Local farmers get money from Harold Grinspoon Foundation
NORTHAMPTON — At the inaugural Simon Grinspoon Farm Awards, celebrating what farmers harvest from the Earth, one local farmer won $500 for his idea to harness what humans give back in great supply — urine.
Ricky Baruc, winner of the ceremony’s Farm Innovation Idea Contest, warned those present that many people “freak out” when they hear his idea.
“We actually save our urine,” said Baruc, who runs Seeds of Solidarity farm with his wife in Orange.
Reserves of phosphorus, one of the primary nutrients needed by crops, are dwindling, but human urine is full of both phosphorus and nitrogen, which is another key nutrient.
“You almost have to sanitize it for the public, but the fact of the matter is it is sterile and has the nutrients we’re running out of,” Baruc said. His idea involves building a machine called a microdigester to extract the nutrients from the urine.
The event was held Wednesday night at the Smith College Campus Center, and most in attendance had already been awarded grants by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation.
When he was growing up in the Boston suburbs during the Depression, Harold Grinspoon remembers, he used to sell his father’s vegetables to neighbors from a wagon attached to his bicycle.
Now a western Massachusetts philanthropist in his mid-80s, Grinspoon loves to visit farms and support local farmers markets. So the creator of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, best known for programs supporting Jewish community life in the region and Jewish education throughout North America, established the first-time $75,000 “Simon Grinspoon Farm Awards” — named for his father — to encourage entrepreneurship on 33 farms in the Pioneer Valley and Berkshire County.
The farms, which were awarded grants of up to $2,500 early this year and selected from 88 applicants in the four western counties, also included Bear Swamp Orchard in Ashfield, Shinglebrook Farm in Shelburne, Clarkdale Fruit Farm in West Deerfield and Warm Colors Apiary in Deerfield.
“It is unusual for a foundation to come forward willing and able to strengthen an entire sector of our local economy,” said Phil Korman, executive director of South Deerfield-based Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, who attended a celebration Wednesday in Northampton of the grants “making it more possible for local farmers to expand their businesses and to be economically sustainable over the long-term. As our family farms compete with a global food system, they need support and commitment from every corner of the community.”
Ben Clark, whose family’s 100-year-old fruit farm used the $2,500 grant award to replace some of its fruit trees, said that unlike state and federal grants he also applies for with “very, very time-consuming” applications and often slow delays in getting the money, the Grinspoon grant was simple to apply for.
David Paysnick of Rainbow Harvest Farms in Greenfield, said he plans to use his grant money to build a water catchment canopy that can not only provide water for his 9-acre Adams Road farm, but also provide shelter for farm equipment. Ryan Voiland of Red Fire Farm in Montague and Granby said he used his grant to improve water and electrical systems.
Other farmers planned to use their grants for cold storage, to build “high-tunnel” greenhouses for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, and for a backup generator for milking equipment.
Because of the high level of interest in the program, the quality of the applications, and the importance of the projects, Grinspoon expanded this year’s total awards from $50,000 to $75,000 and plans to continue the program.
If his father “could have made a living being a farmer he would have done so,” said Grinspoon, who made his fortune in real estate.
The night proceeded almost like a game show, in which farmers were awarded cash prizes.
In addition to the 33 grants of up to $2,500 already awarded to area farms, farmers got another opportunity to receive money by speaking at the event. Twelve farmers whose names were drawn out of a basket got 90 seconds to answer a question about their farm, including what the challenges and joys are of farming in western Massachusetts or how their farms would be the same or different in 10 to 20 years. Each of them was awarded another $250.
Deb Habib, Baruc’s wife, was one of the 12 farmers selected to speak. Even though the pair did not win one of the original grants awarded by the Grinspoon Foundation, they finished the night with $750.
Baruc said it is rare to have an event for farmers with money involved.
“This is a really interesting model,” he said. “We need to link arts and agriculture with money because there’s no money in this whole realm. We’re all struggling along. Harold is doing a good thing.”
Habib said the timing of the event is also a plus.
“It is the end of the harvest season and a chance to celebrate,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of farmers we don’t get to see in a social way.”
At the event, Harold Grinspoon announced that his foundation would be increasing grants from $75,000 to $100,000 in the next round of awards, with the help of cosponsor Big Y.
Applications for the 2016 awards will be available in January at http://www.hgf.org.
On the Web: http://www.hgf.org
Recorder reporter Richie Davis and Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Dave Eisenstadter contributed to this story.