Of the Earth: Hip takes on a whole new meaning

  • Customers browse the produce at Red Fire Farm’s produce stand at a Greenfield Winter Farmers Market. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/Matt Burkhartt


For The Recorder
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

So, there I was at the Winter Farmers Market at Greenfield’s Four Corners School, as I normally am on the first Saturday of every month, and I kept seeing this little sign that read “HIP,” and “HIP eligible.” Now, I consider myself to be hip — totally ready to rap about jazz greats like Miles, Trane, Bird and Monk. So I bellied over to the nearest HIP booth, which just happened to belong to my old friends Erv and Gloria Meluleni of Coyote Hill Farm in Bernardston. “Yo!” I said to Gloria.

Well, Gloria explained that I was way off. It turns out that you don’t have to know about the reunion of James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem in order to be “HIP eligible.” HIP stands for the Healthy Incentives Program, which allows folks to extend their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) allocation by buying fresh vegetables and fruit from local farm retailers, and getting an instant rebate that can be spent on any SNAP eligible purchase — including those of a non-vegetable kingdom.

This means that you could, in both theory and practice, buy some fresh leeks and squash (perfect for the winter soup below) from Erv and Gloria, and then take your rebate next door to Natty Hussey of Bostrom Farm where you can spend the SNAP dollars on some masterful bacon (for that self-same soup, or perhaps for roast Brussels sprouts).

In the process, you would leave with some terrific farm-fresh items, having boosted at least two local farm retailers and having saved a pretty penny on your SNAP card. This I consider to be more than HIP — it is downright cool!

Beaumont’s Berries’ Devon Whitney-Deal, who manages the Local Hero Program for CISA but who was on-hand in a third-and-unofficial-capacity helping folks sign on to HIP, explained HIP-eligible purchases can be made at farmers markets, farm stands or mobile markets or though CSA farm shares.

There are, she added, monthly limits: $40 for one to two people, $60 for three to five people or $80 for six or more people. But the benefit is too valuable to be quiet about.

“We can’t food bank ourselves out of hunger and nutrition problems,” said Whitney-Deal. “This is federal money with a state match, and we’ll do a lot of outreach to keep it going.”

Retailers and customers agree.

“We all set,” said Mariline Wheeler, who was shopping the HIP farm booths with her friend Mercy McLaughlin. “It’s a lot better than a food pantry.”

“It’s been very good for us and our customers,” said Ben Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farms.

Rainbow Harvest’s David Paysnick, who manages the Winter Farmers Market, said that while HIP rebates account for an important part of his overall business, it is “underutilized.”

“For all those who use the program, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who don’t know about it,” he said.

So what does all this have to do with being “Of the Earth?” A lot.

Programs like this bind us as a community of growers and locavores, sharing the wealth and helping to assure our mutual health and well-being in a very special and site-specific way. Forget about the evolution of Velvet Underground. That’s not what HIP is about. This is.

To learn more about HIP, visit: bit.ly/2qqOhwc. To learn more about SNAP eligibility, visit: bit.ly/2ElBBgP. There is also a local HIP Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/HIP.PioneerValley/

The Cutting Board

Don’t try this at home: Six weary Franklin County pilgrims, en route to Alabama in December, asked a bit about the sourcing of various local fare along the way. While our Yankee curiosity didn’t always sit well with our southern brothers and sisters, the folks at Angelle’s Diner in Troutville, Va., were happy to own everything that went into their amazing $8.49 Southern smothered biscuit skillet: hash browns, topped with two large pork sausage patties, topped with two large buttermilk biscuits, topped with three eggs, topped with cheese, smothered with gravy and served on a hot skillet. Heart-healthy? We didn’t ask. It might have been rude — Yankee-rude.

Fair enough!: We were happy to hear that the Franklin County Fair and the Heath Fair racked up nearly a dozen awards in the 2017 Massachusetts Agricultural Fairs’ Association’s media awards competition. Were especially happy about Heath’s performance, including the Judges Choice award for its poster, because — at 100 — the Heath Agricultural Society Fair remains just about the most truly genuine and timeless of all harvest fairs. If you can get there, you belong there. See artist Scott Prior’s 100th anniversary print at: bit.ly/2CPnMud

Butternut and leek soup


1 large squash (8 cups)

1 cup chopped onion

3 leeks, chopped (white and light green parts)

1 clove garlic

2 teaspoons minced ginger

4 cups stock

2 tablespoons butter


Cut squash into half lengthwise, clean out seeds and place skin up on a baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Allow to cool. Peel off skin and cut into chunks.

In a large pot, saute the onions, ginger, leeks and garlic in the butter until soft. Add the stock and simmer about 20 minutes. Fill blender or food processor with half stock and half squash and puree. Return to pot, adding salt and pepper to taste, and simmer another 20 minutes.

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