Area farms awarded grants to mitigate climate change

  • General Manager Spencer Gowan at the denitrification tank at Great Falls Aquaculture. They will be upgrading the system with a $50,000 farm grant from the state. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Employees sort barramundi by size at Great Falls Aquaculture in the Industrial Park in Montague. The farm received a $50,000 state grant for a nitration reduction system STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Large circular holding tanks for barramundi at Great Falls Aquaculture in the Industrial Park in Montague. The farm received a $50,000 state grant for a nitration reduction system STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Barramundi in a holding tank at Great Falls Aquaculture in the Industrial Park in Montague. The farm received a $50,000 state grant for a nitration reduction system STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Great Falls Aquaculture in the Industrial Park in Montague. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 10/8/2021 2:56:46 PM
Modified: 10/8/2021 2:56:52 PM

The Baker-Polito Administration announced over $2.9 million in grants distributed by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to help farms across the state implement climate change mitigation strategies and solutions.

The grants will fund various climate change projects including: agricultural environmental enhancement; agricultural energy efficiencies; farmland preservation; greenhouse gas emission reduction; improvements to soil health; livestock management and more.

Of that amount, $257,500 has been awarded to seven farms within Franklin County.

Through the FY22 Climate Smart Agriculture Program, Chase Hill Farm in Warwick was granted $49,500 to install a 12.6kW ground-mounted photovoltaic system with a battery backup. Sweet Morning Farm, LLC in Leyden also received $22,809 to install an 8.16kW tracking photovoltaic system.

Bree-Z-Knoll Farm in Leyden was awarded $50,000 for dairy barn modifications, including fans, side-wall curtains and waterers.

Randy Facey, a member of the family-run dairy farm, said they will use the grant for improvements to their ventilation systems and increase energy efficiency. Bree-Z-Knoll Farm is the last working dairy farm in Leyden, and is a founding member of the Our Family Farms dairy cooperative. According to Our Family Farms, Bree-Z-Knoll is located on hundreds of acres in Leyden and currently milks 120 cows and sells most of its product in the local area.

“We applied because there hasn’t been a lot of money in the dairy industry for the last 10-plus years,” Facey said. “With big projects like this, there’s usually not enough money for us to do it all on our own.”

Great Falls Aquaculture in Turners Falls received a $50,000 grant for a nitration reduction system.

General Manager Spencer Gowan said the farm, which raises trout and barramundi, tries to reuse as much water as possible, but the fish create ammonia as a byproduct that needs to removed.

“That ammonia gets broken down by our biofilters down to nitrite first and then into nitrate,” Spencer said. “Nitrite and nitrate are toxic to the fish.”

Gowan said the nitration reduction system will allow them to install a new nitrate reduction system, which is far more efficient than their current system.

“We can always do more,” Gowan said. “We’re using this technology for us to recirculate within the building, but ultimately it will affect the amount of nitrogen discharge … it’s a valuable thing for the Connecticut River and very important for the Long Island Sound (where the river drains).”

Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland received $40,000 for a roof-mounted solar system with a battery back up for a new warehouse with a freezer for storing produce.

“We recently built a warehouse building to house a freezer and storage and this grant is for solar panels on the south-facing roof to generate power,” said Caroline Pam, the farm’s manager. “It felt really good that if we were to increase our energy use to set it off with renewable energy.”

Pam said the increased storage and power generation will help them fight climate change as the harvest season is reduced. She added the increased severity of weather makes it imperative that they have a backup energy source in case of extended power outages.

“We’re very much feeling attuned to the pattern of frequent and serious hurricanes,” Pam said. “That definitely affects what we’re able to grow and the risks that we take in doing it.”

Foxtrot Farm in Shelburne Falls received $29,200 to plant elderberries on a riparian buffer, which is farmland where shrubs and bushes are planted.

Abby Ferla, the farm’s manager, said the farm will be planting four acres of elderberries next spring to help expand the farm’s “economic viability” and climate resiliency.

“Elders are a native species that are incredibly resilient and like wet soil,” Ferla said. “It’s a really cool plant going forward for our region to increase food security.”

She added it will take about three years for the plants to produce their full harvest, but the berries are high on vitamin C and help combat the common cold.

Ferla said elderberries’ resistance to rain is important as summers are becoming more extreme and unpredictable in the northeast.

“The projections for the northeast mostly revolve around water and entrenched systems — longer periods of drought and longer periods of rain,” Ferla said. “It was really dry through June and we got a lot of rain in July. That’s sort of the inverse of what you’re used to.”

Ferla said the projections are bad but the only thing farms can do is prepare and persevere.

“Hopefully there’s a possibility of farmers in the northeast preparing for and adapting to climate change,” Ferla said. “I try not to be a pessimist about it.”

According to the press release from the governor’s office, the awards will support 84 farms, municipalities, and other organizations across the state through five different Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources grant programs, including the Climate Smart Agriculture Program (CSAP), the Stewardship Assistance and Restoration Program (SARA), the Agricultural Compost Improvement Program (ACIP), the Urban Agriculture Program, and the Buy Local Grant Program.

“Building a robust food system in Massachusetts requires smart investments to help our local farms and agricultural sector become more resilient to the impacts of climate change,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said in the press release. “These grants will advance sustainable practices and help our family farms access new local markets, steward their land and natural resources, and prepare for the future.”

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579. Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.

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