The Recorder – Grants breathe life into food access programs across county

As many as 13 projects aimed at addressing food insecurity will come to fruition across Franklin County and the North Quabbin region thanks to support from the state’s Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program.

“We’re really grateful the state is helping farms out in this way,” said Red Fire Farm co-owner Ryan Voiland, describing the challenges faced by farmers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather events. “It’s been very hard under these circumstances to find capital in the business to make investments in infrastructure and machinery. We’ve got all these ideas for how we can farm better … but when you don’t have any capital to work with, it’s hard to make a lot of those ideas come to fruition.”

The Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program seeks to ensure local food producers are better connected to a robust and resilient food supply system to mitigate future food supply and distribution disruption issues, according to state officials. The program awarded $22.5 million to 147 projects across the state.

“The Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program has become a catalyst for the Baker-Polito Administration in our efforts to make a more resilient food supply system,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said in a statement. “Since the program’s inception during the early months of the COVID-19 public health emergency, we have funded over 507 projects throughout Massachusetts, greatly helping those in need.”

The $500,000 grant awarded to Red Fire Farm, which has locations in Montague and Granby, will allow Voiland to construct a new storage building at his farm yard in Granby. He explained that the building, which will have cooler capacity for storage of produce in the winter, will be constructed out of an existing solar shed that currently lacks walls. Adjacent to that building, a new structure will be built, creating “one contiguous workspace.”

“I think it will make a big difference,” Voiland said. “It will increase the efficiency of our business, because currently we’re storing quite a bit of produce in off-farm facilities.”

The $453,906 grant awarded to Atlas Farm in South Deerfield will also support the construction of a new crop storage building.

“It’s going to have a really profound impact on our operations,” said owner Gideon Porth. “It’s something we’ve been badly in need of for many years. We’ve been renting storage, but where we’re renting is far away. It’s expensive and not enough for our needs. This is going to give us much, much better storage, right on the farm.”

In Wendell, Anne Diemand Bucci said the $189,576 grant awarded to Diemand Farm will go toward remodeling a chicken coop.

“(The grant) is really significant,” said Diemand Bucci, who co-owns the farm with her siblings. “It’s going to help us incredibly — I don’t even know how to say how much.”

She said the refurbished coop will give the chickens more room, and will also improve the efficiency of how eggs are collected and the coop is cleaned.

Diemand Bucci explained the need for this project stems from the 2016 ballot initiative that prohibited farm owners or operators from knowingly confining laying hens in a way that prevents them from lying down, standing up, fully extending their limbs or turning around freely. Although compliance wasn’t required until this year, cages were removed from the farm two years ago.

As a result, the farm cut down its size from 3,000 birds to about 1,500. The coop remodeling project, Diemand Bucci estimates, will increase the farm’s production by 25%. She said conversations are ongoing with wholesale customers the farm previously had to let go.

“We feel very fortunate,” said Diemand Bucci, echoing the sentiment of other grant recipients. “I’m very happy with the state of Massachusetts and their support of farmers. I think we have an incredible department of agriculture, and I feel heard. I feel heard, listened to and supported.”

In Orange, a $8,315 grant awarded to the Seeds of Solidarity Farm and Education Center will support the purchase of a commercial dehydrator and grain grinder to expand the farm’s ability to process crops into affordable food products that extend the growing and marketing season; can be made available to participants of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Healthy Incentives Program (SNAP and HIP); and transform excess and imperfect crops into nutrient-dense foods, according to co-founder Deb Habib.

“These enhance and diversify our farm offerings and will be used in our educational programs that promote increased food self-reliance and wellness for families in the region,” Habib said in an email.

While many recipients in Franklin County were local farms, the Greenfield School Nutrition Department was also among the award recipients. The $146,000 grant awarded to the schools will finance the purchase of a food truck, according to Greta Shwachman, food service director for the school district.

“It will be a custom truck, custom-fitted to our needs,” Shwachman said.

The food truck, which Shwachman anticipates to have by summer of 2023, would have a schedule and route with different locations around the city. Although it will likely be used during the school year at special events, it will primarily serve as a mobile site for the summer meals program.

“It will be a really fun way to bring our program and to represent our schools in the community,” she said.

In past years, the summer meals program has taken place in congregate settings. For the last two summers, however, a grab-and-go system was in place as a result of the pandemic. Last summer, Shwachman noted, the district provided significantly more meals than in previous years.

“Hopefully, the truck will help us continue to support local agriculture and increase access to healthy and affordable food,” Shwachman said.

The Nutrition Department has already been working with local food distributors, including Marty’s Local in Deerfield, as a way to “increase the local on the menu,” she said.

“It seems like everyone is working together to provide coverage — and not in competition — to feed the community,” she said. “We just want to play our role in that … to increase food security.”

Grant recipients

The full list of Franklin County and North Quabbin grant recipients is as follows:

■Reed Farm (Sunderland): $500,000

■Greenfield School Nutrition Department $146,000

■Diemand Farm (Wendell): $189,576

■Atlas Farm (South Deerfield): $453,906

■ Seeds of Solidarity Farm and Education Center (Orange): $8,314

■The Farm School (Athol): $111,927

■DA Smiarowski Farms (Sunderland): $28,000

■Red Fire Farm (Montague): $500,000

■Just Roots (Greenfield): $53,096

■Adams Farm Slaughterhouse (Athol): $202,840

■Kitchen Garden Farm (Sunderland): $60,205

■Greenfield Farmers Market (Greenfield): $862

■Hager Brothers Farm (Colrain): $57,397

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

.

Leave a Comment