Monday, August 5, 2013
(Published in print: Tuesday, August 6, 2013)
Read article on Recorder website
GREENFIELD — When former Selectman Justin Root sold land off Leyden Road back in 1849 to the town to house the poor and grow food for them, he never imagined that anyone would utilize his name for an organization devoted to food justice and encouragement of local farming.
But that’s what Just Roots has been doing with the town’s former poor farm, which was used to house and provide for Greenfield’s poor until 1953.
And to see row after neatly planted row of vegetables in the market garden section of the 18 acres at the end of Glenbrook Drive, it’s hard to believe that a couple of years ago, much of this land was overgrown and ignored.
Here are eggplants, dinosaur kale, green peppers, tomatoes and plenty more, tended by a team of interns, volunteers and paid staff. It’s sold wholesale and retail, in Community Supported Agriculture shares, many of them subsidized for needy families and programs that serve them.
After moving an estimated 70 tons of stones, adding dump-truck loads of soil amendments, planting cover crops and then growing a one-acre garden last year that supplied 5 tons of produce for a food pantry and nearly another 5 tons for a soup kitchen, this summer Just Roots is growing for real.
The idea sprang from a 2009 “Garden Grows the Community” initiative by Mount Grace Land Trust, and the fruits of this grassroots effort are being seen as part of a Sustainable Franklin County plan for the region to be better able to feed itself, to share its food bounty fairly across all sectors of society, and help build self-reliance and healthier eating habits.
“Our mission is increasing access to healthy local food by connecting people, land, resources and know-how,” says outreach and promotion coordinator Andy Grant, voluntarily testing his memory of the credo before pausing and adding, “That’s happening here.”
On 61 acres leased from the town for 15 years, Just Roots has built two greenhouses, and volunteers have built a wooden storage shed paid for by an anonymous donor. They’ve also drilled a well, going down more than 500 feet, to get water for the barn, and set up two electric drops for power equipment.
But the real work ,on what’s now known as the Greenfield Community Farm, has been on the land. Much of that’s volunteer labor, in addition to the work of a full-time farmer whose salary comes from $105,000 of a $389,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to Franklin County Community Development Corp. There have also been hundreds of visiting schoolchildren, who Grant says have enjoyed the seemingly endless task of pulling rocks from the soil.
In a “community garden” section, about 45 plots are cared for, mostly by individuals and families from around the area, although there are also plots tended by a Brownie troop, inmates at Franklin County House of Correction’s Kimball Reentry House and The Recover Project.
“It’s for anyone in the area,” says Grant of the gardens. “If you can get here, you can grow here.”
A one-acre “Food for All Garden” grows food for Community Action’s Center for Self Reliance and Stone Soup Cafe on Hope Street. Among the volunteers working two mornings a week here are three pre-release inmates.
“It’s doing something good for the community,” said Kimball House resident Mick McCray.
“When we go to Stone Soup Cafe, we can see where it really pays off, people enjoying the vegetables we donate there. That’s the biggest reward.”
“It’s an incredible relationship,” adds Dino Schnelle, coordinator of the Osgood Street food pantry. “We’re getting 300 pounds a week from the farm, and 95 percent of it goes out the front door,” with almost no waste. “Everybody loves fresh food.”
If the Just Roots vegetables are a boon to people who use the center, which feeds 1,100 to 1,200 people a month, the farm’s CSA shares for 29 low-income households is another big help, Schnelle says.
“That’s golden,” he says of the Commonwealth CSA shares, for which the families pay only $5 a week for 10 to 20 pounds of food.
The subsidized shares — about 60 percent of the shares overall — are underwritten by donors like Franklin Community Cooperative.
The CSA shares come from a 3-acre market garden that also grows produce to sell at the Greenfield Farmers Market and to Green Fields Market. Those sales, which it hopes to eventually expand to restaurants and schools, are part of Just Root’s plan to become self-sufficient in three years.
“The hope is that most of our income will come from selling produce or providing ed services, but we’ll still apply for grants,” says Grant. “Right now, we’re just receiving a great deal of support from individuals and organizations,” including Greenfield Cooperative Farmers Exchange and Franklin Community Cooperative.
So far, grant funding has also paid for the seven high-school-age interns and four older interns, and it’s also paid for two full-time as well as three part-time salary positions.
A fundraising campaign is now under way among board members, which Just Roots founding Director Jay Lord, a retired founding Greenfield Center School teacher, said has already raised $10,000. The rest of the $40,000 goal is hoped to come from staff and organizations and people in the community.
As staff farmer David Paysnick, formerly Green Fields Market’s produce buyer, hoes part of the market garden nearby, Grant says, “It’s been amazing to be on the ground here. My first encounter in October 2011, we removed rocks from this field, and it was pretty bleak. To see this all being realized is pretty exciting to me.”
Today, there are workshops offered for interns, in beekeeping and wild herbs, in practical farming skills and mushroom cultivation. There are more than a dozen workshops for the public as well.
Nature trails, a children’s teaching garden and even a raised-bed garden for wheelchair-bound growers are spread around the place.
Just Roots has helped set up one school garden and has hosted school groups for tours and on-farm lessons. Ultimately, there are hopes to someday sell local food in the schools, perhaps starting with a vegetable soup the farm hopes to produce in a test run later this season at the CDC’s Greenfield food processing center.
Rather than compete with commercial farms around the region, Lord says, the community farm is beginning to encourage young people to get involved in growing their own food, so they’ll be more gung-ho about eating fresh, local produce and get their parents involved, as well.
“The more we grow and consume locally, the more dollars stay here in the local economy. Our big, ambitious goal is to create a larger market for everybody, so more food stays local, so more dollars stay local, so there are more jobs in agriculture. It’s a logical way for this place to develop.”
On the Web: www.justroots.org
You can reach Richie Davis at:
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269