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On Wednesday, the farming organization had a site visit with the Parks Commission to give a visual explanation of their plans.

Pittsfield Parks Commission Visits Site of Proposed Farm at Springside Park

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Roots Rising members Joe Durwin, Vecchia, and Piotrowski present in front of the proposed site

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Roots Rising leaders were immediately enamored with the prospect of having Springside Park as its home base.

On Wednesday, the farming organization had a site visit with the Parks Commission to give a visual explanation of their plans.  The proposed location is next to the Chestnut seed orchard.

"When we first walked into Springside, we all kind of lit up," Program Manager Lauren Piotrowski said.

"I mean, any place that we build our farm is going to be great but something so centrally located is going to be a great resource for the City of Pittsfield and we really want to invest where it will have the most impact on Pittsfield."

This was first presented to the commission last month.  After some time to digest the information, Roots Rising will go in front of the panel again and a decision will likely be made this summer.

The organization is holding off on further investments until there is final approval but has done some pre-development work including soil sampling.

"Commission approval is one thing but site appropriateness is sort of another consideration,"  Parks, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath.

 "And you've been doing some due diligence with respect to soil sampling because as a farm you're looking to grow things and we want to make certain that the soil conditions are agreeable for farming operations.  And then there's a whole host of other considerations."

Roots Rising currently has two main initiatives: the Pittsfield Farmer's Market and its youth crews of local teens that work on farms.

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.

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.

About two years have been spent looking for a location to call home.

"Really important to us was that the land be as accessible to as many folks in the community as possible. A lot of the land that we were finding was really on the very outskirts of the city, not super accessible, so Springside Park is a gem in our downtown, and that really excites us," Executive Director and Co-Founder Jessica Vecchia said.

"We also would love to be near community partners, especially the schools. Reid Middle School is right there. Again, that really excites us. We don't currently work with middle schoolers but obviously, we're excited to expand the work that we do and open up that pathway into our youth crews through additional programming and that is sort of a no-brainer for us."

The young people of Roots Rising said that they would like a sanctuary feeling.

Originally, they were looking at smaller urban-type settings downtown but heard that the young farmers would like to step outside of their neighborhoods and the city feeling.

"And something we love obviously about Springside is that it is right in the heart of our city but it is 237 acres," Vecchia explained.

"It is a complete sanctuary for Pittsfield and the greater county."

Commissioner Paula Albro observed that the site is secluded and asked if they have considered occurrences of vandalism.

"Our plan is to be really smart just to design and to put in security measures that we discuss with the parks department," Piotrowski said.

"It is also our hope that a continued presence here and community investment will help this space in the park get a less abandoned feel and as the people who are living and working in Pittsfield make a connection with our farm, either as their child being a youth crew member or they are a customer of ours at the market, it will increase that community investment and sort of decrease that idea that kids can come out here and do what they want and it has no consequence."

The seed orchard has been in that area for about a decade and has reportedly seen little vandalism.

Commissioner Michele Matthews asked about the customer component of the farm, as they have plans for a sliding-scale CSA.

The initial plan is for a small CSA with about 35 members that would come once a week and parking accommodations would be included in the plan.

"When you have a CSA the real benefit of that is that the people are able to come to the farm, connect with the farmers, connect with the land when they pick up their share," Piotrowski explained.

Albro also wanted to understand the scope of the timeframe for this project.

Vecchia explained that Regenerative Design Group of Greenfield has walked the land and done an initial report but the next phase of design work is at least $20,000, which they are hesitant to do before approval from the commission.


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Pittsfield Kayak Kiosk Proposal Withdrawn After Pushback

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It is the "end of the road" for a kayak kiosk proposal after pushback from community members and the City Council.

Whenever Watersports has withdrawn its proposal for a kayak rental program at Onota Lake. Safety concerns arose around the company's self-serve model though it was stipulated that users sign liabilities away with a waiver as part of the process.  

"It's unfortunate. I had hoped the outcome would be different and I think (Recreation and Special Events Coordinator Maddy Brown) and you as well thought this was an opportunity to provide an additional level of services, recreation opportunity to folks at the park through a modern-app-based system," Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said to the Parks Commission on Tuesday.

"It would have cost the city nothing to have this sited. We wouldn't be responsible for any maintenance but there would be maintenance to the units and to the boats, etc. Everyone was going to get life preservers and there are instructions through the app so we thought it was it was safe and secure and a good fit for the park."

In December, the commission granted a request for the pilot program and City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta had been reviewing and revising a proposed contract that had not yet been approved. Last week during City Council, residents Daniel Miraglia and Gene Nadeau submitted a petition requesting a legal opinion on the proposal from the solicitor.

Miraglia expressed concerns about the lack of a bidding process, safety hazards, and the impact on a local business that rents kayaks on the lake. Onota Boat Livery owner Caryn Wendling was upset to hear that an out-of-town company would be allowed to operate the kiosk on the same lake as her business and also cited safety concerns.

Councilors asked that Pagnotta look into items such as the commission's authority with entering into contracts and if a bidding process would be needed for this.

Later that week, a request to the Conservation Commission for determination for the kiosk at Burbank Park located within the buffer zone associated with the inland bank was withdrawn. According to the application, it was proposed to be located before the beach area coming from the main parking lot.

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