Glenn Bergman is the executive director of Great Barrington-based Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, which was established around five years ago.
“To help the local agricultural economy, to improve it, to make it stronger, both at the farm level and at the production level,” he explained. “So people who work with local foods, whether it’s restaurants or growers, or a farmer or someone who’s trying to get into agriculture at different levels, whether it’s animal production , wool, vegetables, fermented products, etc.
Of the two grants BAV has received from the USDA, one is from its Regional Food System Partnership in the amount of nearly $500,000.
“We’re going to go out and partner like we’ve done with local processors and ranchers to bring them around the table over a three-year period to work on additional funding to help them both streamline the process , to improve the process, improving primarily at the processing level and also to help with storage and logistics to get the product from the farm to the processor to the consumer,” Bergman said. “And no one is doing that for these small local farmers or processors right now, except for us in our area.
Bergman says about 85% of the country’s meat is processed by about half a dozen large companies.
“The inefficiency for the local small farmer is that they are nowhere near for the small farmer to use and utilize,” he said. “So we have to find something that works for the small farmer. And that’s what this USDA RFSP grant is for, which is helping small farmers and processors work together to bring the price down a little bit, and also to bring the product to market here, in our region, and in doing so, improve the local economy of agriculture for these farmers and processors, these are small businesses, these processors, who work with very tight margins. A lot of them are family businesses, a few are women-owned, and they don’t have the resources for technical support around process improvement, financial planning, and so that’s what we offer them.
The second USDA grant is just under $500,000 from its local food promotion program. To achieve this, BAV will partner with Berkshire Organics of Pittsfield to focus on streamlining access to local foods for area residents.
“It’s a big problem for farmers,” Bergman said. “The need is great in our region. It is estimated that only about 12% of the food consumed in our region is local food. We want to increase this up to 30%. To do this, we… There is a demand for local food. This is by far very clear, both for meat products and, in general, for farm or locally produced products. And so our objective is to help increase this percentage of local consumption of products and becoming more self-sufficient in this area on local products and building this economy We’re talking about jobs, we’re talking about trying to save farmland, working and collaborating with a lot of different people to try to save those agricultural land specifically for agricultural purposes, not just for conservation purposes.
The effort is not limited to Berkshire County.
“We’re looking at the transformers that surround this area,” Bergman said. “They’re in Columbia County, Dutchess County, Litchfield County, and even just a bit east of us from the Berkshires. But we look at this as a regional program, not just a county.”
You can learn more about Berkshire Agricultural Ventures here.