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Editorial: Thankful to call Franklin County home this holiday


Thursday, November 23, 2017

The world may not be a perfect place, but for most of us, there are many things to be thankful for today, living as we do in one of the most beautiful corners of New England. Just a quick reflection reveals many things to appreciate on this Thanksgiving:

Despite all the turmoil that the Montague Police Department must be experiencing in the wake of the investigation by the state attorney general, and a new selectmen’s investigation into the internal workings of the department, the town’s police officers continue to do their job as the professionals they are, protecting their community despite the political tumult.

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Volunteers and school officials in towns like Northfield, Bernardston, Gill and Montague are willing to tackle the difficult challenge of finding new ways to provide quality education for less money in the face of dwindling enrollments and state aid for schools. They are determined enough to venture beyond the community’s comfort zone to explore further regionalization or collaboration to maintain good schools, even if that might mean giving up some of the traditional independence enjoyed by our schools.

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We have seen our share of sniping and sour feelings in Greenfield recently over charges of political bullying, and frayed relations over hot-button issues like “sanctuary city” proposals. But despite that, we still most often see people coming together to make their towns better places. And when there is disagreement, most often we see civility in our public discourse. For example, those Conway residents distressed by a sudden and unexpected tabling of a safe communities proposal at a recent town meeting were able to express their disappointment at a subsequent selectmen’s meeting — politely and with respect on all sides.

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South County towns will soon be getting a permanent home for their regional ambulance service through the persistent parsimony of several Deerfield leaders — and with the generous donation of a $484,000, 4,000-square-foot building from Deerfield Academy.

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The North Quabbin Region can be thankful for being chosen to be immortalized as Stephen King’s fictional “Castle Rock” when the online streaming service Hulu releases its horror/suspense thriller series filmed partially in Orange. Orange landmarks, like the Quabbin Harvest food co-op on North Main Street, and a few locals will be featured in the project.

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Our county is filled with people willing to help each other, especially at times of need and around holidays like Thanksgiving. There are just too many examples, public and private, to list here, which in itself is a blessing. But to name just one timely example: Monte’s March, in which radio personality and Montague resident Christopher “Monte” Belmonte walks 43 miles from Springfield to Greenfield to gather food and money for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Last year, Belmonte’s trek raised $183,400. Officials who join Belmonte have included U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, Food Bank Executive Director Andrew Morehouse, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III and Greenfield Mayor William Martin.

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Speaking of food, we are blessed to have so many local food growers who promote healthy, sustainable eating and lifestyles, making it truly possible to eat locally and well this holiday. One example recently profiled in our pages is Gill’s Upinngil Farm, which produces wheat — not a typical New England product — in addition to the farm’s signature strawberries and milk. The farm’s Sorrel Hatch and Isaac Bingham sell bags of whole-wheat flour and wheat berries, along with home-baked bread, cookies and other baked goods. Now, they are also selling pasta made from their 15 acres of hard red winter wheat. Some of our local brewers use hops from Northfield and barley grown in the Pioneer Valley. That we have more than a dozen beer, wine and cider makers here locally is a source of good cheer at the holidays.

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Our region’s produce growers can be thankful for the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center’s new $750,000 freezer-refrigerator building that’s expected to allow them to grow, freeze, package and market more vegetables to the region’s schools and other institutions during winter months, thus making their farms more viable and allowing them to put more food on their own tables — and money in the bank.

West County residents are thankful for the bounty of locally grown food, too. Last Sunday, the annual Shelburne Falls Autumn Farmers Market, held in the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School, filled cafeteria tables with fresh vegetables, maple syrup, holiday wreaths and greens, locally raised lamb, beef, pork and herbs.

Many farmstands displayed not only food, but handspun yarns, pottery, clothing and jewelry. The food and goods showed not only the enterprise of food growers, but a comforting reminder that the beautiful hills and pastures of the hilltowns are not just pastoral “pretty faces,” but places of real agriculture and industrious creativity.

And these things are just some of the many reasons we should be thankful to call this place home.