Berkshire tourism industry targets tourists' taste buds
This summer, it's not just about art and culture; people are traveling to the Berkshires to eat local.
Regional dinners, farmers markets and products like artisanal cheese and bread are fueling a slightly different kind of tourism here -- one that aims to please a sustainability-minded audience with a younger demographic, mature palate and a quick Instagram trigger finger.
Alison Abbot, who lives in Boston and blogs at greenwithrenvy.com, recently visited Berkshire Blue Cheese in Great Barrington.
"Anyone interested in knowing where your food comes from will leave well-informed," she wrote, pairing info about her trip with a salad recipe.
"It's a perfect escape for a girlfriends' getaway with the combination of great food, lodging, art and the outdoors," she said of the Berkshires in an email to The Eagle. "It's a beautiful area of Massachusetts -- easy to return again."
Blog entries like Abbot's are part of a new-media marketing plan that takes advantage of organic (no pun intended) interest in the area by coordinating with bloggers, Instagrammers and other Internet wunderkinds to visit the Berkshires and write about their experiences. Organizations like the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and Berkshire Farm & Table have worked to get several tastemakers here -- either with large followings or unique approaches -- in order to attract food-minded tourists.
"Younger generations are paying attention to where their food comes from," said Angela Cardinali, founder and director of Berkshire Farm & Table, which markets the Berkshires with a food and cuisine focus. "They are raising bees and growing vegetables on rooftops in major cities. They are interested in visiting the source of their food, meeting the makers and looking for great places to explore and experience terrific restaurants."
They're also looking for a getaway that won't break the bank and hasn't been done to death. Britany Robinson, who blogs with a special focus on millennials at Stars On The Ceiling (sotcblog.com), originally found out about the Berkshires through an article on Mic.com that listed North Adams as one of 15 cities for creatives "that aren't New York or Los Angeles." She worked with the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, which arranged a recent stay at The Porches Inn in North Adams.
"You don't expect a little town in the mountains to have such a creative community, but North Adams was truly inspiring," Robinson said. "I think that bloggers have the opportunity to shine light on locations that might not be covered by larger travel publications. I hope that someone sees my work on North Adams and considers taking a trip that might not have crossed their mind previously."
Blogging comes from inside the Berkshires, too -- Lindsey Schmid, director of marketing at the Berkshire Visitors Bureau is working with local food and farm organization Berkshire Grown to coordinate blog posts at berkshires.org/blog/.
"It's people who are part of this conversation," she said. The Visitors Bureau has also taken ads out in magazines like Edible New York and Edible Manhattan, and hosted "familiarization tours" for more mainstream food journalists as well as bloggers and Instagrammers.
Schmid said that while the Visitors Bureau is a membership-driven organization, she is happy to give support and publicity to local farmers, who generally aren't members, by spotlighting local food.
"This has allowed us to shine a light on them," she said.
Farm-to-table dinners, meals cooked by award-winning local chefs and served on local farms, are a big hit, too. Berkshire Farm & Table's third Outstanding In The Field dinner, being held today (Sunday, Aug. 31) at Lila's Farm in Great Barrington, sold out in 20 minutes -- 200 people are going.
Cardinali said between 75 and 80 percent of these dinner guests are from outside the area. Outstanding In The Field, which has organized around 400 similar dinners across the country -- including another dinner Monday at a nearby New York farm, highlighting local chefs Jeremy Stanton and Jim Gop of Fire Roasted Catering and The Meat Market in Great Barrington -- "has a following comparable to a rock band," Cardinali said.
Berkshire Farm and Table has also developed partnerships with local food makers to establish a series of "taste trails" that follow beer and cider makers, cheesemakers and charcuterie stops, and has partnered with Tastes on the Fly, which specializes in bringing local dining establishments to airports. A 1,200-square foot Berkshire Farms Market that features products made in the Berkshires is now located in United Airlines Terminal B at Boston's Logan International Airport.
The growing popularity of food media has been great for the area, where new farmers work through their first seasons, established family farms continue to offer delicious experiences and tourism organizations work to get the Berkshire region into new markets. After all, said Cardinali, "Who doesn't love a fantastic food photo, a terrific video on how to make something taste delicious or a story about traveling to a region with excellent restaurants?"
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