image description
Commissioners will have a site visit to the proposed areas, which are south of the Chesnut Seed Orchard and adjacent to the greenhouse, and will further discuss the proposal at a later date.

Roots Rising Looks to Springside Park as Home Base

By Brittany Polito iBerkshires Staff
Print Story | Email Story

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Roots Rising wants to make Springside Park its home base after years of being a pop-up organization.

On Tuesday, the agricultural nonprofit presented plans for its first location to the Parks Commission.

"We are excited because the farm will offer a lot more opportunities for programmatic growth," Executive Director and Co-Founder Jessica Vecchia said.

"We will be able to serve a lot more teenagers and more individuals in our community with the farm."

While the panel voiced support for the idea, they have many questions before any formal decisions can be made.

"I think the commission is very interested in this project and I agree," Chair Cliff Nilan said. "I think this is a wonderful idea and it's worth pursuing and moving forward with it."

Commissioners will have a site visit to the proposed areas, which are south of the Chesnut Seed Orchard and adjacent to the greenhouse, and will further discuss the proposal at a later date.

Vecchia reported that Roots Rising is "very very very" early in the planning process.

Parks, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said that the organization wanted to establish a dialogue with the commission on the project and is encouraged to.

"This is something that I think needs a full community conversation," he said.

The estimated expenses including planning, tools and equipment, infrastructure, and preparation total about $855,000, and the income, of which 74 percent has been pledged, totals $1,014,000.

Last year, Roots Rising received $430,219 from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs for the purchase of farm and industrial kitchen equipment during its land acquisition process.

Included in the roughly 4-acre plans are a tool shed, farm office, curing and drying shed, a wash and pack station, an open-air pavilion, and the build-out of a hoop house and prop house.

"Our hope, our dream down the road is to be considered as a tenant of Springside House," Vecchia said.

"We think that there is great alignment there as well. We realize that that's far down the road. Our hope is to get the farm up and running first and continue conversations with the city and with the parks department."

Roots Rising currently has two main initiatives: the Pittsfield Farmer's Market and its youth crews

The farmer's market, located at The Common, just kicked off its 11th season and was founded with the belief that everyone should have access t fresh and healthy food.

Local teens are hired to work on farms, in food pantries, and at the market through the youth crews.

"We say it's more than a job," Vecchia said. "It's an opportunity for teens to engage in meaningful work and we define that as work that needs to be done and that serves a larger social good."

The goal is to create a teen-powered community center that enriches lives and strengthens the local food system. It is planned to be an intersection of the organization's youth empowerment and food justice work.

"It's going to be more than a worksite for our teens. It will be a community hub, a food hub, and a green oasis in the city," Vecchia added.

"We are committed to co-creating this farm with the people that we serve, with the community that we serve."

The last two years have been spent searching for parcels to house the farm, with Roots Rising looking at more than 20 parcels and deeply assessing eight.

The main criteria are that the location is within the city, is accessible, feels like a sanctuary, and is a sufficient space to evolve in.

Vecchia said that what it comes down to is they want it to be a fully functioning farm that grows food for the community, an education space, and a home base.

"We've carefully considered Springside Park's historic usage as well as the community's dreams for its future as outlined in the 2016 master plan," Program Manager Lauren Piotrowski explained.

"We believe our youth farm is the perfect fit for the Springside Park of today and for the Springside Park of the future. Agriculture has been a part of Springside Park for over 80 years dating back to the 1940s. The plan prioritizes not just preserving the park's natural character but also improving community access and focusing on both agriculture and life science education."

There was some discussion about the site acquisition efforts.

McGrath said that the park didn't come up in consideration until the 11th hour of site selection, as the city had been working with Roots Rising for about 36 months throughout the pandemic.

"I think the approach that they are taking and have taken to date is very true and honest," he added.

"And there has been a lot of community involvement and a lot of sort of inward, sort of soul searching really about how this can really work."

He pointed out that the location is right near Reid Middle School and the program serves a population that is "desperately in need of an earthly connect and honest and hard work."

During public comment, resident Daniel Miraglia said that he is in support of Roots Rising's mission but suggested moving the proposal to Brattlebrook Farm, which also has a master plan.

He said everything in this project screams conservation land instead of parkland.

"So I would just urge this group, in case this goes downtown the road and this does have too many red flags for whatever reason that there is an alternative spot and a backup," he said.

"Because would like to see something like this move forward."

The Springside Park Conservancy endorses the project.

"The park's master plan emphasis ‘a focus on horticulture and life science education' in its opening summary, and in its ‘Guiding Principles' urges the city to collaborate with local organizations to support the expansion of agricultural programming," the group wrote in a letter of support.

"Intentional agriculture has been a part of Springside Park for nearly a century, and every major study and plan for the park since the 1940s has reinforced the durability of this usage."

Tags: Springside Park,   

If you would like to contribute information on this article, contact us at

Pittsfield ConCom OKs Zebra Mussel Treatment

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Conservation Commission has OKed a zebra mussel pesticide treatment in Onota Lake if the invasive species are confirmed.

On Thursday, the panel approved a notice of intent application for the use of EarthTec QZ within a specified treatment area of the lake.  

"We're not entirely 100 percent sure that there is an infestation of zebra mussels at Onota Lake. Last September, a water sample was taken and the DNA of zebra mussel was detected in that water sample. This was a water sample taken near the boat ramp at Burbank Park. Subsequent water samples were taken later in the fall and very early this spring, there were still non-detects in those water samples for DNA showing the presence of zebra mussels," Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said.

"We continue to, most recently as this Tuesday, we are sampling for zebra mussel EDNA and we should know the results of those samples certainly by early next week."

McGrath addressed the commission with a sense of urgency, as the lake is currently around 52 degrees Fahrenheit and the zebra mussels begin to activate around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  He described it as "an opportunity to take what could be a potential massively serious ecological issue at Onota Lake and nip it in the bud."

"What we're proposing here is a collaborative approach where there are many stakeholders involved," he said. "This is not Jim McGrath proposing the use of EarthTec QZ at the lake. This is something we have been very deliberative about."

The application was continued from the previous meeting so that it could be filed as a state Ecological Restoration Limited Project.

"Really what it means is that it's eligible, which I think this project meets the eligibility requirements, it affords the right to not have to comply with general performance standards for the resource area that's being impacted," Conservation Agent Robert Van Der Kar said.

View Full Story

More Pittsfield Stories