Opportunities await farmers in the Pioneer Valley

Daily Hampshire Gazette, January 28, 2017, By Morgan Hughes.

AMHERST — As winter hits full swing in the Pioneer Valley, awards and training opportunities offer a chance for local farmers to grow bigger and better.

For the third year, the Big Y and the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation will sponsor Local Farmer Awards.

The organizations will award more than $110,000 in grants, in amounts of up to $2,500 per recipient, to local farmers for equipment and physical farm improvements.

Grants are awarded with input from the two regional Buy Local farm advocates: Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

“We’re thrilled about the continuation of these financial rewards for farmers in Western Massachusetts to strengthen their farm business,” Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown, said in a statement. “This helps build the local food economy in our region.”
In 2016, 47 of the 128 applicants received awards.

The application deadline for these grants is Tuesday. For more information, visit the website at

Holyoke farmer training
Neustras Raices, a grassroots urban agriculture organization based in Holyoke, is seeking applicants for a free 100-hour training program for locals who want to become professional farmers.

Margaret Sawyer of Nuestras Raices Inc. said that taking special interest in urban agriculture draws from a unique population that may not have otherwise considered a career in farming.

Holyoke is home to the largest Puerto Rican population of any city in the U.S., making up 48.4 percent of the roughly 40,000 residents. Many of the city’s Puerto Rican residents are first- or second-generation immigrants, and bring with them a rich culture of food and farming.

Sawyer said she believes this population will bring crops that are quintessential to Puerto Rican cuisine into the market, such as aji dulces, a pepper, and gandules, or pigeon peas.

“[Puerto Ricans] are really particular about their aji dulces, and they aren’t grown in Massachusetts very often,” she said.

Sawyer said that the training prepares students to grow their way around the colder New England climate.

The class will combine hands-on training at the farm and weekly evening classroom lectures, and will be taught in Spanish and English, beginning in April.

Applicants can download an application at or visit the office at 329 Main St., Holyoke.

For questions, contact Rafael Herrero at 413-535-1789 x206, or