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Of the Earth: Things that come to mind when thinking of local food culture

  • Mark Efinger, right, from Windsor Jambs Farm, gives Joshua James, of Bernardston, a sample of micro greens during the Greenfield Winter Farmers Market at the Four Corners School on Nov. 4 in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE



For The Recorder
Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Editor’s Note:In this introductory column, Wesley Blixt shares with readers his personal memories about food culture in Franklin County. His column, Of the Earth, will be a weekly piece discussing unique recipes, local food and farm stories.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the late Jim Cooney — better remembered, perhaps, as a literary editor and publisher than as a farmer — sitting in the dry dirt in West Whately, squinting into the late afternoon sun, barefoot in a black beret, methodically picking bugs from what, at the time, I took to be potato plants. I may have been wrong. I knew little about plants back then, but I quickly understood his profound connection to the land.

I’ve also been reminiscing about Salvadoran students proudly displaying ayote, a Central American squash that they grew at a University of Massachusetts-Amherst research field in South Deerfield, and would then market to eager Latino communities. This was a harvest that would be successfully echoed in Brazilian, Southeast Asian and Puerto Rican across the state.

I’ve been thinking as well about the deep, yet crisp, impression of a young Pinot Noir at Westport Rivers Winery, perched surprisingly and idyllically on the coast west of New Bedford. (Yes, we’ve stepped outside Franklin County, just for a moment.) At any rate, it was at Westport Rivers that I first heard the word “terroir.”

Who could forget a sturdy little farm stand at the end of my street in Greenfield, with a note inviting passers-by to help themselves to the assortment of items that are replenished almost daily? The invitation is, in some respects, more complicated than I can describe here, but I’ll hope to tell the story, and others like it, in this space.

These images span years and miles, most arising from my time with UMass Extension — the former Cooperative Extension Service. The stories remain as unique, in each case, as the soils from which they spring. That is terroir — loosely, “of the Earth” or “of the soil” — referring to a specific and often unique combination of soil and microclimate ... equal parts geology, geography, meteorology and magic. Terroir used to refer solely to the character of wine grapes. Lately, the word seems to get dropped just about everywhere and anywhere, especially among foodies — a rain of terroir.

Think of this column, if you will, as a space for stories that are born of the unique climates and soils of Franklin County, and (sometimes) beyond. A space that is of the earth.

Turns out there is a recipe for this. This is my adaptation of a basic recipe culled from a long conversation with Mary McClintock before she moved on:

Basic ‘Of the Earth’ recipe

Ingredients:

1 generous bunch of friends and readers ripened for their expertise, joy and contributions

2 good ears

A dozen or so community organizations and agencies supporting sustainable agriculture, including (but not limited to) CISA, the Food Bank, UMass Extension, New Roots, etc.

712 Franklin County farms (wow!)

89,772 acres farmland, enough to season new growers

75 farm stands, more or less

1 pinch each of amazement and oddity

1 large measure each of health, nourishment and justice for all

1 small measure personal self-revelation, where appropriate

Instructions:

Mix gently, but passionately, and with affection, until a community of interest and concern begins to gel and readership slowly emerges. May require patience.

All this is my way of asking readers to help in building this thriving community of folks, farmers, foodies, locavores and just plain eaters. I really need your suggestions, recipes, good will and stories.

The Cutting Board

Mane Event: I really enjoy hanging out at the Winter Farmers Market at Four Corners School. (Note to vendors: Feel free to tell me to move along if I am getting in the way.) I especially like stroking the Lion’s Mane mushrooms from Mycoterra Farm, fairly new to South Deerfield. Watch for a feature story soon. In the meantime, the winter market is held 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month.

Dig It!: I was sorry to miss the final gleaning of the season, canceled after mid-November’s deep freeze. But I’m looking forward to it next season. Gleaning, the act of removing leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested, is a great way to stem food waste by collecting what is left in the fields and getting it to those who can use it. An age-old style of community action. Contact Jessica Harwood at: jnanharwood@gmail.com of Rachel’s Table in Springfield to volunteer.

Green Harvest: Excellent news about state Senate restoring $75,000 for GCC’s food and farms pilot program, and about CISA receiving $46,635 to help expand its Local Hero marketing campaign. Well spent!

Coming Up: A local butternut squash recipe perfect for cold nights.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at: wesleyblixt@me.com.