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Some 200 people attended Monday's Know Your Local Farmer Expo in North Adams.

Farm Expo Brings Producers, Consumers Together

By Kathy KeeserSpecial to iBerkshires
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Photos by Kathy Keeser
Kim McMann of Target: Hunger sets out cups at the expo at 49 Main St.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — More than 200 people rubbed shoulders with local farmers and sampled exotic dishes like "Green Eggs & Honey" at the Know your Farmer, Know your Food Expo on Monday night.

About 20 farmers, organizations and businesses participated in the event at 49 Main St. put on by Target: Hunger, a program of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. The free expo is part of its ongoing effort to provide new approaches to address hunger in the community and provide sustainable solutions.

"It rocked," said Kim McMann, Target: Hunger's North Berkshire coordinator. "We had a really good mix of people from all walks of life at the event and that was what we had hoped for."

In a rural area where farms and gardens were once a way of life, farmers have struggled in recent years. Many have tried innovative approaches to draw in tourists or bring residents for special activities such as hayrides. Another growing option for farming is through community supported agriculture, or CSA, in which the consumers have a closer relationship with the farmer.

McMann said the main purpose of the event was to increase awareness of the local food system.


Josh and Tony Pisano were hawking honey and honey-based items.
"The reason we wanted to do this is because local food can be more nutritious because it wasn't picked and then transported for long periods of time. There was something here for everyone tonight," she said. "I was especially proud to showcase two Target:Hunger projects — the Hoosac Harvest CSA group that after two years of planning is up and running with new farmer Michael Gallagher at Square Roots Farm in Clarksburg; and the North Adams Farmers Market that we help to support."

Gallagher signed up members at the event and added others to a mailing list. "It was amazing, I talked to so many people tonight," he said. 

In a CSA, members purchase a share each season's crop before it is planted; the farmer pays for seeds and equipment but is assured of a return. The members share in the harvest, but also in the risks. In addition to the Hoosac Harvest, other CSAs included Mighty Food Farm in Pownal, Vt.

Fresh local produce is often not accessible to low-income residents, but Target: Hunger and others offered information on how families and individuals on limited budgets can access fresh produce. Wild Oats Market in Williamstown has a community Food Assistance Program that offers a 10 percent discount to people who qualify for other forms of low-income assistance. Mighty Foods Farm offers low-income shares as does Hoosac Harvest CSA. The North Adams Farmers market, through Target: Hunger, offers people the ability to use the SNAP EBT machine. WIC also provides coupons to purchase fresh produce at area farmers' markets.  

"The food system is part of our local economy. Everyone eats and spends money on food and if only a 10th of the population truly buys local, it would be a real boost to our local economy," said McMann.

The growth spurt in organics and CSAs are from people becoming more aware of the importance of fresh produce for better health and nutrition and how buying locally supports local people and local businesses. This movement of encouraging buying local is the hallmark of Berkshire Grown, an association of producers, restaurants and retail operations.


Jeanne Mathews of Stone Soup in Adams ladles up soup with local ingredients.
"We are the ones who are getting the word out and we bring the farmers and customers together," said Lee Venolia, a Berkshire Grown board member. "Not everyone knows how and where to access fresh local produce."

Those attending the event came from different walks of life and for different reasons. Michael Cutler of Adams came with his wife, Colleen, "to find out what is out there for Williams College's dining services. 

"Currently, I am the manager at the Greylock Dining Hall. We are very much into organics and I want to find out what else we can add. This is an awesome event." 
 
Mark Shiner, North Adams resident, wanted to check out what local farmers are doing to the community to eat better. His wife, Liz Shiner, added, "I wanted to learn how to lessen my dependence on grocery stores and support my community farmers."
 
The 20 booths included folks who produce or sell beef, chicken, eggs, honey or vegetables, and restaurants that use the local produce. Gramercy Bistro and Stone Soup of Adams were both on hand offering tasty samples. Stone Soup owner Jeanne Mathews said, "everything in the soup is local, including the barley, carrots, garlic, turnips, kale, and the wild mushrooms." 

"I came to learn how to get locally grown produce, instead of going to Northampton, at a good price. I am looking for organic," said Keith Howard, a North Adams letter carrier.

Howard had plenty of choices. Helen Fields and Stephen Greene were on hand to talk about Helen's Happy Hens, their heritage-breed chickens such as Americaunas that produce bluish-green eggs, the endangered buckeyes, buff Orpingtons and more. Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown offered information and samples of Farmstead Cheeses; beekeepers Tony and Josh Pisano were selling honey and items like lip balm and hand cream made from their sweet harvest. Wild Oats Market in Williamstown, which sell produce from many local farms, had some tasty samples to share.     

Scarlet Patti of Berkshire Organics, a home-delivery service, said business was booming.

"Word seems to be getting out that we are around," she said. "We deliver about 400 baskets of food a week all over the Berkshires and into nearby Vermont, New York and Connecticut, and we are open all year-round."

Farmers like Nancy and Roger Johnson, who have been in business since 1986, grow a wide variety of produce, but also sell baked goods and antiques and collectibles at Appletree Hill Organic Farm on acreage in Hancock that has been in the family since 1917.

Summing up the evening, Gloria LaFlamme said, "They had good food and lots of people."

For more information on local produce, go to www.farmfresh.org or berkshiregrown.org.
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