Grant-funded refrigerated vans will ease Just Roots farm’s deliveries

  • Just Roots farm in Greenfield currently uses its refrigerated box truck to deliver food to low- to moderate-income people in Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield. It will begin using two smaller vans it is buying to travel through those urban areas. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • O’NEILL

  • One of Just Roots’ “Farm to Family” boxes. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/7/2021 5:18:22 PM

GREENFIELD — Just Roots farm on Glenbrook Drive, like many other farms after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, adapted to the new reality to make sure people were fed, especially if they couldn’t leave their homes.

Executive Director Jessica O’Neill said her staff planned door-to-door deliveries in Franklin County, but mostly in Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield.

“We have a big box truck, but that wasn’t the best for driving into densely populated areas like those,” O’Neill said. “We’ve been talking about continuing some of the farm-to-door deliveries there and we knew we’d need smaller vehicles, so we applied for a grant to buy a couple of refrigerated vans, some safety equipment, some bins and supplies.”

Recently, Just Roots received $98,950 from the state Department of Agricultural Resources’ Food Ventures Program that will allow the local farm and community garden to do just that for its operations.

The grant is meant to support efforts to increase access to healthy, affordable food options and improve economic opportunities for low- to moderate-income communities, as well as implement the goals of the state’s Local Food Action Plan.

“Just Roots is a model for sustainable community farming and fighting food insecurity,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. “This Food Ventures grant will allow the farm to distribute more locally grown, healthy produce. I’m delighted to join colleagues in recognizing and celebrating state investment in the long-term health of our farms and the profound impact of this investment on overall food security and public health.”

Just Roots is buying two refrigerated vans to expand its food distribution and CSA program, which has been instrumental in aggregating and distributing thousands of pounds of food in Western Massachusetts, according to O’Neill.

“We deliver to the Boston Children’s Hospital sites in Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield, and we go farm-to-door to 150 households served by them,” O’Neill said. “It’s a lot of traveling each week, so we really needed reliable vehicles.”

She said it’s much more efficient, including fuel-wise, to use two vans in the urban areas than to drive a large box truck to and through them.

“We asked for a similar grant last year and didn’t get it, so we were very pleased when we were awarded this one,” she said. “A huge barrier when it comes to food insecurity is transportation. People can’t get to one central location, so we have to deliver to their doors.”

O’Neill said Just Roots will continue to do what it needs to do to keep people fed, even when things return to “normal.” She said Just Roots delivers to the three cities once a week from mid-June through October, and once a month from November through May.

“We provide fish, meat, legumes, eggs and fresh produce,” she said. “We also provide a robust kitchen kit and cooking supplies, like a cookbook and recipes.”

O’Neill said the grant has to be spent by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. One van has already been ordered and the farm is still trying to source the other.

“We’re so happy grants like this one can help us play a role in food security and health,” she said. “Our fleet expansion will help us meet the demand.”

O’Neill said she fully expects demand will keep growing, at least for a while after the pandemic ends. The farm still plans to keep its box truck for now, and will decide later what it wants to do with it.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.


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