New Children's Book Showcases Imperfect Produce

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Pittsfield resident Amelia Ritner has released a new children's book called 'Ugly Farm,' filled with photos of unusual-looking vegetables she took while working on a Connecticut farm last summer.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Never judge a book by its cover, so the saying goes.

Local author Amelia Ritner doesn't want you to judge a vegetable by its appearance, either.

Ritner, who currently lives in Pittsfield, just released a children's book called "Ugly Farm" that features pictures she took of strange-looking produce while working on a Connecticut farm last summer.

It all started when her boyfriend discovered an eggplant that had an unusual persona.

"He picked an eggplant that looked like Richard Nixon," Ritner said. "It got a lot of laughs."

She started photographing the unusual plants they came across, such as a carrot that looked like its arms were crossed and really had to pee, using the camera on her cell phone. This was for her own amusement until one day her sister suggested she put them into a children's book. She loved the idea, especially because she thought it would be a good way to get people interested in local food and sustainable agriculture in a fun way.

"I know I'm not the only one used to seeing the weird-looking vegetables," she said.

And she wanted to emphasize to children that just because it looked strange — and unlike something they would see in a supermarket, which has higher standards for the appearance of the produce it sells — didn't mean it wasn't safe and delicious to eat.

"The ugly-looking vegetables tasted just the same as the prettier ones," she said.

In addition to taking the pictures, Ritner also wrote the poem to go with it, hoping to encourage people "not to be afraid to try something just because it looks different." She has taken that message into her off-season job as a substitute teacher in the Pittsfield school district.


When appropriate, especially with elementary school kids, she will talk with students about where their food comes from.

"Most of these kids don't know anything about agriculture. Half of them don't know vegetables come from the ground," she said. "The kids are interested. They aren't given the opportunity."

While she is thrilled with how the book came out, Ritner said it was admittedly an easier undertaking than her first two books, both of which were full-length novels.

"They took a lot longer to write," she said.

"Ugly Farm," however, was an easier message to convey as it is something she is passionate about.

"I literally jumped out of bed and grabbed a notebook and pen and started writing," she said. She then showed it to her own children, who are 2 and 5 years old, and they loved it. "They're the best focus group."

She published the book through Amazon's CreateSpace program after she had a friend help design it. CreateSpace is an inexpensive way to self-publish, as books are manufactured to meet demand, so the title is always in stock but there are no upfront costs and no need to carry inventory.

Ritner had success using CreateSpace for her two novels and anticipates a good run for "Ugly Farm," which she hopes also to be able to sell at local farmers markets and other niche stores, as well as online through Amazon.

"It came out really nicely," she said.


Tags: books,   family,   farming,   health & wellness,   

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Environment Secretary Visits Pittsfield


Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of energy and environmental affairs, visits the site of culvert project in Pittsfield being funded through the state's climate readiness program.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides was in Pittsfield on Friday to review a state-funded culvert site and meet with local officials to discuss the state's climate readiness program. 
 
She joined Mayor Linda Tyer at the Churchill Street culvert, a site which recently received grant funding through the state's Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program. The city was awarded an $814,524 state grant in June for the Churchill Brook and West Street Culvert Replacement Project.
 
Through the MVP program, which begun in 2017, municipalities identify key climate-related hazards, vulnerabilities and strengths, develop adaptation actions, and prioritize next steps. The initiative which initially started as a $500,000 capital grant program has now increased to $12 million. Pittsfield is among the 71 percent of communities across the commonwealth now enrolled in the MVP program.
 
"The governor and the lieutenant governor have made resilient infrastructure a priority all across the state and I think it's really important to know that we have a really vested interest in Western Massachusetts communities as well as all across the state, not forgetting the Berkshires or Pioneer Valley," said Theoharides in a statement. "Our MVP program is really focused on these types of partnership investments and looking to design infrastructure for the challenges we're seeing today and moving forward as climate change increases."
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