Amherst Chamber’s 43rd annual A+ awards to focus on agriculture

The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce will focus its 43rd annual A+ Awards this year on the resiliency farms, including J&J Farms in North Amherst, which was struck by lightning this summer.

The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce will focus its 43rd annual A+ Awards this year on the resiliency farms, including J&J Farms in North Amherst, which was struck by lightning this summer. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 10-23-2023 2:09 PM

AMHERST — Amherst’s last dairy farm, which lost the stable for its 50 milking cows and their milk house to a fire in June, and a Hadley dairy farm that uses technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve conditions for its 600 head of cattle are being honored next month by the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce.

In announcing the 2023 A+ Awards, to be presented at a Nov. 16 event at the Student Union Ballroom on the University of Massachusetts campus, the chamber focused on a “Rooted in Community” theme that will highlight the region’s agricultural traditions, while also celebrating those who make Amherst, Belchertown, Hadley, Leverett, Pelham, Shutesbury and Sunderland better and more equitable places to live.

Executive Director Claudia Pazmany said recognizing farms felt appropriate in the 43rd year the chamber is having the annual banquet, especially due to the impact the wet summer had on all crops.

“We realize we’re a community rooted in agriculture, and it’s important to give it that attention,” Pazmany said.

The Rooted in Community Award is going to J&J Farms, a sixth-generation dairy farm in North Amherst heavily damaged in a fire sparked by a lightning strike, which was followed just weeks later by the death of the family patriarch, Joseph Waskiewicz Sr. Despite the hardships, the family continued to set up a farm stand where corn and other vegetables could be bought throughout the summer. Other farms have since housed their cows.

“We talked a lot about resilience,” Pazmany said. “This galvanized the community, who came together to save the cows and lend a hand, without even being asked.”

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The Leader in Sustainability Award is recognizing Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley, a 200-year-old farm with 450 acres of forage for its herd that, according to the chamber, “continues to broaden their vision of what a dairy farm looks like.” That has included using an anaerobic digester which converts cow manure and food waste into electricity, heat and fertilizer, and buying robotic milkers that mean a healthier, stress-free environment for their animals. The retail store on site in the Hockanum section of Hadley also supports other local farms and vendors, including local artists.

Individual awards

Several other awards will go to individuals who are making a difference.

Kent Faerber is earning the Lifetime Achievement Award for his volunteer service co-chairing the capital campaign for the Jones Library expansion and renovation project. Faerber worked professionally to support the growth of Amherst College and then the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

The Leader in Innovation Award is going to Dr. Khama Ennis, founder of Intentional Health LLC, a holistic and integrative medical practice, who has also worked to build equitable health care systems. Ennis and her company also helped create “Faces of Medicine,” a narrative project exploring the paths of Black female physicians in the United States to inspire people who may not have imagined careers in medicine and improve health equity through increasing diversity in medicine.

Olivia Feal is getting the Young Professional Award for managing Experiential Learning and K–12 programs at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College. Her work has included establishing community partnerships with the Amherst Regional Public Schools, the Amherst Farmers Market and the Jones Library.

Finally, Chamber MVP recognizes Joan Dahl-Lussier of Homewood Suites and the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group, for contributions to the chamber and its events, including ones staged during the pandemic.

The event, sponsored by PeoplesBank and running from 5 to 8:30 p.m., will also feature the announcement of $1,000 scholarship awards from the chamber and Cooley Dickinson Hospital to four seniors from Amherst Regional High School, Hopkins Academy, Belchertown High School and Frontier Regional School pursuing business or health care-related studies in college.

The meal being served will also fit in with the Rooted in Community theme, with UMass Dining preparing a special menu featuring items from the local farms with whom they work. Pazmany said the centerpieces on the tables will also have a local farm theme.

Tickets are $90 per person and $700 for a table of eight, and registration is open at amherstarea.com.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.