Modest grants big help for county’s small farms

The Recorder, December 5, 2018, by Richie Davis

The grants go for everything from a walk-in freezer to packaging and LED lighting – but they all help farmers around the region keep growing.

The 20 Local Farmer Awards to Franklin County farmers are among 59 infrastructure grants of up to $2,500 that were presented by Big Y and the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, along with other sponsors this week.

“The Local Farmer Awards have been a major source of funding for our infrastructure development,” said Jennifer Williams, co-owner of Bear Swamp Orchard in Ashfield, which received a grant to buy a 1,000-liter fermenting vessel so it can begin making apple brandy. “Most funding sources are aimed at large scale investments that don’t fit what we do.”

The five acres of apples – with two more coming into production – produces under 2,000 gallons for hard cider, so the operation is  too small to seek larger funding opportunities, she said.

“A lot of money is aimed at much bigger farms, and they don’t pay for equipment,” said Williams. “This grant has been fundamental for us, because it provides for very small scale funding equipment. That makes it a really valuable funding source.”

Across the county in Orange, The Little White Goat Dairy received a grant to improve its packaging with a vacuum sealer that extends the shelf life of its products.

The new equipment, says farmer Rachel Scherer, allows for chevre “logs” with a six-week shelf life, doubling the period from foil-topped tubs that had been used. That shelf life can be extended by a couple of weeks by putting the chevre and hard cheese in vacuum-sealed bulk packaging, she said.

“People are used to seeing the logs, and it’s a transparent, more attractive package,” said Scherer, who milks 15 goats and plans to expand to 20 for cheese that sells at the Amherst and Framingham farmers market, as well as on the farm.

“This is something we’ve wanted to do for years, but there’s limited capital, and always things that are more pressing.”

The Local Farmer Awards also helped provide Windy Ridge Organics in Hawley with funding to increase ventilation of the largest of its three greenhouses,” said farmer-owner Julia Lemieux. The farm, which wholesales organic plants and vegetables up and down the Connecticut River Valley and retails at two Berkshire County markets, has been operating commercially since 2009.

Chosen from 147 applications,  the awards – which have gone to 188 projects on 125 farmers over the past four years  – were presented at an event in Northampton Thursday night at which farmers were invited to make a 90-second pitch to get $250 in additional funding.

Presented annually since 2015, the awards also went to Golonka Farm in Whately, Good Bunch Farm in Colrain, Hager Bros. Farm in Colrain, Hart Farm in Conway, Headwater Cider Co. in Hawley,  Hettie Belle Farm in Warwick,  Just Roots in Greenfield, Lyonsville Farm in Colrain,  New England Wild Edibles in Colrain, Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Seeds of Solidarity in Orange,  Sidehill Farm in Hawley,  Sweethaven Farm & Flowers in Ashfield, Thomas Farm in Sunderland,  Warner Farm in Sunderland and Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway.

Other funders include HP Hood, Friendly’s, PeoplesBank, Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place, Ann and  Steve Davis, Baystate Health, Farm Credit East and Florence Bank.