News Briefs

Garlic and Arts Festival Keeps Giving

The North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival may be an annual event occurring only one weekend in autumn, but its support of the region and those who live and work there continues throughout the calendar year, with more than $10,000 in grants going to various community art and food projects.

“The funds come from festival income: admission and exhibitor fees,” Garlic and Arts co-founder and Seeds of Solidarity Education Center executive director Deb Habib tells the Advocate. “With a fully volunteer committee and no paid staff, we have been able to save some aside to give, in order to support North Quabbin projects that spread the arts, agriculture, and revitalization spirit of the festival year round.”

This year, over $5,000 in grants from $300 to $2,000 will go to seven separate projects, including As the World Turns, an exhibit of works by Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School students currently showing (through May 16) in the Hampden Gallery at Umass-Amherst; entertainers and artists—including a puppeteer who provides nutrition education—who perform at farmers’ markets in Orange, Athol and Petersham; and the Northern Routes Music Festival, which brings two days of electronic, experimental, folk and rock music to New Salem’s 1794 Meetinghouse this August.

Grants also support the purchase of outdoor screen equipment, helping the monthly downtown Orange film series Movies in the Park to continue operation, and the launch of the local artist studio tour Colors of the Quabbin, organized in collaboration with the Mount Grace Conservation Land Trust.

An additional $5,000 was given to the North Quabbin Community Co-op to advance outreach to low-income families and increase the availability of local farm products at its soon-to-come location in downtown Orange. A donation was also made to the North Quabbin Food-A-Thon.

“We are now trying to give $5,000 a year,” Habib continues, “plus an annual donation to the Food-A-Thon.”

The festival’s community grant-making group includes three members from the festival community, plus another four members representing different towns who were invited to partake in the process.

“Another really important part of the festival is [to] strengthen our passion as a committee,” says Habib. “Being able to give to others energizes and nourishes the festival committee as we see the ‘benefits’ of the festival infused in other programs and projects. It also makes transparent that this is a non-profit event with a goal of community revitalization. Not just one weekend of the year, but year-round.”•


Nature Counts

by Maureen Turner

Amateur naturalists will hit fields and forests and streams across the Valley during the Hitchcock Center for the Environment’s annual Biothon fundraiser.

The event seeks teams of supporters (members must be eight or older) to collect pledges as they spread out to count species of their choosing in the setting of their choosing, to raise money for the Amherst center. “The teams pick where they go and what they want to count and when they want to go out,” said Marcus Simon, Hitchcock’s development coordinator. Some groups, for instance, will be looking for particular birds migrating at this time of year; some will seek out plants that are just coming into bloom; others will be counting as many plants, birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians as they can find. “It’s kind of getting out and exploring what’s in our backyard right now,” Simon said. “It’s such a great learning experience for teams.”

If a team doesn’t have a naturalist among its members, Hitchcock will pair it with one, Simon said. The center will also provide field guides and species lists teams can use for their counts. While Biothon is a relaxed event, Simon added, prizes will be awarded to the team that raises the most money and the team that spots the largest number of species. Hitchcock hopes to raise about $17,000 through the event, which also ran last weekend.

To register for the event, contact Simon at (413) 256-6006 or Information can also be found at, where you can also make pledges to support a team.• 


If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be the Farmers’ Market at Forest Park

Say you have a hankering for local asparagus, or a need for some fresh eggs for that new omelet recipe. You know there must be a farmers’ market open somewhere today—this is, after all, the Valley, home to about three dozen of them—but you’re not sure which ones are open today.

To the rescue comes a new app from Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (a.k.a. CISA) that allows users to access the organization’s deep database of local farmers’ markets—not to mention the many farm stands, stores, restaurants and other outlets that carry local products—from your smartphone. The free app can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play (search for “buylocalfood,” or find the links at

And if your phone’s not especially smart? There’s also an online version of the database at CISA’s website. And, for the truly old-school among us, CISA recently released its 2014 Locally Grown farm products guide, a real-and-for-honest print publication that’s been distributed to subscribers of the Greenfield Recorder and Daily Hampshire Gazette and can also be picked up at many local farm stands, markets and other retailers. This year, according to CISA, the guide lists 249 “Local Hero” farms, 54 restaurants, 34 retailers, 19 dining services, 16 specialty producers, and five landscapers and garden centers.• —MT


New Law Restores Worthington’s Public Schools

Last week, Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a bill that allows the town of Worthington to form its own public elementary school, the culmination of an effort that began several years ago in response to a plan to regionalize area schools.

In 2010, the Gateway Regional School District, which included Worthington, announced plans to collapse five of the district’s community elementary schools into two to save money. A group of Worthington residents, however, objected to losing their local Russell H. Conwell School. After a proposal to open a charter school in the town did not win state approval, the group instead opened a low-cost private school in the building, now called the R.H. Conwell Community Education Center. Meanwhile, they continued to push for legislation that would allow them to leave Gateway Regional and form their own school district, which would enable them to re-open Conwell as a public school. (See “Going Public,” April 9, 2014,

The newly signed bill will allow the town to do just last. John McDonald, a former Conwell parent and president of the board of the Community Education Center, told the Advocate that families hope the public school will re-open in the fall of 2015. Worthington middle and high school students will attend school in the Hampshire Regional School District, with the town paying a set fee per child.

In the meantime, families with children at the private Conwell Community Education Center are hoping to keep the school, or at least part of it, open during the 2014-15 school year. Earlier this year, they kicked off a fundraising campaign to raise money for the community school, which charges very little tuition ($1,500 per child, and no more than $3,000 per family, with no child turned away for lack of money) and has relied heavily on private donations.

Last week, McDonald said the effort has raised about $110,000 in cash and pledges—some of which were contingent on the bill passing in the Legislature—which will at least allow Conwell to operate its preschool program next year. And, he added, he hopes that news that the bill allowing Worthington to re-open its public school has passed will generate more donations and allow the entire center to stay open during the interim year.• —MT


Author: Advocate staff

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