Now in its 3rd year, the Local Farmer Awards program is helping farmers welcome the growing season with funds to make infrastructure improvements to expand their businesses, compete in the marketplace, and continue to provide the health and environmental benefits of local farming. The Awards are possible due to the generous support of two partners: the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and Big Y. In addition, community sponsors are HP Hood LLC, Baystate Health, Farm Credit East, MGM Springfield, Springfield Sheraton Monarch Place, and the Community Foundation.
In 2017, awards of up to $2,500 were given to 49 farmers, all members of Berkshire Grown or CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). Half of these award winners were newer farmers in business 10 years or less. Charlie D’Amour, President and COO of Big Y, commented on this new generation of award-winning farmers: “Western Massachusetts’ agricultural roots run deep, and we have long been known as one of the primary growing regions in New England. Today, alongside families who have been farming for generations, a new crop of young farming families and entrepreneurs are continuing this fine tradition. At Big Y, we are pleased to continue our own 80-plus year tradition of supporting these farmer families by joining with the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and other sponsors to provide grants and opportunities for this important part of our region’s economy and culture.”
A new sponsor for 2017, Farm Credit East’s Vice President and Branch Manager, Keith S. Stechschulte, adds: “A strong agriculture industry in our local communities is a connection to our past and a bridge to our future. Farm Credit East is proud to be a supporter of the Local Farmer Awards.”
The projects, soon underway, will provide support to farmers throughout the growing cycle. A highly motivated group, the farmers are paying on average of over 51% of the cost of the projects – and they are eager to move forward. The awards help fund everything from seeding, cleaning, storing and packaging, to selling. The variety of what is produced on the recipient farms – milk, vegetables, eggs, meat, maple syrup, and more – represents a slice what is grown in Western Massachusetts.
The four counties of Western Massachusetts are abundant with farms; in fact, more than 800 farms in our region have sales greater than $10,000 – a requirement for the award application. Recognizing that agriculture is such a strong regional force, Harold Grinspoon, founder of the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, launched the Local Farmer Awards in 2015. He understood that farmers do not typically ask for help and that the awards would have a direct impact. Says Grinspoon: “I’m thrilled our partner Big Y and our sponsors have come together to help farmers make much-needed infrastructure improvements, and we all benefit from their success.”
A farmer appreciation event will be held in late fall for over 100 applicants and award recipients to recognize farmers and promote the importance of local agriculture.