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Dominic Palumbo: The Egghead Organic Farmer with a CSA & a Fan Club

Dominic Palumbo is an organic farmer in Sheffield, MA,  whose acolytes admire his mind as much as they relish his meat, pork, eggs, chicken, and vegetables.  “The honest, unpretentious way Dominic goes about the business of farming, his devotion to tradition, and his unimpeachable integrity make him the touchstone for the locavore and Slow Food movements in the Berkshires,” says Great Barrington cheesemonger Matt Rubiner, who believes Palumbo’s liverwurst is “unrivaled” and his pancetta “as good as any in Italy.” Palumbo is co-leader of Slow Food Western Massachusetts and was a speaker at the Slow Food/Terra Madre conference in Italy, last fall. (His talk begins about one-minute into the video above.)

Palumbo, 53, arrived in the Berkshires some two decades ago as a weekender.  “I didn’t come here with the intention of farming,” he says. But he knew horticulture because he was running a landscape business in New York that specialized in penthouse and brownstone gardens.  When he heard that the Greenmarket in New York was having trouble finding purveyors of organic food, he decided to try growing vegetables in Sheffield. “To get into the Greenmarket you had to explain everything you were going to plant and what it would yield. I formulated a plan for a farm that did not exist,” he says.  “For eight years, I hauled vegetables down to New York City every week. I started growing mesclun. At that time, mesclun was coming from France!”

Rural Intelligence FoodSlowly, he started adding animals to the farm. Initially, he got chickens and then sheep because he thought they could eat his grass instead of his having to mow it while providing him with food. Now he has a little bit of everything—sheep, dairy cows, cattle, pigs, geese, goats—which makes Moon in the Pond seem like one of those mythical family farms from old children’s books. He has no qualms about bringing his animals to slaughter—he becomes rhapsodic when talking about the sublime flavor of capretto, which is baby goat—but he has deep respect for all his animals and treats them humanely during their lives. “You learn so much about human nature from animals,” he says. “Do you know why children are called kids? Because they behave like baby goats! You learn why a person is called cocky or pig headed.”

Palumbo can be as stubborn as a mule, which endears him to many foodies such as Lester Blumenthal of Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington. “What I respect most about Dominic is his ability to not compromise and always stay on the best possible path for growing things the correct, uber-organic way,” says Blumenthal. “Dominic has inspired me and plenty of others to embrace Slow Food. I would not own a farm-to-table restaurant if not for Dominic, who has been a great source of ideas, motivation and insight.”

Rural Intelligence Food He spreads the gospel about organic farming through his apprentice program at Moon in the Pond and by working with farmers and chefs. “The difference between Dominic and other organic farmers is his willingness to teach,” says chef Jeremy Stanton of the Fire Roasted Catering Company, who has plans to open a Berkshires butcher shop specializing in locally raised meats. “He is so full of knowledge. His Scottish Highland steaks are by far the best steaks I have ever tasted. But he charges a lot for them, and they are so worth it.”

Moon in the Pond has a reputation for not only high quality but high prices. One way Palumbo has made this more palatable is by having a CSA for meat and vegetables: you can purchase “Bacon Bucks,” which guarantees you beef and pork at the best prices.  You can buy meat at Moon in the Pond all year-long (call ahead to make sure someone is there to help you) and during the summer at the farmers’ markets in Great Barrington (Wednesdays), Sheffield (Fridays) and Millerton (Saturdays).  You can buy his cured meats at Rubiner’s, but only close friends get his raw milk that he says tastes like melted ice cream. “There is something exceedingly meaningful about drinking raw milk,” says Sheffield neighbor Maria Nation, who trades her fresh baked bread for milk. “This is the purest form of nurturing we experience outside of breast feeding a child. It is primal. Dom is one of the few farmers I would trust to deliver this primal experience.”

Rural Intelligence FoodPalumbo is confident that prices for locally raised food will come down as demand increases. “That’s what happened in the supermarkets. You can find organic everywhere now,” he says.  Still, he is not comfortable with the perception that eating well is a privilege, but he has no patience for people who say that they can’t afford good food. “How can you afford not to? Think about that,” he says.  “I take to heart that food is not a luxury item. It is the center of everything I stand for. There is a moral imperative in producing organic food.”

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 04/15/09 at 06:21 AM • Permalink