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Economic security program for women makes impact

  • Stock image of garden vegetables. METRO CREATIVE

  • Stock image of garden vegetables.



Recorder Staff
Monday, April 09, 2018

GREENFIELD — A collaboration for helping local women with economic security and important skills may be ending this June, but its mark on the community could be long-lasting.

Greenfield Community College and area women’s and domestic violence advocacy groups partnered to empower at-risk Franklin County women through the Franklin County Women’s GARDEN (Growing Agricultural Resilience and Developing Economic Networks) Project. The three-year partnership is set to be funded through June 30, 2018. Now, the project is being researched to determine its impact on the community.

Funding was supplied in a $20,000 grant from the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts. The program was intended to help at-risk women learn new skills in sustainable agriculture and food security, allowing them to take steps toward economic independence.

As the program comes to a close, participants are interviewing community members and compiling data to determine how the courses affected the community.

Courses

Amy-Louise Pfeffer worked as the program coordinator to oversee the college’s role with the project. Greenfield Community College provided instruction through its faculty and also developed the course curriculum for the project.

One-credit courses were offered over a 10-week period each year for three years — two courses in the first five weeks and two in the second five. Courses offered included food preservation and storage, organic gardening, creating a food co-operative and permaculture installation and management. For each year, a cohort of 11 to 17 women participated.

The first year, courses were offered at NELCWIT (New England Learning Center for Women in Transition), a rape crisis and domestic violence center near the Greenfield YMCA. Cohorts of women, approximately 10 to 15 in a group, participated.

Pfeffer described the raised garden beds as “well maintained,” and said that there was enough produce from these beds to not only feed the women that worked on them, but feed some people from the community as well.

The following year, courses were held at the Women’s Center in Turners Falls. Passers-by can still see the raised beds and permaculture gardens built by women during the courses.

“They’ve attracted a lot of positive response from the community,” said Pfeffer. “It brought greenery and landscaping and life to the city streets that people have really appreciated.”

The final year of the courses took place in Orange at a lot that the town had designated for a park.

Evaluation

The last part of the project, which extends through June 30 2018, is an “evaluation year,” said Pfeffer.

Angela Roell, course instructor in food preservation in storage for all three years, taught some of the women how to conduct surveys and evaluations. Nine women from all three cohorts are participating in this part. The other part encompasses exhibiting the outcome of the project to the community.

“What we’re doing right now is encapsulating, researching, then generating a report in June,” Roell said.

Program participants have been polled on their involvement and also received training on how to conduct interviews. In addition to members of the cohorts going out into the community and interviewing people who were affected, a survey has been published online to determine the program’s impact.

Over the next two months, Roell will gather and aggregate data acquired. In addition to the report, a collection of stories gathered by the community will be published.

“It’s been really powerful to see the women come across the cohorts and connect as a community to talk about the positives and challenges of this program,” Roell said. “It’s also been powerful to see the women who’ve thought about starting their own co-ops.”

Reach Christie Wisniewski at:

cwisniewski@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 280