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Editorial: Monday mix on shelter funds; farm grants; library project

  • Phoenix Fruit Farm, on Sabin Street in Belchertown, overlooks the Quabbin Reservoir and the Holyoke Range. Owner Elly Vaughan will use a state grant to install a drip irrigation system for the peach, pear, and nectarine trees she plans to plant in the spring. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


Sunday, December 31, 2017

We wish that the Baker administration had not for the second straight year frozen $200,000 earmarked for the Craig’s Place homeless shelter in Amherst, raising doubts about whether it would remain open through the winter. We are glad the state finally released the money Thursday, amid a prolonged stretch of frigid temperatures.

The funds, part of the state budget since fiscal year 2015, were threatened this year and last when Gov. Charlie Baker cited concerns about sufficient revenue. Both years, shelter officials warned that without the money, Craig’s Place could not remain open during its usual schedule from Nov. 1 through April 30.

The $200,000 is a major portion of the budget for the the 28-bed Craig’s Place at the First Baptist Church, 434 North Pleasant St., which no longer receives town funding. It costs about $30,000 a month to operate the shelter.

It is one of two emergency winter shelters in Hampshire County, and the only one that makes its beds available to people under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Amherst state Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose described the importance of the shelter remaining open without interruption in a letter he sent Dec. 18 to Baker. “Each winter season ... Craig’s (Place) serves nearly 200 individuals, most for several nights and many for the entire season. … Those who cannot find shelter would have no choice but to sleep outside, resulting in illness and deaths.”

The $200,000 is part of an $8.16 million line item included in the state Department of Housing and Community Development budget.

We trust that the threat of balancing the budget by jeopardizing an essential service for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents will not be repeated for a third year.

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A bouquet to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources for helping farmers address climate change by awarding 23 grants totaling $350,000 this month. Among those receiving the grants are Black Squirrel Farm in Amherst, Phoenix Fruit Farm in Belchertown, Red Fire Farm in Granby, Warner Farm in Sunderland and Mayval Farm in Westhampton.

The local farmers say they will use the Agricultural Environmental Enhancement Program money for new equipment that is more environmentally efficient and will improve irrigation systems and planting methods.

“I think it’s really great that the state has these programs to support farms,” says Elly Vaughan, owner of Phoenix. “It’s been a key resource for me building a business in our first year.

She plans to use the $11,700 grant for a well and drip irrigation system in a new orchard of peach, nectarine and pear trees. Drip irrigation systems consist of a network of underground hoses that use about half as much water as traditional overhead sprinklers.

Mayval Farm will use its $22,500 grant to buy no-till equipment, which turns the soil and plants seeds for cover crops in one pass, keeps more carbon and organic material in the soil and reduces the need for fertilizers.

“No-till in general is being pushed as a good way to mitigate climate change by keeping carbon in the soil,” says Kate Parsons, an eighth-generation owner of the family farm. “If you can increase (organic material), you are spending less money on fertilizer and you can have better crops.”

That’s a big payoff for local farmers after a modest investment by the state.

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We appreciate the support the community has given to the Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton since it closed in September for repairs. The library is expected to reopen in late January or early February when renovations costing $400,000 are complete.

The basement of the 136-year-old building will have a new circulation desk and teen area and improved bathrooms. “It’s a much better environment,” says Director Nora Blake.

Meanwhile, the library has kept a limited collection of books, CDs and DVDs open in space donated at the Eastworks building.

Blake seeks volunteers to move books back into the library as it prepares to reopen. Last week, six Williston Northampton School students who are members of its community service club assembled shelves and carried books down the basement stairs.

“We have been overwhelmed by the support of the community,” says Blake. Anyone who wants to help may call her at 413-527-1031.