The story goes that Herman Melville would peer through a spyglass in his Arrowhead home, looking out over Mount Greylock — a mountain rising over the rolling hills like a whale cresting the waves — and that this is where he found inspiration for his life’s work, Moby Dick.
But that’s not the only reason Jason Velázquez christened his modest, little newsroom in the Berkshires and Western Massachusetts,The Greylock Glass. It’s a play on words. The “activist-minded” Velázquez is telling stories that reflect the new realities of his community, and he often turns that reflection into a magnifying glass, taking a closer look at the issues that really matter to his readers and listeners.
And now he needs your help to support an investigative series into the sustainability of regional food systems in the face of climate change.
Velázquez started The Greylock Glass in the face of a shrinking ecosystem of local and alternative news coverage, news that Velázquez and his fellow neighbors valued. In 2014 The North Adams Transcript, a daily paper known as “The Voice of the Northern Berkshires,” was absorbed by the Berkshire Eagle. The Advocate, a weekly paper, shared a similar fate, and to the west, Albany’s alternative weekly, Metroland, closed their doors around that same time.
In fact, according to data from the UNC Newspaper database, at least 90 local and regional Massachusetts newspapers have shuttered their doors or merged with a larger organization since 2004.
So Velázquez has taken it upon himself to provide that local, alternative snapshot of his community. With a small team of contributors, he launched the publication in 2015 with a broader focus on local news and events. Over time that focus has narrowed in on local arts and entertainment coverage, depicting a vibrant food scene, exploring travel and leisure, and of course, highlighting cultural happenings such as the current Basquiat and Warhol exhibit at a former elementary school in Kinderhook, NY.
Velázquez keeps the lights on by relying on a variety of sources of income: subscriptions, ad revenue (though Velázquez isn’t shy about the massive challenge of selling digital ad space to local businesses), an on-site crowdfunding mechanism as well as services like Patreon, supplementing with freelance copywriting and whatever else pays the bills. (He also knows any arts event worth its salt has a decent buffet of wine, crackers and cheese.)
The team consists of Velázquez, an on-staff arts editor, and a travel editor, not to mention a small stable of occasional contributors. In addition to written content, Velázquez and the team have published more than 300 podcast episodes on a variety of topics, from food and agriculture to music, often under pun-tastic titles such as “Indiecent Exposure.”
He’s up every morning at 4 am, cobbling together his daily newsletter, which has an open-rate hovering just above the industry standard at 17%. He has an in-depth understanding of SEO best practices (note that Velázquez likens search optimization to gardening — a lengthy process of tending to the seeds you’ve sown), and pours over his audience data with a fine-tooth comb to identify opportunities for growth and further development of the business.
“It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that my cap of support will be reached very quickly. No matter how good I am,” Velázquez says. “Even the main daily newspaper, which has been around for 200-and-some-odd years, only boasts a circulation of 14,000. That’s for the entire county. So obviously the money has to come from other sources.”
So Velázquez has now turned to Civil Boosts in hopes of funding an intensive investigation into food infrastructure in the region. The year-long series will take a magnifying glass to the current local agricultural system, probe its resiliency, and ask questions about whether or not it is possible to build a sustainable approach to combatting the looming climate crisis and its impact on food distribution, by way of regional food security and infrastructure.
“I see Boosts as a way to engage audiences occasionally when there’s a small project that needs to be done, that they don’t mind kicking in, you know, five-ten bucks towards. This is a ‘first-round’ for this project,” he explains.
At the moment he’s raising funds to get data collection up-and-running. “It’s going to be a vast sprawling comprehensive look at the food system. Taking one city [North Adams] with its surrounding four towns and showing how it could be food self-sufficient.”
Countless hours of reporting will go into mapping the full system, talking to all the relevant stakeholders and capturing their input. The cost is likely to exceed the target fundraise of $1600. However, Velázquez says, this will be enough to get the project off the ground and allow him the resources to launch the investigation, share early progress with readers in the form of a comprehensive introductory profile as well as audio and video recordings from his research — content he can leverage as he continues to report out the full series.
Velázquez knows he is at the right time and in the right place for this story. As the research and headlines concerning climate change get increasingly dire (see “Climate Change Threatens the World’s Food Supply, United Nations Warns”), he sees a likely near-term future in which we can’t get our hands on the food we need. A rural region, The Berkshires and Western Massachusetts are home to an organized focus on sustainable agriculture, and may or may not provide a guiding example of entirely self-contained regional food systems.
With your help, Velázquez will be able to look through the spyglass into the future of sustainable living.
To support this investigative series from The Greylock Glass, head to this page.