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Jess Vecchia and Jamie Samowitz announced the project on March 1.

'Roots Rising' To Provide Pittsfield Teens Work In Food Industry

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Johnny Campbell is one of the Pittsfield teens looking forward to the program.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — For five weeks this summer 10 city teens won't just be learning about the food economy, they'll be living it.
 
Berkshire Botanical Gardens and Alchemy Initiative have teamed up to launch "Roots Rising," a program paying teenagers to work on farms, in food pantries, at markets, and learning everything it takes to go from farm to table. 
 
"It's an agricultural based youth development program," Berkshire Botanical Garden's Director of Youth Outreach Education Jamie Samowitz said on Friday.
 
"They are doing what we call meaningful work."
 
The teens, ages 14 to 19, will work five days a week starting at 9 a.m. On some days they'll head off to work on an area farm and later work in a community kitchen or garden. They'll spend time meeting with entrepreneurs in the field or taking field trips or working at the farmer's market. They'll be learning everything from producing food to packaging and pricing to selling. They'll be attending educational workshops. 
 
And, they'll be paid for their efforts with a stipend of $200 a week.
 
"The student will be working five days a week," Director of Alchemy Initiative Jess Vecchia said. "They get to do a little bit of different things as the season progresses."
 
The organizers say they aren't asking the partnering farms and organizations to create a special project, but that the students will be doing what needs to be done on a given day. 
 
"The teens are seeing exactly what it takes to produce food," Samowitz said.
 
The various businesses involved include Holiday Brook Farm, Brattle Farm, Abode Farm, Berkshire Dream Center's mobile food pantry, Shire City Kitchen, and Berkshire Earth Regenerators. The teens will be selling food at the Pittsfield Farmer's Market.
 
Samowitz said enrollment in the program is expected to be competitive because there are only 10 spots available for this first year. Those are only open to Pittsfield teens. But, in the future, the hope is to be able to expand both in the number of teens participating and geography.
 
"For this pilot year, we are looking to have one work crew, which is 10 to 12 teens. Our hope for future years is to expand," Samowitz said. 
 
The idea had grown out of Berkshire Botanical's Farm and Garden Program. In that high schoolers work on community gardens and sell the produce at the market. 
 
"They come to the farmer's market and learn how to run a farmstand," Vecchia said.
 
The organizers attended a workshop with the Food Project in Boston, which inspired the Roots Rising program. The organizers received grants from Appelbaum-Kahn Foundation, Berkshire Bank Foundation, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, The Feigenbaum Foundation and The Kresge Foundation to help with the planning and logistics. They've been developing the program for about a year and a half now.
 
On March 1 a video had been posted on the Berkshire Botanical Garden's Facebook page announcing the program and asking for donations to lift it off the ground. Doing so, the organizers got a lot more than they expected. In just two days they hit their first fundraising goal. 
 
"The community wants this program to exist as much as we want it to exist," Samowitz said. "We've been really touched by all the support."
 
The first goal was $10,000 to cover the stipends for the 10 students. Within 48 hours that was hit. Mill Town Capital jumped in and said it would donate $5,000 if the program hit $15,000 to extend the program into the school year as well.
 
"This morning we had an anonymous $3,000 donation. We will get that match," Vecchia said. 
 
As of Friday, the total amount raised was just short of $21,000. But there is a third goal of $30,000. If the group can hit that they'll be purchasing a food truck to launch in future years. The students will be working the food truck. The organizers have now set their sights on that.  
 
"We're hoping for the next year we can launch a food truck," Vecchia said. "The funds made from the food truck would go right back into the program."
 
The organizers are still raising money through a crowdsourcing effort here.
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