The Rural We: Cynthia Pansing
West Stockbridge resident Cynthia Pansing was born in Nebraska but has lived in many other states as well as Canada and Switzerland. It was, in fact, her time in Switzerland as a child that, in a roundabout way, led her to the Berkshires. She is the executive director of Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, a nonprofit organization based in Great Barrington, Mass. that provides financing and technical assistance to food and farming entrepreneurs and local businesses to help them thrive in the local economy. Prior to her work with BAV she was CEO of Changing Tastes, a national food and sustainable agriculture consulting firm. She’s really in her element now, she says; her current position combines all sorts of interests she’s had over the years.
I fell in love with the Berkshires 14 years ago when I came here for a personal retreat. The area spoke to me in so many ways — the nature, the culture, the people, the connection to the spiritual life through the retreat centers. Over the years, the more I learned about the innovative nonprofits here, and about the culture and natural world, it just drew me. I was living in the D.C. area with my then-husband and my daughter, driving in traffic 13 hours a week. I didn’t want to raise my daughter in the hustle bustle. I came up for a retreat at Kriplau, saw a house in West Stockbridge, and put in an offer. Our consulting business allowed us to live anywhere we wanted, so we decided to make the move.
My mother raised me, from an early age, with a connection to nature and food, and thinking about healthier ways of eating. For two years we lived in a small village in Switzerland where I was able to explore the world around me freely. The Berkshires reminds me of it. Now I have a cottage garden at home; my daughter and I love to plant our own vegetables and fruits. We even occasionally forage in our yard, like I used to do in Switzerland.
The Berkshire Agricultural Ventures began as a program of Berkshire Grown and the Carrot Project. A year ago we became an independent nonprofit to better serve farmers and food entrepreneurs. We get our funding from donors, private investors, foundations and government agencies.
Our mission is to provide farmers and food entrepreneurs with the resources they need to grow by providing flexible financing and technical assistance. We offer loans, equity investment, business development and marketing assistance. In just the past year we’ve served 21 farms and food businesses, and are working on four regional infrastructure projects.
As an example, a farmer came to us and wanted to grow vegetables year round at a low cost both financially and in energy usage. We provided him with a matching grant to install the equipment that created a climate control system.
This is a dream job. I adore the people I work with — the staff, board, partner organizations and the farmers and entrepreneurs we assist.
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