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Heart and Soil Collective was established to support farmers and residents who may be facing food insecurity.

Heart & Soil Collective Connects Farmers, Food and Families

By Kim McManniBerkshires correspondent
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Fresh produce is purchased from local farms. 
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The pandemic brought food security to the attention of many people across the globe — including in the Berkshires. 
 
It was a surprise to many to realize how significant the need was despite the many farms, grocers and local restaurants in the region. Once that need became apparent, people like Kristen Tool and Chris Wheeler stepped in to remedy things.
 
Heart and Soil Collective is one of the Berkshire nonprofits formed during that time with the goal to connect people to the farmers and land and increase food security from every angle. The Community Supported Agriculture project also helps reduce waste and ensure a market for farmers.
 
Farmers benefit, seniors benefit, families benefit, said Tool, co-director of the initiative. "It's good we can support everybody in the same swoop!"
 
Working with five local farms, Heart and Soil delivers free produce in season and soup made from local produce in the off-season.
 
Last year, Berkshire Agricultural Ventures partnered with Heart and Soil Collective and received a multi-year U.S. Department of Agriculture Local Food Promotion Program grant to increase the impact of the food delivery program.
 
The grant has supported the program's growth from 24 households to 60. Tool said the collective delivered 10,400 pounds of fresh produce purchased from local farms, reaching 115 individuals across the four Berkshire County towns. Small farms were paid more than $10,000 and saw lower expenses and less food waste with Heart and Soil's direct delivery model.
 
The Community Produce Program purchases local produce from Holiday Brook Farm, Full Well Farm, Bittersweet Farm, Windy Ridge Organic Farm and Rock and Root Farm and delivers it to households in Adams, Lanesborough, Pittsfield and Dalton. The program tries to keep the deliveries close to where the produce is grown.
 
"The soup is different as we have to have all of the ingredients at the commercial kitchen we use to make the soup," Tool said. The kitchen is located at one of the participating farms. The soup is frozen and stored on site, making the transport process easier.
 
The most direct impact of the organization comes from delivering free local food to seniors and families receiving pediatric palliative health services.  
 
The seniors are connected to the program through the local Councils on Aging. The families connect through a partnership with Pediatric Palliative Care, a program of HospiceCare of the Berkshires. That connection was made because a staff member there is a neighbor of Tool and Wheeler's and a casual conversation led to the realization that the families receiving care could really benefit from the program.
 
Participating families have children with a diagnosis of a potentially life-limiting illness. This includes advanced cancer, neurodegenerative conditions, major organ failure, HIV, cystic fibrosis, congenital or genetic conditions, neurological disorders, renal failure or traumatic injury. A physician diagnosis of a condition that can limit normal life expectancy is required.
 
Due to patient confidentiality, those produce bags are dropped off at Pediatric Palliative Care in Pittsfield and that organization distributes to their families.  
 
Lanesborough Ambulance also delivers produce and soup to town residents, which provides multiple benefits. The emergency medical technicians get to see the seniors when they are not in a medical crisis, and the seniors get to know them. If seniors do experience a medical issue, they already have connections to the EMTs and are much more comfortable seeking assistance. 
 
"We've seen a really positive outcome of that for everyone involved," said Tool. The rest of the bags are delivered by volunteers and Heart and Soul staff. 
 
The plan this year is to work with the farms and do guided tours to facilitate the connection between recipients of the produce and the local farm that produced it. 
 
"It makes it real. It helps them feel that they know the people growing their food," explained Tool. "A  lot of the people we are working with can't get out to the farmers' market. A visit to the farm will help them know the faces, the people growing their food. This is where it comes from."
 
Although Tool and Wheeler manage Olsen Farm, founded by Wheeler's great-grandfather, it is not included in the program. This was an intentional from the beginning, as the couple did not want there to be any appearance of their farm improperly benefiting from any of the funds.
 
"We don't want to have any question of conflict of interest," said Tool.
 
The planning for the collective begins before the planting. Each season, Tool and Wheeler discuss the number of households they want to reach and how much funding they have to spend.
 
"At this point I don't think any of the farms have had to specifically grow more for our program, but as we expand, I imagine that is going to be part of the conversation," Tool said.  
 
Additionally, as they reach more families they hope they will expand to include more farms, to continue to provide produce grown near people's homes.
 
There is a booklet being produced for next season, with pictures of the typical items included in deliveries throughout the season and tips on how to use them. While most of the items are familiar, there is occasionally a new item, such as garlic scapes (garlic bulb shoots).  
 
Since its beginning in 2021, 85 to 90 percent of the funding for Heart and Soil has been from grants.  
 
"We got bigger much faster than we expected," said Tool. "That means instead of applying for the small grants we are applying for a few bigger grants."
 
She's also looking for other ways to raise revenue, such as an online fundraiser held last fall. 
 
"We had craft items, local gift certificates, sports memorabilia and museum passes. That was a very successful fundraiser that we will do every year in mid-October," said Tool.
 
This March, the organization is is holding a "Sponsor a Senior" donation drive aimed directly to local businesses that would like to be featured on the Heart and Soil website as supporters. All of the businesses participating will be invited to a soup party in the fall. Tool described the event as "a taste test for some of our soup recipes for the upcoming soup program season."
 
Additionally, the organization plans to generate revenue with some workshops this year. Tool recognizes that an important part of food security is making sure residents have access to food but added that "also teaching them skills so they can grow their own food is equally important." There are other possible workshop topics such as cooking, baking and preserving food.  
 

Bags of fresh produce ready for delivery. 
For the past two years, Heart and Soil has worked with the 18 Degrees Family Resource Center on a small communal garden of six raised beds. In addition to helping the families connect to the garden, grow food and take plants home, this relationship provides a space for Heart and Soil staff and volunteers to offer workshops and classes.  
 
"I thought, oh, I'll write them into a grant I'm working on and get them the tools they need." said Tool. "But it's become a really nice symbiotic relationship."
 
Last year the partnership planted strawberries and this year will add a pollinator garden, which is designed to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators. As awareness about the importance of bees to our food system has increased, many people have begun to keep bees, making pollinator gardens a vital part of a healthy food system.
 
Food security is built upon a solid, sustainable farming community. Heart and Soil also prioritizes getting money to farmers for the work they are doing, finding revenue streams for food before it has to be given away to ensure it is used before it spoils. 

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Pittsfield Little League 11s, 10s See Tourney Runs End

By Leland BarnesiBerkshires.com Sports
PITTSFIELD , Mass. — After a strong outing by pitcher Cam Ginnity, the Holden Little League 11-year-old All-Stars defeated Pittsfield, 15-1, to move on in the Section 1 tournament on Sunday at Deming Park
 
Each team went into the elimination game with a 1-1 record.
 
Holden’s offense sparked early in the game with a series of walks finished off by a two-RBI single by Cole Pare, and a run scored on a passed ball.
 
During the game Pittsfields Offense struggled heavily against Ginnity
 
He registered five total strikeouts as well as going the distance in the run-rule win.
 
“Cam [Ginnity] is one of our better pitchers, he also has a really good team of players behind him,” Holden coach Matt Gull said.
 
Offensively, Holden’s Evan Zaccaria went 2-for-2 with a double, single and a walk.
 
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