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Giving Garden volunteer Missy Bowler harvests tomatoes. The garden provides 9,000 pounds a year of fresh, organically grown vegetables to local pantries and kitchens.

Giving Garden Uses Grant Funds to Increase Produce Donations

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Giving Garden at Pittsfield Church of Christ is expanding to feed more community members thanks to a nearly $11,000 grant from the state.

Garden coordinator Gordon Clark said the two small hoop houses put up through donations has really increased what it can offer. The grant will fund a large hoop house should help provide even more vegetables for local food pantries.

"This grant is an incredible gift to our garden and to our community," said Clark. "When food budgets are tight, choices are often limited to inexpensive carbohydrates and processed foods. But during our growing season our neighbors who rely on food pantries can select fresh, local, organic produce. We're looking forward to offering those choices for more of the year."

The garden will build and equip a 30-foot by 96-foot hoop house, a type of greenhouse made by draping heavy plastic over an arched frame. This structure us estimated to increase food output by 25 percent on the Valentine Road property.

The 2,800-square-foot greenhouse will add several weeks to the growing season in spring and fall as well as protect the garden from local pests and animals.

The funds will provide the structure for the larger hoop house, but all of the construction will be volunteer work. Currently there are about 6 full-time volunteers and an additional 10 during harvest time.

Clark said food security in the area isn’t getting any better, so Giving Garden needs to amp up its production to supply larger amounts. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are facing job layoffs and already at-risk community members are being further devastated.

The Food Infrastructure Grant Program aims to increase sustainability and resiliency of the state's food system in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Giving Garden was included in the program's first round of awards that included 26 organizations.

More than $6 million has for been distributed across the state for investments in technology, equipment, and increased capacity and distribution. Food insecure communities were of priority in these funds, which total $36 million.

The Giving Garden is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that grows vegetables and produce for families and individuals in the community that struggle to put fresh food on their tables.

It was created in 2012 when members of the church had a vision to help others by planting a garden.  The garden now stretches over about 2.5 acres with a tractor, rototiller, cultivator, and seed planter for the volunteers' use.

Each year, the Giving Garden provides 9,000 pounds of fresh, organic vegetables to local food pantries.

Harvesting is done on Tuesday evenings for delivery to the food pantries it supplies to ensure its fresh as possible.

The Food Pantry at South Congregational Church in Pittsfield is one of these pantries and coordinator Mary Wheat is thankful for the garden.  

"It is such a gift to be able to distribute these fresh vegetables from spring into late fall to the 525 families we currently serve," she said in a statement. "We are deeply grateful for the Giving Garden's hard work to better the lives of people in our community."

Giving Garden also donates to St. Joe's Kitchen at the church, which serves meals to the homeless, as well as to the Christian Center.

“When people don't have a lot of money they buy more comfort and quick foods, and really good fresh vegetables aren’t purchased," Gordon said. "We consider the pantries are doing a great job at distribution all we want to do is grow and supply them."

Giving Garden has received a couple of other grants this year including one to help fix its machinery and one to help complete another hoop house. It also received a small greenhouse as a donation from Hillcrest Educational services.

Tags: food pantry,   gardens,   state grant,   

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District Attorney Launches 'High-Risk' Team to Address Domestic Violence

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Cathy Felix talks about her daughter, Julie Shade, a victim of domestic violence who was murdered by her husband. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire District Attorney's Office has launched a new effort to address domestic and sexual abuse in the region.
District Attorney Andrea Harrington, joined by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, on Thursday introduced a Domestic Violence High Risk Team designed to bring multiple disciplines together to strengthen social service and law enforcement responses to domestic violence. The DA's office has also created a new position of a domestic violence coordinator who will work with the team and develop intervention plans.
The initiative continues a campaign promise Harrington made to prioritize domestic violence and develop a team of made up of representatives across several disciplines to create a coordinated response. 
"We are using our power to dismantle a culture of violence against women and girls," she said. "Being the first female district attorney [in Berkshire County], being the first anything, being a woman in power in particular, and we have a lot of powerful women standing here behind me today, that in and of its self is meaningless unless we use that power to bring equity and human rights and justice to our community."
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