The Berkshires is known for its local food, farms, and culture. This sprawling region starts in the northwest pocket of Connecticut and winds its way north through western Massachusetts (the mainstay) to the southern reaches of Vermont, with New York’s Columbia County and Hudson Valley to the west.
We discovered this region some 35 years ago and, after purchasing our first home here, the Berkshires has been our spiritual home–or what part-time resident Yo-Yo Ma called his “psychological home” in Berkshire Magazine. (“It is a place that has everything,” he added.) We have spent every summer, most vacations, and many other times of the year here. We’ve celebrated holidays, birthdays, and the weddings and engagements of three of our four children in the area.
Geographically diverse, this verdant, hilly terrain is historically an agricultural economy–a tradition that continues today with small and family-run farms like Indian Line, Woven Roots, Moon On The Pond, and all the rest at its core. “Big Ag” this is not.
Home to a thriving farm-to-table scene, restaurants proclaim local sources on the menu and people flock to farmers’ markets and farm stands and pick-your-own orchards to stock up on seasonal eatings (while also growing their own).
But there’s more. The Berkshires boasts a variety of outdoor recreational activities. Our family has enjoyed fishing, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and biking in the region’s numerous lakes, rivers, and hills.
And just imagine: All the above are within a scenic drive from world-renowned literary and cultural attractions: Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Barrington Stage Company, Shakespeare & Company, Berkshire Theatre Group, the Norman Rockwell Museum, Edith Wharton’s home The Mount, Hancock Shaker Village Museum, Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Clark Art Institute, MASS MoCA, and too many more to mention–though you can find links to them here.
Add breathtaking scenery and it’s easy to see why the Berkshires is a favorite four-season destination–and a wonderful region in which to live, work, and play.
Back to the farms.
Our interest in food and farming began generations ago–you could say it’s in our DNA. Lawyers by training, we have founded and run food distribution and manufacturing businesses with the goal of helping local farmers bring their products to market. Elisa is a professionally trained chef and has written about food in an earlier career as a journalist. We enjoy cooking and entertaining with family and friends around our oversized dining table in our open kitchen. (We even built an outdoor wood-burning pizza oven that’s used year-round, even in winter.)
While still in high school, our youngest son Rafi (now 26) transformed a half-acre spread in our backyard into October Mountain Farm, where he cultivated Red Russian kale, French radishes, gourmet lettuces, rhubarb, and herbs that he then sold at a farm stand in front of our house and at area farmers’ markets. We saw first-hand the hours of work and the grit and determination (and also pleasure) it took in tending the land and sharing his crops with his customers, and for little monetary gain.
On our frequent visits to the markets, local farmers shared their own stories about how and why they came to farm in the region. We grew to appreciate their deep commitment to being “conscious farmers,” implementing sustainable methods and raising their animals humanely, despite what are often higher operating costs–and where the farming landscape is undergoing radical changes. Though the average age of farmers is over 50, we were impressed by the number of younger folks (like Rafi) who were returning to the land, often on rented acreage, and with a spouse or partner working off the farm to make ends meet.
From our own perspective (and as studies bear out), buying produce or meat or dairy products directly from the farmer or purveyor provides a connection to what we eat. There’s no comparison to the taste and nutrient content of a just-picked tomato or head of lettuce as opposed to one that’s been shipped across the country in refrigerated trailers, not to mention the enormous carbon footprint of our traditional food distribution.
These encounters inspired us to share the stories of local farmers through words, photographs, and recipes. It was a four-year-plus journey that took us down many dirt roads and into the far reaches of the region. We also met with notable farm-to-table chefs and restaurant owners and purveyors who are committed to using local, sustainably produced foods, which also happen to taste far better than anything from afar.
As a result, The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook is a snapshot of food and farming in the region but with a message that extends beyond our borders. Small and family-run farms everywhere are facing similar challenges and it behooves all of us to support them.
Writing this book was just the beginning of what we see as a continued mission of shining a light on the food, farms, and culture in the Berkshires and beyond.
We hope that our cookbook and this website inspire you to buy locally and to get to know the farmers in your own neck of the woods.