The Rural Community College Alliance has awarded a $25,000 grant to Greenfield Community College (GCC), Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), and the Franklin Community Co-op (FCC) to fund a new collaborative College Farm Market Project (CFMP). GCC Farm and Food Systems and Business majors will work as interns with CISA and FCC to enhance and expand on existing Farmers’ Markets opportunities in the Pioneer Valley.
The project’s goal is to develop a replicable model for coordinating food and farm- focused education, marketing, and sales that support the growing sustainable farm movement in western Massachusetts.
The RCCA grant will fund six 3-credit paid internships for GCC students while the costs of the credits earned are covered by other grants the college has won. Three interns will work at FCC and three will work at CISA. The grant also provides funds to defray some of the partner agency staff time needed for this project and for staff to attend national and regional conferences to share information about the project with other colleges and organizations. This grant brings together three organizations that have significant impact on regional farm and food systems and will enhance coordination around food justice and Farmers’ Market development.
The internships housed at FCC will continue the work of fall 2015 GCC interns to create a mid-week Farmers’ Market in Greenfield, seeing the Farmers’ Market development through its opening in the spring of 2016 and through the remainder of the summer and fall. At CISA, the GCC interns will focus on broader regional issues that affect Farmers’ Markets in general, further food justice and SNAP matching efforts, provide replicable templates for building market business structures, and expand the customer base for locally grown foods that promote sustainable models for farm viability. Staff and administrators from the three organizations will meet regularly to develop long-term structures for inter-organization collaboration for strengthening agricultural cooperative supports in the region.
The College Farm Market Project is a project of the SAGE Education Center at GCC. SAGE – the Sustainable Agriculture and Green Energy Education Center – currently has 53 students majoring in SAGE programs or certificates in Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency and Farm and Food Systems (http://www.gcc.mass.edu/sustainability/sage/).
Christine Copeland, SAGE Assistant and Internship Coordinator at GCC, said “This project enhances the learning of our students in Farm and Food Systems and in Business through work experience in which they can apply their academic work. It’s great for their career prospects and they also make professional contacts and network with people in their field. Not least, they work in the Farm and Food sector about which many of them feel passionately. That’s a gift and privilege. Further, as ambassadors from the college, they reinforce the vibrant partnerships the college has with the community. When a GCC student works in the field, almost inevitably the organization asks for more student interns to follow. GCC has amazing connections with our community – we serve our community by training students who will live and work in it and the community serves us in many ways, in this case, by creatively providing an opportunity for students to work side by side with the farmers and business people who provide us with our food!”
Sarah Kanabay, Communications and Outreach Manager of the FCC, conceived of this project last summer, and approached GCC’s SAGE program about creating an internship between the two organizations to bring a new weekly farmer’s market to downtown Greenfield. Three GCC interns worked at FCC this past fall to create a business plan for a 12-farmer Tuesday market starting this coming spring. When asked what made this market different, Kanabay said, “The goal of this project is to create a new market model that expands access – to reduce the cost of attending for new and small-scale farmers through providing student workers, to participate in SNAP matching, and to identify community partners to purchase unsold goods at the end of market day for distribution to community social service organizations. We are thrilled this grant enables us to partner with CISA and expand on the hard work done by our first interns to create both this market and a replicable model of this new market style that can be enacted in other communities. Cooperation in the service of sustainable growth is at the heart of FCC’s mission, and this endeavor illustrates ways to turn the success of individual businesses into community success.”
Kanabay added, “We specifically partnered with GCC for this project rather than one of the larger area institutions because I believed in the specific power of place and community empowerment that this initiative could have in its participants. I was given tremendous support by FCC General Manager, John Williams, to pursue this project, and to grow its scope beyond the ways in which it might directly benefit the Co-op. This is a hallmark of what cooperative business models truly stand for, and what makes them uniquely suited to be agents of change in their communities.”
Margaret Christie, CISA’s Special Projects Director, said, “We are delighted to work with GCC and FCC on this project. Farmers’ markets are great market opportunities for farmers, sources of good food for residents, and a boon to communities, bringing shoppers to downtown and creating a vibrant space for civic interaction and community life. At the same time, it’s a big undertaking to build and sustain a successful market, and that’s where collaborations like this can make a big difference. In order to be successful, farmers’ markets must work for farmers—if farmers aren’t able to make enough money at the market, it’s not worth their while to pick, pack, and truck the product. So farmers need shoppers, and shoppers want enough farmers to provide bounty and variety at the market. The interns working with CISA and FCC will help with outreach, publicity, and events to inform the public about regional farmers’ markets and increase traffic at markets.
Christie continued, “In 2015, CISA and partners launched ‘SNAP and Save’ at 12 area farmers’ markets. This program matches SNAP dollars spent at farmers’ markets, up to 5 dollars per visit. If a customer spends $5 in SNAP benefits, they receive $10 worth of products. This incentive is a great way to bring new customers to farmers’ markets and to provide good food for SNAP recipients. We hope to expand the program to many more markets in 2016, and the GCC interns will be working with us to do outreach to SNAP recipients and the agencies that work with them. CISA strengthens farms and engages the community to build the local food economy. We are creating a local food economy that benefits all residents of our region, and SNAP incentive programs and farmers’ markets are a great way to accomplish that goal. Successful farmers’ markets benefit farmers, residents, and communities. SNAP matching at markets ensures that those benefits extend to everyone. It’s a win-win-win, and we’re very pleased to be working with such great partners to make it happen.”
The Rural Community College Alliance advances rural America through an active program of advocacy, convening stakeholders, leveraging resources, and as a clearinghouse for best practices and research. This grant is one of eight Agricultural Cooperative Initiative grants awarded to rural community colleges this year through the Rural Community College Agricultural Cooperative Initiative. The Initiative is managed by the Rural Community College Alliance (RCCA) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its purpose is to support a small group of pilot colleges to better support, coordinate, and collaborate with local and state level agricultural cooperatives.
Because there is no local agricultural cooperative in western Massachusetts that fits the criteria of the Agricultural Cooperative Initiative program, the three collaborating organizations showed that FCC and CISA are doing the work often associated with agricultural cooperatives.
By Mary McClintock, ’82