Farmers applaud state, private donors for support through Farm Resiliency Fund

Farmers Bernie Smiarowski of Hatfield and Joe Czajkowski of Hadley talk with U.S. Sen. Ed Markey at the flood-damaged fields at Natural Roots farm in Conway in early August. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund.

Farmers Bernie Smiarowski of Hatfield and Joe Czajkowski of Hadley talk with U.S. Sen. Ed Markey at the flood-damaged fields at Natural Roots farm in Conway in early August. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

State and local officials visit the flood-damaged fields at Natural Roots farm in Conway in early August. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund.

State and local officials visit the flood-damaged fields at Natural Roots farm in Conway in early August. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey talks with David Fisher of Natural Roots farm in Conway about his flood-damaged fields in early August. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey talks with David Fisher of Natural Roots farm in Conway about his flood-damaged fields in early August. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Natural Roots owner David Fisher speaks to Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Ashley Randle, as state officials assessed damage at the farm in mid-July. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund.

Natural Roots owner David Fisher speaks to Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Ashley Randle, as state officials assessed damage at the farm in mid-July. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/JOSH QUALLS, GOVERNOR’S PHOTOGRAPHER

The South River overflowed its banks in July, flooding Natural Roots Farm in Conway. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund.

The South River overflowed its banks in July, flooding Natural Roots Farm in Conway. Natural Roots was recently awarded $10,000 through the Farm Resiliency Fund. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Bernie Smiarowski talks with state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, during a visit to the site of flooding at Teddy Smiarowski Farm in Hatfield to announce relief funding in late July. With an initial $10,000 from the Farm Resiliency Fund, Teddy Smiarowski Farm can cover some of its losses.

Bernie Smiarowski talks with state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, during a visit to the site of flooding at Teddy Smiarowski Farm in Hatfield to announce relief funding in late July. With an initial $10,000 from the Farm Resiliency Fund, Teddy Smiarowski Farm can cover some of its losses. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 09-25-2023 5:15 PM

With $10,000 donations already sent to hundreds of farms around western and central Massachusetts, farmers have praised the joint efforts of the state and private donors for supporting the Farm Resiliency Fund.

The initial round of funding went out on Sept. 1, with a flat rate of $10,000, to 214 eligible farmers who submitted qualified applications, amounting to more than $2 million in awards total. A second round of need-based grants are on the way later this fall, as farms around the state continue to bounce back after torrential downpours in July.

“It’s really, really encouraging,” said Natural Roots founder David Fisher, one of the recipients in the initial funding round. “It’s amazing to see the sort of innovative approach to supporting farms so quickly … and really exciting to see our leaders thinking in creative ways.”

In Conway, Natural Roots’ farmland — which it rents from South River Miso Co. — was devastated by July’s heavy rains and flooding from the South River that wiped out nearly all of the community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm’s crops.

The United Way of Central Massachusetts has taken the lead on coordinating the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund with the state, and has collected more than $3 million from more than 650 individuals and businesses.

Bernie Smiarowski, co-owner of Teddy Smiarowski Farm in Hatfield, said the farm lost approximately 200 acres of potatoes — about one-third of its total acreage — over the course of several major July rainstorms.

With the initial $10,000 from the Farm Resiliency Fund, he said, the farm can cover some of its losses, but he plans to apply for the second round of funding to bring more aid, especially because some of the potatoes that have been harvested are lower quality than what is typically grown.

“We really appreciate the state coming forward with the money appropriated,” Smiarowski said, referring to the additional $20 million fund for farm relief that was announced by Senate President Karen Spilka at his farm in July. “It’s great to see people donate to the farmers and respect what we’re doing here.”

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United Way of Central Massachusetts President CEO Tim Garvin said his organization’s goal was to make the application as simple as possible. The donation-based fund was launched in mid-July and quickly brought in millions of dollars for relief by Sept. 1 in what he called an “extraordinary effort.”

“We’re not done yet. Our goal is to get $5 million,” Garvin said, adding that the fund came together because Gov. Maura Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll understood the “speed with which responses are needed and created this brilliant partnership of government, business and non-profit community organizations.”

The three leading principles in developing this partnership, Garvin said, were “rapid, strategic and nimble.”

While Natural Roots lost the vast majority of its crops and the farmland was damaged, Fisher said most of the cleanup is finished and the farm is preparing to examine riverbank stabilization projects. On a brighter note, he said Natural Roots has opened up CSA applications and is looking forward to getting back to business in 2024.

In a similar vein, the land at Teddy Smiarowski Farm will be “alright” for next year, Smiarowski said, and they’re ready to get back to work.

Donations to the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund are still being accepted and can be made at bit.ly/3Fbz0I5. Donations by check are accepted and can be made out to the United Way of Central Massachusetts, 18 Chestnut St., Suite 530, Worcester, MA 01608. Venmo donations can be made @UnitedWayCM.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.