needs for the county, potentially including obstacles like the lack of local slaughterhouses or processing plants.

To reach Trevor Jones:
tjones@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 528-3660.


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