“ We couldn’t have done it without you!” resounded in Amherst Chinese Restaurant from the farmers in the Saturday Amherst Farmer’s Market. It was the end of the market dinner for the Amherst Farmer’s Market family, a group of dedicated farmers and volunteers linked by the market manager Sarah Berquist, to provide local goods to the community of Amherst.
Sarah Berquist is a recent graduate from Umass Amherst and the Sustainable Food and Farming concentration, but has since continued new learning opportunities into our larger Pioneer Valley Community. Entering into school as an Environmental Science major, Sarah realized she thrived while working with her hands. After switching to Sustainable Food andarming, Sarah immediately got the hands- on experience she was looking for at Astarte Farm, securing her passion and interest for agriculture. Sarah is always exploring challenging opportunities and looking to provide her friends and family with healthy food choices.
Most recently, Sarah was the Teachers Assistant and researcher for the Student Farm as well as The Saturday Amherst Farmer’s Market Manager. Sarah was an integral part in ensuring that the Farmer’s Market exceeded the expectations of the community in providing an accessible outlet for healthy food to our community. Sarah woke up at 5:30 every morning with the farm vendors, always conscious of connecting the market to the wider community. Personally as a volunteer, by the time I came to the market, Sarah was wide awake conversing with patrons and vendors, dealing with market logistics, and checking in with everyone’s needs, with a friendly and concerned attitude.
Going beyond the conventional market structure, Sarah searched for opportunities to make the market more widely accessible to a broader socio-economic base. Driven by her frustration with the lack of accessible locally made products, she pursued a grant that would increase the markets availability to a variety of economic statuses. The grant allowed individuals receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP) benefits incentives to buy from the farmer’s market. The Electronic Benefits Transfer machine matched the amount of money the person would receive from their SNAP benefits(If the card was charged $10 the customer would receive $20). Sarah wants to address the affordability of healthy options for the Amherst community and the environment.Sarah has responded to the communities demand for products that benefit the entire community by extending the accessibility and incentives to frequent the market. The SNAP/EBT machine is great for any customer who forgets cash for the market, but most importantly diversifies the economic base for those who wish to benefit from the great food that their neighbor farmer’s provide. It is all part of a closed loop system of relationships and resources that helps the community thrive. Inspirational, dedicated, young individuals like Sarah are integral to a community that must develop cooperation and resilience in the face of uncertainty with our resources.
Sarah has experienced the importance of reaching beyond the classroom walls to apply her knowledge and accept the learning opportunities from trying. During her time at Umass Amherst, Sarah created a home for herself in the Valley away from her home of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Sarah immersed herself in a community where she feels at home, while she continues to push herself to improve the community she loves. In the time I have known Sarah she has inspired me as an undergraduate and her other friends at the university to experience and engage in the community for the happiness of everyone. Sarah has created a close network of people while working in agriculture, including Sunset Farm,The Umass Student Farming Enterprise, Umass Ethnic Crops Program and Winter Moon Farm. There are no limitations in her interests to explore and only furthers her diverse contribution to the Pioneer Valley. Hosting regular potlucks with friends, playing music and speaking Spanish accompany her talents in producing, educating, researching and marketing sustainable agriculture. With intentions of returning to the place and people she learned from, Sarah is beginning a new adventure to Costa Rica where she will travel and learn farming techniques to return home with.
Sarah is a great friend to many, who made me a part of the market family, even as an occasional volunteer. Volunteering at the SNAP machine for me was a time to hang out with great friends and learn new things about a town I spend a majority of my time in during the year. Sarah taught me the importance of integrating oneself into a community that will help me grow and give back to my community that has given me knowledge and support in a place away from home.
By: Sara Hopps