Amherst man to take 3-day walk to fight hunger

  • Ken Johnston, of Amherst, in an undated file photo. Johnston will embark on a “healing walk” from the Amherst Town Common on Wednesday, June 20, to Unifier Festival in Tolland, in an effort to call attention to hunger. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/13/2018 8:11:29 PM

AMHERST — An Amherst man is hoping to use his latest walking journey to raise awareness about hunger and to inspire area residents to donate fresh food to local pantries and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, while bringing attention to the upcoming three-day Unifier Festival in Tolland.

Ken Johnston, who this spring did a Walk to Freedom from Selma, Alabama, to Memphis, Tennessee, to join the somber 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, will begin what he is calling a “healing walk” from the Amherst Town Common June 20 at 8:15 a.m.

“We hope people will come out and walk with us and support local farms and healthy food,” Johnston said.

Johnston said he is inviting people to join him as he does the brief three-day, 47-mile walk. He said groups with a focus on the climate and safe water initiatives are planning to be part of the walk and hold banners along the way.

During the six hours or so of walking each day, Johnston will make stops at the Easthampton Community Center’s food pantry, the Westfield Food Pantry at the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Our Community Food Pantry, which serves residents in Granville, Tolland and Southwick.

“This will be a great way to connect to communities here in the Pioneer Valley,” Johnston said.

From the Amherst Town Common, the walk will travel on the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Hadley and Northampton, the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton and into Southampton, where the first day ends at the Southampton fire station. The next day, the walk passes through Westfield and concludes at the Granville library. The final day goes on a more rugged and hilly terrain from Granville into Tolland and the 417-acre Camp Timber Trails, where the Unifier Festival takes place.

Christopher Wojcik, spokesman for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, said there is appreciation for Johnston doing the walk with an aim of getting donations of food, including fresh and local products.

“Events like this go a long way to raise awareness of the issue of food insecurity,” Wojcik said.

There are 30,000 people in Hampshire County who rely on the Food Bank’s services, Wojcik said, and the demand rises at this time of year with children getting out of school.

“This area’s meal sites and food pantries see an uptick in visits from families,” Wojcik said.

This will be Johnston’s third walk. Last summer, he walked across Massachusetts from the northwest corner of the state in the Berkshires to the tip of Cape Cod.

The three-day Unifier Festival is headlined by the band Rubblebucket. Now in its fifth year, organizer Jason Cohen said the festival is about unifying people.

“There are a lot of things happening in the world that are not inspiring, and this brings a lot of people together over inspiring art, love of land, sacred music and yoga,” Cohen said.

The festival also includes more than 100 workshops and panel discussions, vendors with organic and local food, and lakes for boating and swimming.

Cohen said the Unifier Festival helped sponsor Johnston’s walk earlier this year.

“Ken’s an inspiring person,” Cohen said.

“This is my way to give back to them for their support,” Johnston said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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