I live in a ruraltown of 750 souls in the western corner of Massachusetts that sits on the Vermont border. On the Fourth of July in 1981 I happened to meet two other friends at the spinning wheel in the town museum. We were celebrating the holiday, but got to complaining that we never went out to dinner, we couldn’t afford to, and besides there were no good restaurants closer than 40 miles. Actually there were no restaurants at all closer than 25 miles. So, on the spot, we invented the Heath Gourmet Club that has been meeting ten times a year ever since, beginning that September. We don’t meet in August because we are all too busy with the Heath Fair, and we collapse the November/December dinners into one.
Here we are celebrating again. Each month the host picks a theme and lets the other four couples know the entree. Then, Sheila, our record keeper, assigns us each a course, appetizers, bread and soup, side, salad, and dessert, or whatever combination suits the meal. Hosting and courses rotate so we all get a chance to do everything. This keeps down the individual labor and cost for each meal, some of which have been really spectacular. Salmon Coulibiac, Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourginnone, Mock Turtle Soup (made with muskrat), Peking Duck, and many many more. Spanish, Italian, British, African, Japanese, Indonesian and more, especially French. I love French. Sometimes we have Guest Eaters who feel themselves really lucky to be invited.
Obviously we all love to cook and try new things, but we also like to use local produce. Long before we heard of the 100 mile diet we raised our own pork and chickens and eggs, bought good Heath blueberries, apples and milk. We gardened and grew and put up our own vegetables.
We don’t think every meal has to be fancy, but anything made with good healthy ingredients is a pleasure and delight.
We have all been able to buy fresh produce at local farms and orchards, but over the past years the number of small farms has increased selling their produce at farmstands and through this new thing called a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture which allows all of us to share in the risk of farming, the unpredictability of weather and pestilence, and farmer’s markets. This increase in the production of local food is good for the farmers, good for the environments, good for the community and good for us of us eaters.
Seeds of Solidarity Farm is a working farm, specializing in greens and garlic, but Ricky also teaches garden workshops and his wife Deb works to create school gardens, and get fresh produce into institutions like schools and hospitals.
Along with neighbors, Deb and Ricky founded the Garlic and Arts Festival that takes place the first weekend in October. This is a solar powered, grease mobile run, festival. Who cares if it stinks? After the 10,000 people leave and the field is cleaned up, there is only three bags of trash to dispose of. Everything else is composted or recycled. They have proved that we can live more lightly on the land that we usually do. Then they sell some of the compost at the next Festival.
Organizations like CISA have grown up to help farmers be better businessmen and involve all of us in supporting local agriculture.
Every year our larger community celebrates the bounty of our area with a giant FREE Harvest Meal. Farmers donate the produce, restauranteurs donate their labor, musicians come and play and we all celebrate. You can make a donation of course, and that money goes to fund vouchers that are given out at the food pantry, to be used at the farmers market. Everyone deserves fresh healthy food. This year 800 people gathered for this feast, some making generous contributions, and others enjoying the meal freely. $4000 was collected for food vouchers.
And everyone deserves to grow their own healthy food. Just Roots is the new Community Farm that has been form on the site of the Greenfield Poor Farm. This is a wonderful opportunity for many people who don’t own land and who like working with others – who can be a real help with advice.
We are fortunate in our area to have Greenfield Community College which is offering a new course this fall on food systems. It is oversubscribed! Read about that here. It is a joy to see the support given to potential farmers.
We wish our good food fortune to everyone. Bon appetit!
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