Reaping the Winter Harvest
It used to be that this was a nation of farmers: From our Puritan forebears eking out a life on the unforgiving land to patriotic families planting victory gardens to aid in the war effort. Everywhere you looked, even in the urban nooks and crannies, the land yielded its riches to those who cultivated it. But that all changed in the post-nuclear 1950s, when bomb drills reigned in schools and suddenly the land was forgotten.
“The post WWII generation thought that food came from the supermarkets,” says Berkshire Grown executive director Barbara Zheutlin. “They lost that connection to the land that their grandparents had. Thankfully, in the last 10 to 15 years, people have started to wonder ‘where does my food come from.’ It’s happening in the whole region, the whole country. We are rediscovering farmers and the roots of our food.”
In a nutshell (or should I say corn husk?) farming is sexy again, and good food even sexier. With this newfound interest in working the soil — thanks largely to young farmers and their dogged determination to re-cultivate the nation — also comes a demand for fresh food, regardless of the season. With this in mind, Berkshire Grown began hosting Holiday Farmers’ Markets, both in Williamstown and Great Barrington, in the hopes of giving area growers and food artisans an extra boost before the sluggish winter. But what began three years ago as an experiment in the parking lot of an old firehouse has grown into a much-anticipated harbinger of the winter holidays, as well as an off-season nod to the hard-working hands of the men and women who literally feed the people.
“When we started the winter markets it was purely experimental,” Zheutlin says. “It was a way to get people here, even though there was snow on the ground. Now the farmers actually start growing for it, in anticipation of being to sell at the market. What we found is that the vendors are responding very quickly and are eager to be a part of it. This is the most delicious way to strengthen the local economy.”
With some 70 vendors signed up for this year’s markets (that take place December 15 and 16) food lovers and gift seekers can all get their piece of the holiday pie. From Brussels sprouts to homegrown soups and healing honeys to hand-spun yarn, the winter markets offer a dizzying array of treats and trinkets (and, yes, sampling is encouraged!), all generated from the bountiful earth and its fluffy inhabitants. The festive mood is in part generated by the farmers themselves, who fill the room with chatter and advice for the best recipes. In fact, Suzy Konecky, who is the creamery manager for Cricket Creek Farm (of Maggie’s Round cheese fame) in Williamstown, looks forward to the markets, as much for their social appeal as for their financial potential.
“These markets serve a very important function,” she says. “Being in the public eye and having that community space is a great way to remind people that we’re here. Through every season, we’re here. Most people associate local food with the summertime. They don’t think about what’s available in the wintertime. Our CSA (for meat and dairy) runs year round. The table, so to speak, is overflowing.”
Cricket Creek is one of many local farms – including Farm Girl Farm, Sweet Brook Farm, Raven and Boar, Tortured Orchard, The Berry Patch, and many others — which will occupy a space at the holiday markets. And while growers, weavers, honey makers, and bread extraordinaires sell their wares inside at both Muddy Brook Elementary School and Williams College, outside the giant festive stall, The Meat Market will be slinging bratwurst on the grill and local musicians will light the air with folksy cheer.
“It’s just as much about the food as it is about the farmer,” says Zheutlin, who is expecting at least a thousand visitors or more to each market. “It’s about connecting with them on an individual basis and the process. The story behind the food is not something you have the privilege of hearing that often.” —Nichole Dupont
Berkshire Grown’s Holiday Farmers’ Markets
Saturday, December 15 at the Muddy Brook Elementary School Gymnasium, 318 Monument Valley Road, Great Barrington
Sunday, December 16 at the Williams College Towne Field House, 82 Latham Street, Williamstown.
Each market will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information on winter markets in the RI region visit our Dining Intelligence guide.