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About Us

The Conservancy is a non-profit, 501(c) 3 organization. We do everything with a very small and part-time staff and the help of our volunteers, particularly our participant growers. Our staff uses their own personal resources such as computers and their homes to give the organization much of its current infrastructure. We try to respond to all letters and phone calls but sometimes it takes a while. The Conservancy has a number of different projects currently underway.

The basis of the Conservancy's conservation agenda are two projects -- the CRESS Heirloom Seed Conservation Project, and the Native Seeds Project.

CRESS, stands for Conservation and Regional Exchange by Seed Savers. Since its inception in 1992, this program has been collecting and preserving cultivated food plants, -- germ plasm-- endemic or acclimated to this region. CRESS's main objective is to create and maintain a regional living seed bank. Heirloom seeds and plants from this and other regions are grown out annually, seed saved and replanted periodically in order to maintain each variety.

The Native Seeds Project focuses on preserving the oldest domesticated plants from our region such as corn and beans. These plants are living cultural resources introduced to this region at least a thousand years ago. Some plants such as sweet corn or pumpkins were probably developed by native people in the Northeast region. Native American crops from this region exhibit significant qualities of vigor, cold hardiness, early ripening, disease and insect resistance. Presently the primary focus of the project is the collection of Native American seed, its propagation, perpetuation, and redistribution to Native people.

Near term goals for this project are the wider distribution of seed to Native Americans and assistance in developing educational and horticultural programs. Anticipated long term goals include development and expansion of native sustainable economies based on traditional activities, including producing and marketing various cultivated and wild resources. The Conservancy will help combat diet related diseases such as diabetes and obesity through the reintroduction of native foods, education and traditional medicine.

The Heirloom Tomato Field Project was begun in 1997 as a pilot project with support from the Cultural Economic Development grant program at the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The project brought together farmers, culinary professionals, food purveyors, and consumers to highlight the potential of heirloom varieties, particularly tomatoes.

This program aims to help create new niche markets for distinctive heirloom tomato varieties in southern/western New England and adjacent New York. In 1997 this was accomplished through field trials conducted by area farmers and home gardeners, tasting events held in the Berkshires and through tomato samples distributed to major restaurants in the Berkshire and Boston metropolitan area.

The crowning event of the project was the Epicurean Tomato Fete held at Wheatleigh Hotel in Lenox MA, which displayed an incredible array of heirloom tomatoes, garlic and potatoes, with dishes prepared by great chefs from Boston to New York. In 1998, funding pending, we hope to conduct tastings all across the state, continue trialing amongst farmers, develop and test market value added products made from heirloom tomatoes and other heirloom crops as a means of economic development for regional farmers and others.

And by overwhelming demand we will repeat the Epicurean Tomato Fete. Heirloom Community Garden is a new garden effort to bring together elders and youth. The garden is located at the Claire Teague Senior Center in Great Barrington. Children from the Southern Berkshire Youth Association learned about gardening and seed saving throughout the season and got to bring home produce. Our educational curriculum with the children is continuing into the winter using themes of food, art, composting etc. Seniors benefited from the garden with produce being delivered to the Senior Center and to residents of the adjacent senior citizen housing.

Backyard Gardeners Program is designed to get regional gardeners in proximity to Berkshire County to trial varieties for us and themselves in order to become familiar with the cultivation and tastes of heirlooms and their performance in different locations. The Gardeners meet thorough out the year to discuss and learn more about growing heirloom varieties.

P.O. Box 451
Great Barrington, Massachusetts 01230