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GCC students see green future for Franklin County

Police recover body of man from  West Springfield

GREENFIELD — Rooftop gardens downtown? A mobile produce vendor bringing local fruits and vegetables to low-income neighborhoods? Locally grown produce sold at neighborhood convenience stores?

These were some of the recommendations of the 14 students in Greenfield Community College’s “Introduction to Food Systems” class, presented for use in Greenfield’s master plan.

Students in the class, now part of a Farm and Food Systems degree program offered by the college, were given examples of food plans from Philadelphia, Rhode Island, Vermont and other parts of the country for inspiration and assigned to work with four different community groups — including Greening Greenfield, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculgture, Just Roots and Franklin Community Cooperative.

As the town develops a “sustainable master plan” — which Nancy Hazard of the volunteer group Greening Greenfield said “will require a new consciousness and commitment to do things differently than what has been done in the past” — the recommendations developed by four groups of students will be offered as ways the town could focus on providing for its own food security and ensure that affordable, locally produced foods can be made available to all its residents, while also building the local economy.

One group recommended developing rooftop gardens downtown, suggesting that Green Fields Market might provide an ideal location, while another group, building on a model of Web-assisted “mobile vending” of fish in Rhode Island, proposed that as a way of getting locally grown produce to “vulnerable communities” that find it hard to get to farmers markets and may see local food as being too expensive or otherwise inaccessible.

Another group suggested assuring that mobile poultry processing could be allowed to operate in the town and suggested a stronger consumer education component based on a “Farm Fresh Rhode Island” model that offers farmer market workshops on recipes and tips about how to use farm products.

Class members also pointed to the example of Claire’s, a Hardwick, Vt., restaurant that specializes in selling locally grown food and is capitalized by local investors in exchange for monthly discounts.

Using a Philadelphia food security plan as a model, they encouraged the town to map all available farmland downtown, especially densely populated, low-income residential areas.

Among the examples for the additional acreage were home gardens, community gardens, schoolyards, public parks, including “pavement-side tomatoes, planting edible and productive species of trees and shrubs … vertical farming along the sides of buildings, and rooftop gardens,” said student Julia Moore.

Another cluster, working with Just Roots, recommended a compost collection program working with school-based gardens and classes in cooking, gardening and composting, as well as distribution of local produce at the schools.

Other suggestions included a local “agritourism network” and a locally based food distribution business, as well as working to get convenience stores and gas stations to sell locally grown products as an alternative to less healthy snacks, and as a way of getting more nutritious food into low-income neighborhoods.

After Thursday’s meeting, Hazard said “This can affect how the town views itself. If the town decides that growing food is a way for Greenfield to thrive and to create jobs, it could have a ripple effect.”

Susan Wargaftik, another Greening Greenfield member, added, “This can help change the culture of the town. If people start putting gardens in their front yards, for example, that can become more acceptable.”

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