LENOX -- "We see changes in poverty," says Frank Lowenstein, the climate-adaptation strategy leader for The Nature Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Team. "Food prices are rising, and those changes are going to increase poverty around the world, and locally here in the Berkshires." Lowenstein was addressing roughly 75 people at Stonover Farm who gathered on a delightful day in July to celebrate Share the Bounty’s 10th anniversary.
Share the Bounty is a unique program that raises money to purchase shares in local farms, and then donates the fresh produce from those shares to food pantries, kitchens, and participants in the Women, Infants and Children program throughout Berkshire County. "It’s a really innovative idea," he says, "that involves getting fresh local food to people in need through a delivery mechanism that supports local agriculture."
Since its founding, Share the Bounty has raised over $104,000 to purchase shares in local farms, and this year, it’s estimated that as many as 600 families will be fed each week through the harvest season that ends in October. Even more impressive is that the program makes a two-fold impact - local farms get much-needed business, while members of the area’s most vulnerable communities have easy access to healthy, fresh food.
For some party-goers, the impact couldn’t be clearer.
"It’s an incredible opportunity for us," said Amanda Dalzell, who owns Three Maples Market Garden in West Stockbridge with her husband, Cian. "We have a CSA member who brings our food to the local food pantry, where it has an immediate impact." The newest addition to Share the Bounty’s partner farms, Three Maples is one of 14 farms that the program bought shares in this year.
A desire to support farmers and preserve the pastoral beauty of the area is what put the wheels in motion back in 2002, when Jonathan Hankin and Barbara Zheutlin bought shares in Gould Farm, only to find out that it provided far more food than they could eat. "I love the fact that Share the Bounty helps farmers preserve farmland. It helps keep us who we are," said Hankin, a realtor with Great Barrington’s Wheeler and Taylor, who moved here from Los Angeles in 1995. The couple pitched their idea to Jennifer Dowley, president of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, at a dinner party.
"I just said ‘that’s a great idea,’ Dowley related. "At Berkshire Taconic, we try to be a foundation that says ‘yes.’ The next thing I knew, Jonathan had raised more than $1,500 from his fellow realtors." A bit of brainstorming among the Berkshire Taconic team resulted in the name "Share the Bounty."
In 2007, when Zheutlin became the executive director of Berkshire Grown, Share the Bounty was incorporated into the larger non-profit, said Brian Alberg, chair of Berkshire Grown and the Executive Chef at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. "The primary goal is to keep farmers farming. That’s our main function."
Share the Bounty bought its first shares in 17-acre Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, whose owner, Elizabeth Keen, has been happy to help serve a community that sometimes gets overlooked in the Berkshires. "It’s a social justice issue. Share the Bounty gives people access to healthy food -- it’s really rewarding," she said. Keen’s produce is delivered to the People’s Pantry in Great Barrington by volunteers.
Share the Bounty’s influence can truly be felt most at the area’s food pantries. This year, the organization’s shares in the farm at Hancock Shaker Village mean that fresh produce is delivered to the food pantry at The Christian Center in Pittsfield, where volunteers serve lunch daily at noon, Monday through Friday. The 60 to 70 folks who go there for lunch most days hail from the neighborhoods near its Robbins Avenue location, although the center is open to all. Executive Director Ellen Merritt said the fresh produce is invaluable. In addition to providing meals, the produce is often the main ingredient in cooking classes the center offers for underserved families. "People aren’t always that familiar with farm vegetables," Merritt said. "They require cleaning and trimming and preparation. Making it available and having people cook with it is so important. This program has been a really important part of meeting people’s needs."
Some big support came recently in a $1,525 grant from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
"We see this as a way to meet our core mission while supporting our local farmers" said Andrew Morehouse, the Food Bank’s executive director. "Our investment reflects other investments we have made over the years in local agriculture, too." The grant paid for three shares this year.
Zheutlin said what’s most important is the kind of full-circle community support that Share the Bounty facilitates. "My hope is that people will be inspired to create positive ways of meeting these problems. We need to close these food disparities between the communities in Berkshire County. It’s gratifying to continue to grow and make these links between farmers and communities," she said