Farmers lauded, and rewarded, at Simon Grinspoon Awards ceremony

Daily Hampshire Gazette, December 2, 2015 by Dave Eisenstadter

NORTHAMPTON — At the inaugural Simon Grinspoon Farm Awards, celebrating what farmers harvest from the Earth, one local farmer won $500 for his idea to harness what humans give back in great supply — urine.

Ricky Baruc, winner of the ceremony’s Farm Innovation Idea Contest, warned those present that many people “freak out” when they hear his idea.

“We actually save our urine,” said Baruc, who runs Seeds of Solidarity farm with his wife in Orange.

Reserves of phosphorus, one of the primary nutrients needed by crops, are dwindling, but human urine is full of both phosphorus and nitrogen, which is another key nutrient.

“You almost have to sanitize it for the public, but the fact of the matter is it is sterile and has the nutrients we’re running out of,” Baruc said. His idea involves building a machine called a microdigester to extract the nutrients from the urine.
The event was held Wednesday night at the Smith College Campus Center, and most in attendance had already been awarded grants by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation.

Harold Grinspoon, a real estate entrepreneur from Springfield, named the farm awards after his father Simon who wanted to be a farmer, but could not make money at it. Instead, he kept a garden that his son helped with.

“I used to go around to sell our vegetables in the neighborhood, and eggs,” Grinspoon said, adding that that was 70 years ago.

The night proceeded almost like a game show, in which farmers were awarded cash prizes.

In addition to the 33 grants of up to $2,500 already awarded to area farms, farmers got another opportunity to receive money by speaking at the event. Twelve farmers whose names were drawn out of a basket got 90 seconds to answer a question about their farm, including what the challenges and joys are of farming in western Massachusetts or how their farms would be the same or different in 10 to 20 years. Each of them was awarded another $250.

Deb Habib, Baruc’s wife, was one of the 12 farmers selected to speak. Even though the pair did not win one of the original grants awarded by the Grinspoon Foundation, they finished the night with $750.

Baruc said it is rare to have an event for farmers with money involved.

“This is a really interesting model,” he said. “We need to link arts and agriculture with money because there’s no money in this whole realm. We’re all struggling along. Harold is doing a good thing.”

Habib said the timing of the event is also a plus.

“It is the end of the harvest season and a chance to celebrate,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of farmers we don’t get to see in a social way.”
Julia Coffey, of Mycoterra Farm in Westhampton, said she received a grant of $2,500 from the foundation, which allowed her to buy a $12,000 autoclave, a giant pressure cooker that will allow her farm to increase its mushroom production by about 10 times.

Coffey said that getting to the event was a good change of pace, adding that she has a 15-month-old daughter and rarely gets to attend such things. It was also a great excuse to meet other farmers.

“A lot of us farmers tend to be more reclusive,” she said.

Bonita Conlon, of Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield, said the $2,500 grant she and her husband received is going to restoring a road that goes around wetlands on their property to make more room for new bee colonies.

“We want to expand the queen-rearing part of our operation,” she said.

The apiary was established in 2001, and it was a struggle to keep it up for the early years, she said. Grant programs like the Simon Grinspoon Farm Awards can help struggling farmers, she said.

Abraham Hunrichs of Hosta Hill in Housatonic received a $2,500 grant for a cold storage unit for ingredients to make sauerkraut.

“It’s great to see other people who are in similar situations,” he said. “There’s people who are farther along than we are and people just getting started like we are. There is a sense of community.”

The grant and additional money at the event is also a benefit. “There’s not a whole lot of money in farming,” Hunrichs said.

At the event, Harold Grinspoon announced that his foundation would be increasing grants from $75,000 to $100,000 in the next round of awards, with the help of cosponsor Big Y.

Applications for the 2016 awards will be available in January at

He said he and his foundation started the farm awards after he met farmer Nancy Flynn of Flynn Farm in Pittsfield and was impressed with the difficulties she faced as a farmer.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘What do you do with money?’ ” he said. “One of the things I wanted to do is help farmers. Farmers are essential in western Massachusetts.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at