Time, tide and locality: What I’ve learned

  • A tractor in a farm field just off Routes 5 and 10 in Deerfield, as seen Friday, May 24, 2019. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

Published: 5/29/2019 11:46:14 AM

A year ago, I wrote from the coast of Maine that “Sometimes, ‘local’ is the place you see when you first open your eyes.”

Having now returned to Maine, where I will spend most of the next several months, a working waterfront will replace the lush fields of Western Massachusetts as my local. This means that I will no longer be able to bring you “Of the Earth,” at least for the time being.

If I am able to return to this space in the fall, however, I will do so with the benefit of having learned a great deal in the 18 months I have spent writing this column, largely as a result of interactions with readers.

Here is a taste of what I’ve learned — and what I hope I’ve passed along through this column:

• That the local food movement and infrastructure are absolutely critical to the economic and environmental security of our communities, to justice and equity in the food system, and to the health and safety of our people. There is no middle ground;

• That the marketing of “localism” can, at the same time, be misused to mislead consumers in ways that have nothing to do with the health, safety or justice in the food system;

• That growers, processors and distributors in Western Massachusetts tend to be knowledgeable, sophisticated and courageous in their commitment to making nutritious local food available to everyone at a reasonable price, and in their ability to communicate that skill and knowledge.

• That the best way to show how local sourcing of food can work in the real world is with the contribution of recipes from talented and good-humored local cooks — people like Sara Cummings of Greenfield, David Fersh of Charlemont, Trouble Erin Mandeson of Greenfield and, of course, Mary McClintock of Conway.

In recognition of what readers have brought to this column, I would like to give the last word to one reader who has an especially longterm perspective on locality.

Ron Bartos grew up near the base of Mount Sugarloaf on Eastern Avenue in South Deerfield, surrounded by the some of the most beautiful and fertile farmland in the Pioneer Valley — land that now grows houses. His mother still lives there. While his path took him away from Franklin County, as he earned an engineering degree at UMass Amherst and is now retired and living in Foxboro, his take on the vitality of farms and food in the valley is, I think, concise, direct and valuable.

“I grew up in South Deerfield, the son of two former Polish dairy farmers,” he wrote to me recently. “I never farmed myself, per se, except for throwing lots of hay bales and potato sacks when the help was needed. It was very sad to see that prime farmland turned into a subdivision. I spent many hours working in the previous potato and tobacco fields there in the summers, ice skating and cross country skiing on the space in the winter, and using it as the gateway for hikes up Sugarloaf.

“(But) I am also very encouraged with the new, younger farmers in Franklin County,” he continued. “When I lived in South Deerfield, there were more, larger dairy farms that sold milk wholesale, but now there are smaller produce and specialty farms, such as those that grow peppers, and ones producing milk for cheeses. Jim Golonka of Golonka Farm in Whatley is a good friend of mine (from my high school class), and I never fail to stop by his farm stand in the summer when I am back there for some vegetables, especially the corn. I also enjoy the small, newer businesses like Real Pickles in Greenfield that make sauerkraut and kimchi from local farms.

“Not to be missed is the huge number of local breweries springing up, since I am a beer lover. Years ago, there was only BBC (Berkshire Brewing Company) in South Deerfield, now there is a multitude of others, many that use grain and hops grown locally.”

Bartos added that he sees untapped potential in agro-tourism.

“I can see tours being offered to farm stands in the summer, along with stops at local breweries along the way,” he wrote.

So, locality sometimes refers to the place you see when you first open your eyes. Other times, it has to do with the long-view of familiar connections that gradually come into focus at distance — as in viewing the valley from the top of Mount Sugarloaf.

See you around — and thank you.

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.

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