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So, what's happening with the new building? 

05/02/2022 01:08:49 PM


Hello! Wondering what's going with our new building at 237 Prospect Street? Read on!

Quick recap: Last year, CBI acquired what was once an administrative building for the city's water department, which is why you may hear it called “the water building” or “the mayim building.” If you haven't seen it, it's the big, brick one on the other side of Abundance Farm from the synagogue. Though maybe you were there for the big Chanukah party?               

[Photo credit: Shana Surek]                                                                                                                  

So, what’s in store for 237 Prospect St? Soon, renovations will begin to create new office and meeting spaces on the first floor. No promises, but it might look something like this…



[Image credit: David Whitehill]

Also, a big thanks to our Ad Hoc Building Committee members: David Whitehill, David Kaufman, and Ruthie Oland-Stuckey!  After the immediate refurbishments to make the building more usable, we'll continue working on the bigger vision along with our architect Maryann Thompson.

While nothing is set in stone, other uses for the new building may include a food justice center, more room for our Gan Keshet preschoolers to play, or a cafe-bakery. One thing we know for sure is that the building will help us focus on these three core values:

  • Avodah lev (spiritual connections)
  • Chokhmah (education)
  • Tzedek (social justice)

If you want to learn more, here’s a copy of the Request for Proposal that we originally submitted to the city in our bid for the building. While all plans are subject to change, it will give you a sense of some possibilities!

CBI Community Benefits Statement:

A decade ago, Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI) acquired from the City a strip of land adjacent to the Water Department Building property. Over the last ten years we have transformed this land into Abundance Farm, a community asset that brings tremendous benefits to the City and its residents. Acquisition of the Water Department Building property would allow us to significantly expand these activities and the value they bring to the community as we develop the Farm into a leading center to promote (a) food security and community agriculture, (b) education and training in environmental sustainability and resilience at least until January 01, 2030.

Current role in the community
Abundance Farm, the focal point of much of our community programming, has expanded from a community garden to a small working farm open to anyone. In 2018, the Farm brought well over 5000 participants – most from outside the immediate CBI member community – to Farm-related programs, ranging from child and adult educational activities and communal cooking to food harvests and a street-side farm stand making free produce available to anyone in the community. (These numbers have grown in 2019.) The Farm has also provided a range of education and training programs for youth and professional staff of local community organizations.

Significantly, the Farm’s ten-year demonstrated track record of benefit to the community has been as the primary provider of these program and services, rather than as a participant in or supporter of other organizations’ programs and services. The range of current programs promoting the RFP’s required community benefits include:

  • A seven-year collaboration with the Northampton Survival Center engaging Survival Center clients in the Farm. This partnership includes a bi-weekly pick-your-own program enabling Survival Center clients of all ages to regularly add free fresh produce to their meals. (There were over 700 client visits in 2019; over 1100 including client visits outside scheduled pick-your-own hours.) As a result, clients have become engaged in other aspects of the Farm, adding to the already diverse community – in age and background – brought together on this land. Of particular note, recent immigrants and refugees from agricultural communities in Africa, Central America, Asia and the Middle East, have reconnected or brought to the Farm plants from their native homes. The Farm has fostered broader community engagement with the Survival Center through formal internship, education and other programming as well as expanded exposure to new constituencies. The Survival Center has also benefited from regular professional staff development opportunities put on by the Farm. (For additional details, see the attached letter from the Executive Director of the Survival Center and the Abundance Farm’s Pick Your Own Community Harvest Program 2019 Report.)
  • Collaboration with Grow Food Northampton (GFN) providing a free, weekly, community lunch over the summer for the last two years bringing together a diverse group of people of all generations from across the city and providing a unique context for meaningful community building. We have also collaborated with GFN to support the pick-your-own experience through farm food demonstrations and recipe sharing events. (See the attached letter from the Director of Programs of Grow Food Northampton for additional details.)
  • The Farm has served as a placement for Federal Works Programs including placement for participants under the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act, and individuals who qualify for “The Abled Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) Work Requirement and Time Limit in order to be eligible for SNAP benefits.
  • Work with area colleges. The Farm runs college internships during the school year and summer, and hosts volunteers from area colleges. We have a particularly strong connection with Smith College; Smith students are eligible to receive work-study funding to serve as interns on the Farm, and the Farm serves as placement for summer “praxis” students. The Farm hosts visiting Smith classes each year with Farm staff serving as guest lecturers. In addition, the Farm director has taught classes on the Farm’s work at all five colleges.
  • Young adult and teen leadership. For the last four years, we have operated the Shefa Teen Internship, a popular paid summer internship program open to the public, regardless of religious affiliation, that provides an immersive six-week experience in sustainable farming, community organizing and leadership training through food justice work for 12-15 high school students, most from Northampton High School. The Farm also offers an internship program hosting some ten teens during the school year. This past Fall, the Farm hosted Hartsbrook School teens for an eight consecutive week course at the Farm exploring food justice.
  • Professional development workshops. The Farm hosts a number of professional development workshops on the subjects of food justice and farm-based education for campus educators and staff (including the Northampton Survival Center), as well as teachers from schools around the region.
  • Other programming support and collaborations include work with the Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center over the last four years including staff participating in community organization training for interns, and providing volunteers for the PVWC’s own new farm; a recent joint program with the Karuna Center for Peace to host a lecture and workshop with Leah Penniman, food justice activist and farmer with 200+ attendees; and for the past three years the Farm has hosted the Rosenberg Fund For Justice’s annual fundraising event with the Neilds.
  • Drawing a broader community to Northampton. The Farm has benefited the community by drawing visitors to Northampton from outside our area interested in learning from our successes in farm-based curriculum, training and community outreach including visits from schools, churches, camps and other non-profit organizations from around the country. The Farm has also been honored to pilot initiatives in community engagement and early childhood education before they are rolled out nationally by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

To ensure a vigorous engagement with the broader community, the Farm has an Advisory Board with community representation.

Continuing a history of serving the community
Maintaining this property in the hands of a faith-based organization driven by a mission grounded in social justice is congruent with the site’s role in Northampton’s history. The current Farm site is situated on land that served as Northampton’s “Poor Farm,” from roughly 1800-1950.  During this period, the Poor Farm and adjoining Alms (“Poor”) House served as a refuge for local residents in need of shelter, food and other services. The Alms House included a 15-acre farm operated by the Alms House residents. We have built on the site’s long history as the city’s Alms House and “Poor Farm” to advance more dignified ways to address food insecurity for Northampton residents. In 2019 the Farm was honored to receive from the City a Whiting Street Fund grant made to agencies that serve low income people residing in the community. We have also been honored to work with the Historic Northampton to bring this story to wider audiences in and beyond our community.

Water Department Building role in the future of Abundance Farm’s mission
Acquisition of the Water Department Building property will open up a range of short-, medium- and long-term opportunities to extend the reach and impact of Farm programs for the community, including collaborations with new external partners. In the more immediate term, the Water Building property would give us much needed space to support growing program staff, as well as administrative and community meeting space. Future opportunities include:

  • Value-added businesses and workforce training, including an onsite bakery (further developing our onsite bakery), processed food production, a Farm Store and a commercial kitchen facility offering training and mentoring to local teens, Survival Center clients and others.
  • An expanded teen/young adult training and education program drawing 75-100 diverse participants from the region for an 8-week immersive summer program and a smaller academic year program. Programs like these will develop the leaders who can help Northampton be a model for environmental justice and resiliency.
  • Expansion of internship experiences that provide students academic credit in cooperation with local schools.
  • We have begun discussions with Jackson Street School about supporting curriculum development and programs in relation to their farm initiative.
  • An accredited gap year program integrating hands-on training in sustainable agriculture with study of food systems and resilient communities, as well as training in leadership and community organizing, drawing on educators and leaders in the community.
  • A food processing center similar to Franklin County’s Food Processing Center in Greenfield.
  • In the longer term, creation of a multi-generational residential community, housing students as well as seniors.

Promoting community access and environmental resilience
In keeping with the environmental mission of Abundance Farm, our stewardship of the land would support the city’s broader sustainability and resilience efforts. Our development of the property would include facilitating public access to the current bike path and the wetland preserves behind the Water Department Building property. More broadly, improving the ecological health of the site and, by extension, the surrounding woods and nearby conservation area (Barrett Street Marsh) would be a primary concern. For example, when making land use decisions, we would minimize the amount of impervious surfaces which reduce groundwater recharge to the marsh and contribute to the peak of stormwater flow into the marsh.  We would also focus on managing invasive species, such as Japanese Knotweed, which are rampant in the area.

We look forward to playing a continuing and expanded role serving this wonderful City.

Question, comments, or other thoughts on the building? Feel free to email office@cbinorthampton.org

Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784