Grinspoon Awards Support Innovative Farming

Daily Hampshire Gazette, June 22, 2016, by Jack Evans. Forty-seven farms in western Massachusetts and eastern New York will tackle projects this summer — including a potato digger and an insulated room for a reverse osmosis machine — with help from an awards program for farmers.

The Local Farmer Awards gave more than $100,000 this year to farms for projects to improve equipment or infrastructure. The program, which began in 2015, is a project of the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and added Big Y Foods Inc. of Springfield as a partner this year.

Seventeen farms in Hampshire County were among those receiving the $2,500 grants. Max Breiteneicher, owner of Grace Hill Farm in Cummington, said his young business has benefited from the Local Farmer Awards and other programs.

“We’re only in our third year – and only entering our second full year right now,” said Breiteneicher, who will use the money to buy a pasteurizer to increase the varieties of cheese Grace Hill can produce.

He said starting a cheese farm is a difficult and expensive enterprise.

“These (grants) have really helped,” he said.

J.P. Welch of Justamere Tree Farm in Worthington and Joe Czajkowski of Joe Czajkowski Farm in Hadley both said the money will help them improve the efficiency of their operations.

Justamere, which produces maple products, focuses on energy efficiency and uses wood firing and solar power, according to its website. Welch said the farm’s new maple candy machine, which can help produce candy at a faster rate than its predecessor, has already been a significant improvement for the farm.

“We’re all about efficiency,” he said. “Anything we can do to streamline the process is what we want to do, and this just will go to help in doing that.”

Czajkowski said he became interested in making butternut oil after reading about its health benefits — it is cholesterol-free and high in Vitamin A — but lacked the equipment to separate butternut squash seeds from stringy flesh and to dry them enough to be pressed for oil.

The process lets farmers who grow butternut squash use parts of the gourd that might otherwise go to waste, he said. He’s also commissioning the building of seed driers locally to keep the money in the area economy.

“I think it’s better, if Big Y and Harold Grinspoon want to help the area,” he said. “Spending it locally is right in line with what they want.”

Growing mushrooms
For Fungi Ally, a mushroom-growing operation in Hadley, the award offered a chance to fast-forward existing plans. Willie Crosby, one of Fungi Ally’s co-founders, said the money will go toward building a new grow room.

The company produces about 150 pounds of mushrooms weekly, but the new room will add an additional 300 to 400 pounds to that total.

“It’s something that we were interested in and there was a desire for, but we didn’t have the capital to go for it,” Crosby said. “This is allowing us to jump forward a little bit.”

Cari Carpenter, director of the Local Farmer Awards, said Grinspoon himself started the program to help local farms compete economically.

She said Grinspoon, an octogenarian millionaire philanthropist who made his money in real estate, also appreciates the less tangible benefits that farmers like Welch and Czajkowski provide.

“When Mr. Grinspoon started this, he wanted to help the farms compete in the marketplace, but he recognizes the environmental advantages, the health advantages and the economic advantages of local farming,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said she already is aiming to help the program grow for next year. She received 128 applications this year — a 45 percent increase over last year, she said. And partnering with Big Y let the number of farms receiving money rise from 33 to 47.

The results of the fledgling program are already apparent, Carpenter said.

“Some of the feedback we’ve gotten that’s consistent is it’s making a big impact on the farms,” she added.

“One of the farmers basically said, ‘Farmers are so used to doing frugal fixes, and this gives us a chance to step back and see what we need to address.’”