PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Roots Rising has created a virtual farmers' market to supply Berkshire County residents with fresh local produce.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous challenges in terms of access, however, Roots Rising's directors believes this should not be the case for fresh produce.
"Like everyone else, we were reeling from the sudden changes to everyday life and the immense community need that arose due to the pandemic," Directors Jamie Samowitz and Jess Vecchia said in a joint email interview. "With our Youth Crews and our Pittsfield Farmers Market both shut down, we wanted to find a way to be of service. So we set about seeing what the needs were and what gaps we could fill in."
The farm-based youth development program sent out a community survey and found 84 percent of of those responding were looking to have food delivered because of fears for their health, 58 percent had income that was lost or put in jeopardy because of the pandemic, and 100 percent were interested in supporting local farmers and food producers.
The closure of the Roots Rising Farmers Market also caused concern among farmers bracing for the financial hit and low-income community members in need of the food justice programs the market provides.
"We felt that the best way to address these issues was to launch a Virtual Farmers Market that offered online ordering from a variety of vendors, a significant discount for those in need, and delivery to homes countywide," Samowitz and Vecchia said.
The online store features a variety of vendors and is open to all local residents. Those who have SNAP benefits or those who have recently lost their jobs or are facing economic hardship from the pandemic are eligible for $30 a week in free food from the Virtual Farmers Market.
"They just shop as usual and use a coupon code to access the discount. They are also eligible for free delivery, as are seniors or anyone else at high risk for the virus," the directors said. "Our delivery service is harnessing the power of community volunteers to allow shoppers to stay at home and stay safe. We also offer curbside pickup."
Currently nine farmers and food producers are involved including: Cricket Creek Farm selling cheese, Lion's Tooth Farm selling fresh bread and lamb, and Square Roots Farm selling eggs among others. There are 99 items for sale in the store that include dairy, baked goods, meat, eggs, produce, pantry items and seedlings for planting.
Roots Rising plans to open up the market to more farmers but wanted to start small first. Samowitz and Vecchia are in communication with the managers of the Great Barrington and North Adams farmers markets and hope to network with their farms.
"Like everyone else, we are taking things day by day. Our main focus has been on getting this Virtual Farmers Market launched as quickly as possible, because we knew that the need was immediate," they said. "We will see how things go and what the response is from our shoppers and vendors. So far we have received incredibly positive feedback and excitement about this new endeavor!"
As of Wednesday, the market had received 65 orders.The first round was being limited to 100 with delivery day set for Saturday.
The Virtual Farmers Market was made possible with emergency funds through the Berkshire United Way, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation
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