Western Mass Women’s Fund Awards 3-year Grant for GARDEN Project

June 23, 2015

Thanks to extended funding by the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Franklin County women in transition will be able to develop skills in sustainable agriculture and food preservation. The Franklin County Women’s GARDEN (Growing Agricultural Resiliency and Developing Economic Networks) Project – a collaboration between Greenfield Community College, Montague Catholic Social Ministries, and New England Learning Center for Women in Transition– has been awarded $20,000 a year for three years beginning in 2015-16. The new grant is on top of an existing $20,000 per year grant awarded last spring, for a combined project award of $40,000 starting in summer 2015. This year’s award expands and strengthens the project services provided through the 2014 Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts grant to the partnership. The Franklin County Women’s GARDEN Project empowers women in transition in Franklin County through new skills attainment in sustainable agriculture and food preservation. These skills will enable them to take steps towards food security and economic independence.

As the educational partner in the grant, GCC receives $12,000 to provide project coordination and instructors. Each project year has one cohort of women taking a cluster of existing GCC Farm and Food Systems 1-credit reskilling courses running sequentially, with Organic Gardening and Permaculture Landscape Installation in April and early May, followed by Food Preservation and Farm & Food Cooperatives in late May and June. The grant pays for instructor costs, allowing cohort participants to take the courses free of charge, and GCC arranges for identified instructors to attend a one-time training with NELCWIT and MCSM on how to understand trauma triggers, recognize signs of physical and emotional domestic violence, and other factors affecting women in transition. The GCC project team includes  Dean of Engineering, Math, Nursing

and Science Mary Ellen Fydenkevez, Sustainable Agriculture and Green Energy (SAGE) Education Center Director Peter Rosnick, and Farm and Food Systems Program Coordinator Abrah Dresdale.

Front-line crisis intervention work is provided by MCSM and NELCWIT in their daily program operations. Both MCSM and NELCWIT additionally provide intermediate and longer-term programs for their participants that are extremely valuable in preparing women in transition to work towards economic security and fulfilling life goals.  Together, MSCM and NELCWIT partner with GCC to deliver the skills training that can lead not only towards increased self-reliance but also serve as a potential credit-bearing pathway to a degree, or alternatively a cooperative or entrepreneurial enterprise. Seeds of Solidarity Education Center, a non-profit organization in Orange, MA whose mission is to ‘awaken the power of youth, schools, and families to Grow Food Everywhere to transform hunger to health, and create resilient lives and communities,’ serves as an instructional provider for the Organic Gardening reskilling course. NELCWIT envisions further partnership with Seeds of Solidarity to provide workshops to survivors of domestic and sexual violence on “how to grow food everywhere” and strengthen food security.

As an immediate outcome of the first cohort of women to go through the Farm & Food Systems courses this year in 2015, three “GARDENers” have planted beds in the Community Garden in Unity Park, the bounty of which they will give away to women and families in need.  Several women from this first year’s student group are also looking forward to mentoring next year’s participants!

The new funding for the GARDEN Project is part of $240,000 recently awarded by WFWM in new grant commitments in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. The WFWM is a public foundation that invests in the lives of local women and girls through strategic grant making and leadership development. Since 1997, the WFWM has awarded more than $2 million in grants to more than 150 programs in the four counties of Western Mass.

Applauding the new funding, GCC President Bob Pura said, “This grant speaks to the strengths of our community; collaborations and partnerships that increases opportunities for a better life.  Bringing together NELCWIT, The Women’s Fund of Western Mass, GCC, Montague Catholic Social Ministries, Seeds of Solidarity, and the agricultural roots of our community is a win for all and truly a joy.”

“We had an extremely competitive applicant pool,” said Elizabeth Barajas-Román, Women’s Fund CEO. “The grants committee made difficult choices based on projects with meaningful collaborations, clear and attainable impact on the community, and on proposals that balanced our portfolio of funded projects already in the field.”

The new 2015 grantees join existing Women’s Fund grant partners funded through 2017: Berkshire United Way for a coalition effort titled Face the Facts Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition; the Prison Birth Project in Hampden County, which will continue its social- and reproductive-justice efforts for incarcerated and post-incarcerated mothers; and, in Hampshire County, the Treehouse Foundation’s project, Re-envisioning Foster Care Together.

“Collectively, these grantees will help leverage the WFWM’s impact on the lives of women and girls in Western Massachusetts,” Barajas-Román said. “The WFWM will also continue to convene skill-building sessions and support the programming of organizations that work on issues that impact women and girls.”

By Mary McClintock, ’82