Photo Gallery l Berkshire Grown networking event

PITTSFIELD -- They came directly from farms, stores and production facilities, despite the light snowfall, eager to meet, mingle, and in some cases, share their products.

Some 55 local food growers, buyers and producers in the Berkshire region made their way to Baba Louie's restaurant on Depot Street on Monday for the annual Berkshire Grown networking event.

"It's an opportunity for people to meet people they already know, do business with people they're thinking of doing business with, or meet people they haven't met yet," said Berkshire Grown Executive Director Barbara Zheutlin.

The farm-to-table food movement has expanded over the last few years, and locally those efforts have been led by Berkshire Grown, the Great Barrington-based organization that supports and promotes local agriculture.

Evolved from a similar group that began in 1985, Berkshire Grown currently has 250 professional members, and some 600 community members, according to Zheutlin, who has been executive director since 2007.

"We are riding a wave of interest about where our food comes from," she said.

Many food growers brought samples of their products to the gathering for others to try. Suzi Conecky of Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown brought a raw milk feta cheese her farm recently developed.

"It's really important for farmers to put a face to those people who sell and advocate for food in this region," said Conecky, adding that the business of growing food is often impersonal because farmers often don't interact with others involved in agriculture.

"Face time is an important aspect of it," she said.

One man leaned over a small plate of a camembert-style cheese that Conecky calls "Berkshire Bloom" and asked if he could try it.

"Please," Conecky said. "It needs to be sampled."

Jim Cervone, the owner of Ayelada of Pittsfield, which sells locally crafted frozen yogurt, was attending Berkshire Grown's networking event for the first time. He opened his store on East Street last April.

"We're always looking for local sauces or flavors, or toppings," Cervone said. "Someone might direct you to a product, or even an idea."

Abe Hunriches and Maddie Elling of Hosta Hill brought their home-grown sauerkraut for visitors to try. They grow their food in New Lebanon, N.Y., but put their products together at a facility in West Stockbridge.

"I wouldn't say we need them," Elling said, referring to networking events. "But they're helpful. It's great to meet people who are involved."

The buyers of local food feel the same way.

"The main point here is networking," said Matt Masiero of Guido's Fresh Marketplace. "If I can make two or three connections for local products, I'm ahead of the game."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6224