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Rural Commonwealth Posts

Hands-on Ag Grant Training continues this weekend in Chesterfield and Shelburne Falls

Following up on requests from farmers at our February 11 Ag Summit, Rural Commonwealth will be offering free, hands-on grant training sessions on three weekends in March. Locations, dates, and times for these sessions are available on?the?Events?page of our website. Session 2?will be held this weekend in two rural Western Mass locations: Hilltown CDC,?387 Main Road, Chesterfield (Saturday, March 17, 1pm-3pm) The Shelburne Senior Center,?7 Main Street, Shelburne Falls (Sunday, March 18, 1pm-3pm). During Session 2, we will walk farmers through the process of applying for two state grants. The first one is open until all funds run out (or…

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New Farmers Networking Group launches March 29

Are you a new farmer? Would you like to get together once a month to compare notes with other new farmers in western Mass? Are you interested in having your ag-related concerns shared with legislators and others in State government? If you answered yes to any of these questions, please join us at 10am on Thursday, March 29 for the first meeting of our monthly New Farmers Networking Group. The first meeting will?be held at Elmer’s Store,?396 Main Street in Ashfield. The dates and times of future meetings will be set based on feedback received by group coordinator Grover Wehman-Brown…

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Hands-on Ag Grant Training Starts March 10 and 11 in Chester, Chesterfield, and Shelburne Falls

This post was originally published on March 3. It was updated on March 5. Following up on requests from farmers at our February 11 Ag Summit, Rural Commonwealth will be offering free, hands-on grant training sessions on three weekends in March. Locations, dates, and times for these sessions are available on?the?Events?page of our website. Session 1?will be held this weekend in three locations around rural communities in Western Mass: The Village Enterprise Center,?26 Main Street,?Chester (Saturday, March 10, 9am-11am) Hilltown CDC,?387 Main Road, Chesterfield (Saturday, March 10, 1pm-3pm) The Shelburne Senior Center,?7 Main Street, Shelburne Falls (Sunday, March 11, 1pm-3pm).…

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Ag Summit Follow-up Projects

More than 60 people attended last weekend’s Ag Summit in Buckland. Based on notes from the Summit’s four workshops, questions attendees asked legislators, and feedback we received after the event, it is clear that the agricultural community in western Massachusetts has several distinct needs. Based on this information, Rural Commonwealth is launching the following projects. Hands-on Grants Training Rural Commonwealth will?deliver a series of how-to workshops in 2018 that introduce farmers to relevant grant opportunities and provide hands-on training. In each workshop, we will focus on a specific grant or two, highlighting 1) what each grant offers and 2) eligibility,…

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Ag Summit Recap

Despite freezing rain, over sixty people made it to Mohawk Trail High School on Sunday for the Rural Commonwealth Ag Summit. The four, morning workshops covered small batch food production, municipal issues for agriculture, marketing ag products, and product distribution were lively centers for sharing information and experience. Small Batch Food Production: Michelle Olanyk, Owner and Fudge Artist at Mo’s Fudge Factor told her story of growing her business from kitchen based to retail and wholesale delivery. Municipal leaders and ag business owners – bridging the gap: Jay Healy led a discussion of how ag businesses and towns work together…

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Small-Batch Food Production with?Michelle Olanyk, Owner and Fudge Artist at Mo’s Fudge Factor

This week, we’re highlighting the wonderful folks who will be presenting workshops and leading discussion groups at the?Rural Commonwealth Ag Summit on Sunday, February 11. This free, one-day event will be held at Mohawk Trail Regional High School and is made possible with a grant from Greenfield Savings Bank. The ideas for sessions at the Summit came from the farmers, foresters, and wood product producers we met and interviewed for our?Western Franklin County Business Report. Small-Batch Food Production (9:30 – 10:30) with?Michelle R. Olanyk, Owner and Fudge Artist at Mo’s Fudge Factor I started Mo’s in 2005, I had worked…

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Farm product distribution session with Marty’s Local and Sidehill Farm

This week, we’re highlighting the wonderful folks who will be presenting workshops and leading discussion groups at the?Rural Commonwealth Ag Summit on Sunday, February 11. This free, one-day event will be held at Mohawk Trail Regional High School and is made possible with a grant from Greenfield Savings Bank. The ideas for sessions at the Summit came from the farmers, foresters, and wood product producers we met and interviewed for our?Western Franklin County Business Report.? Product Distribution (11:00am – noon) This session features one of the owners of Sidehill Farm (either Amy Klippenstein or Paul Lacinski, depending on who needs…

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Rural Commonwealth hosts Small Town Summit in Dalton

On January 15, 2018, Rural Commonwealth convened a meeting of the Small Town Summit in the Selectboard Room in the Dalton Town Hall. Thirty Selectboard and Finance Committee members, along with other interested folks, filled the room to discuss issues affecting our small towns. Along with our faithful folks, we are happy to add people from Clarksburg and Lanesborough. Rural Commonwealth is tracking legislation that affects small towns. Now that the Governor’s budget has been published, we will be preparing a letter available to towns wanting to urge consideration of our rural needs. Issues include lack of revenue for towns,…

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Municipal leaders and ag business owners – bridging the gap

This week, we’re highlighting the wonderful folks who will be presenting workshops and leading discussion groups at the?Rural Commonwealth Ag Summit on Sunday, February 11. This free, one-day event will be held at Mohawk Trail Regional High School and is made possible with a grant from Greenfield Savings Bank. The ideas for sessions at the Summit came from the farmers, foresters, and wood product producers we met and interviewed for our?Western Franklin County Business Report.? Municipal leaders and ag business owners – bridging the gap?(9:30am – 10:30am) Many of our rural towns are “right to farm” communities, but the municipal…

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Ag Summit marketing workshop with Beth Lewand of Cricket Creek Farm

This week, we’re highlighting the wonderful folks who will be presenting workshops and leading discussion groups at the Rural Commonwealth Ag Summit on Sunday, February 11. This free, one-day event will be held at Mohawk Trail Regional High School and is made possible with a grant from Greenfield Savings Bank. The ideas for sessions at the Summit came from the farmers, foresters, and wood product producers we met and interviewed for our Western Franklin County Business Report.? Ag Business Marketing Workshop (9:30am – 10:30am) Are you looking for ideas about how to market your ag business? If so, you’re not…

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Ag Summit – February 11, 2018

Farmers, small-batch food producers, foresters, wood product producers, and municipal leaders are invited to attend a free Ag Summit on Sunday, February 11 at Mohawk Trail Regional High School (24 Ashfield Road, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370). This one-day event, hosted by Rural Commonwealth and made possible by a grant from Greenfield Savings Bank, will feature workshops in the morning, discussion groups at lunch, and presentations by federal and state legislators on agricultural issues in the afternoon. The event is free. Attendees should bring their own brown bag lunches. Registration begins at 9:00am, with workshops starting at 9:30. In anticipation of…

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Legislative updates

We’re following nearly 90 pending bills in the Massachusetts legislature that concern rural communities across the state. As you can see on the spreadsheet below, many of these bills have been in committee for months, and in order to move forward, they must be released from their respective committees by February 7. Between now and then, we will be tracking the progress of these bills and sending out legislative alerts to our email list as appropriate. These bills also will be a topic on the agenda of tomorrow night’s Small Town Summit in Dalton. If you are interested in joining…

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Meeting in Boston about rural economic development

Yesterday, Beth Bandy and Toby Gould met with Jay Ash, Secretary of Economic Development and Matt Beaton, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs at 100 Cambridge Avenue in Boston. At Secretary Beaton’s request, we presented several current Rural Commonwealth projects. Along with the Assistant Secretary for the Environment, Dan Sieger, a good conversation ensued showing interest in the work of RC. Secretary Beaton was particularly interested in the Ag Summit to be held on February 11, 2018 at Mohawk Trail High School. He stated that he would like to listen and hear what folks in agriculture and forestry have to…

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What we’re reading this week

We’ve been indoors, hiding from the cold weather and catching up on our reading. Here are some recent articles and publications that caught our attention. The?University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy released a brief,”2020 Census Faces Challenges in Rural America.” One of the problems highlighted in the report is a shift to collecting census data online, which will result in an undercount?of people living in areas without internet access, like much of western Mass. “This brief identifies rural areas where special outreach and operations will be needed to get a complete and accurate count. It also addresses…

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Last but not least, West County needs internet access

The following is the final excerpt from our recently-released Western Franklin County Business Report – the first report in our Rural Commonwealth Business Series. Over the last several Wednesdays, we have been posting sections of the report that highlight key themes that came up during more than 40 hours of interviews with local business owners. (Our previous posts in this series looked at?three-phase power and electrical grid issues?and the five kinds of?marketing?assistance needed by West County businesses, a?need for more lodging, and business?staffing). The full report, which you can?download as a PDF here, includes an overview of our research into…

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New opportunities for local value-added food production

Dairy farms along Route 2 put smiles on the faces of tourists as they drive through West County. As we learned from interviewing dairy farmers, making a living producing dairy products that allow for these scenic vistas is a diminishing proposition. There have been numerous reports, news articles and romantic rants about the loss of farms, especially dairy farms in Massachusetts. Despite the fact agriculture is the top industry in West County, both food production and wood production suffer from lack of profit due to small markets and transportation costs. What seems to be at the heart of the problems…

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“Death by a thousand cuts”: Complying with state regulations

The following is an excerpt from our recently-released Western Franklin County Business Report – the first report in our Rural Commonwealth Business Series. Over the last several Wednesdays, we have been posting sections of the report that highlight key themes that came up during more than 40 hours of interviews with local business owners. (Our previous posts in this series looked at?three-phase power and electrical grid issues?and the five kinds of?marketing?assistance needed by West County businesses, a?need for more lodging, and business?staffing). The full report, which you can?download as a PDF here, includes an overview of our research into the…

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New project matches small-batch food producers with local commercial kitchens

Rural Commonwealth has launched a pilot project that matches small-batch food producers with affordable commercial kitchen space in western Franklin County. This project is being organized right now and will go live in 2018. If your church, school, or other community organization in West County has a licensed commercial kitchen that could be used for this project, we want to hear from you!?Please contact us?to set up a meeting to discuss your?facility. If you are a food producer who might be interested in signing up for commercial kitchen space, please fill out the questionnaire here to let us know what…

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Agronomist Robert W. Herdt joins Rural Commonwealth as an advisor

Rural Commonwealth is most happy to welcome Robert W. Herdt as an advisor. Bob received his B.S.?and M.S. degrees from Cornell University and his?Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Minnesota. He has already reviewed our first report and had a site visit to one of our projects. Welcome, Bob!

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Water and sewer issues

The following is an excerpt from our recently-released Western Franklin County Business Report – the first report in our Rural Commonwealth Business Series. Over the last several Wednesdays, we have been posting sections of the report that highlight key themes that came up during more than 40 hours of interviews with local business owners. (Our previous posts in this series looked at?three-phase power and electrical grid issues?and the five kinds of marketing assistance needed by West County businesses, a need for more lodging, and business staffing). The full report, which you can?download as a PDF here, includes an overview of…

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Rural Commonwealth hosts Small Town Summit in Goshen

It was a dark and snowy night on November 7, 2017, when twenty-eight community leaders met at the Goshen Town Hall to discuss issues affecting our small towns. Many in attendance came from Goshen, Williamsburg but Hawley, Wendell, Huntington, Northampton Charlemont, Washington, Middlefield, Peru, Conway and Shelburne Falls were represented. The afternoon’s task force meeting with representatives from the state Department of Revenue concerning state owned land. (See related article.) While the formula change which takes place in 2018 will modify payments to towns, the larger issue remains that our towns need the legislature and the administration to fully fund…

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Legislative Update

Two important pieces of legislation for rural Massachusetts worked their way through the legislative labyrinth this week, just before the end of this session for both houses. The first is a bond issue which includes $13 million in new funding for the towns that have yet to find their way toward broadband for their community. These 10 towns will be eligible to apply for these funds since their size and budget doesn’t allow them to even begin the work needed to have any broadband solution. In addition, this bond issue includes the $38 million already designated for towns who have…

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State-owned land workgroup meets with Department of Revenue

Thank you to John Sears and Darlene McVeigh for their help with this post. Last December, attendees of a Small Town Summit in Charlemont pulled together a list of legislative priorities. One of the items on that list concerned minimizing the financial impact of payments for State-owned land on rural communities in Massachusetts. Summit attendees later began researching payments for State-owned land and formed a workgroup over the summer to address this issue. Workgroup members are Diane Bushee (former Select Board member from Goshen), Cheryl Handsaker (Charlemont Broadband Committee and Agricultural Commission), Darlene McVeigh (Huntington Select Board), Caleb Mitchell (Peru…

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What we’re reading this week

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts House unanimously passed a bond bill that, according to MassLive, “includes another $13 million for the Broadband Infrastructure Fund, which is available for use by 10 towns that are still exploring their options for expanding broadband.” These towns are in western Massachusetts. This bill also capitalizes the $32 million that previously was allocated to 21 western Massachusetts towns in the western part of the state. On Thursday, the?Massachusetts Senate also passed a bond bill that included the same amounts for broadband. Our blog post on Monday will be a rural issues legislative update. That post will…

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