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Full-Belly Benefit Dance Party Saturday to benefit region’s food security

— A joint effort by Grow Food Northampton, Valley Malt, Brookfield Farm and a coalition of other local farmers, educators and food purveyors will put a new twist on the notion of belly dancing when they sponsor and host their fifth annual Full-Belly Benefit Dance Party Saturday.

This year’s dance will be held at the JCA Social Hall at 742 Main St. in Amherst from 8 p.m. until midnight, and will feature snacks, music by local band The No-No’s, and a raffle. The event is part of an effort to strengthen food security in the region.

“Our interest is in promoting local food security,” said Dan Kaplan of Brookfield Farm. “The idea for this originated from the big outpouring of support that happened after Obama’s inauguration in 2008. We wanted to do something that would tap into that good feeling and use it to raise some awareness locally and raise some funds for local projects.”

Valley Malt will provide a cash bar that will feature beer made with local ingredients. Valley Malt leases land from Grow Food Northampton to grow grain, which is then malted, sold to and used by some of the area’s local brewers in their beer production.

Attendees will be able to receive a free raffle ticket if they donate three canned food products. Last year the party was held at the Northampton Center for the Arts and raised more than $4,000.

Tickets to the event are $10, and are available at A.J. Hastings in Amherst.

All proceeds from the event will go to the Amherst and Northampton survival centers and the Kestrel Trust, an organization dedicated to land conservation and local farmland protection in the Connecticut River Valley.

According to Executive Director Lilly Lombard, Grow Food Northampton was founded in 2010 by citizens who wanted to preserve farmland for community agriculture. She said the group raised money to purchase the land almost entirely through community donations.

The organization operates the Northampton Organic Farm and the Florence Community Garden.

Lombard talked recently with the Gazette about the event and its role in strengthening the region’s food security:

Q: What is food security?

A: Food security is the ability of a community to access sufficient nutritious calories.

Q: How do you strengthen it locally?

A: A community strengthens its food security by protecting its agricultural resource base and developing a delivery system for getting nutritious, affordable food from farm to plate. Currently, most food travels very far and goes through a lot of processing before it is purchased and eaten. That degrades its nutritional value. It also makes our food supply vulnerable to weather events far away and transportation disruptions. When we protect our land and water base, however, and grow food locally, we better ensure fresh healthy food for our community.

Q: What do you hope to see accomplished through this event?

A: The purpose of the event is first of all — as a community building event — to have fun and for people to celebrate as a community. It’s to celebrate as a community that cares about securing food for, well, everybody. What I love about this event is that it looks at those ends of the food equation, it looks both at the farmland piece — which is why half the proceeds go to the Kestrel Land Trust, because they’re the folks on the front lines of protecting farmland for food production. And then it’s also going to the food delivery piece, which is to the Amherst Survival Center and the Northampton Survival Center, which are making sure that the people who don’t currently have access to healthy, nutritious, local food can access it. So, it’s that beautiful partnership of all the folks that bring food to the table that this event celebrates.

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