ADAMS — A car rolled up the steep, gravel driveway of Full Well Farm before stopping next to a wooden stand, weathered by time and the elements. The driver popped out, grabbed a box from the stand and waved up the hill to Laura Tupper-Pulches, a co-owner of the farm. She greeted the driver back by name, and soon he was on his way with a box filled with fresh vegetables and herbs.
The scene is a vignette of Community Supported Agriculture, the system that connects farmers with locals who want fresh food. At Full Well Farm, patrons buy in to receive a box of food every week of the growing season, harvested less than 24 hours before it hits the stand. And they were doing takeout way before it was in.
Full Well's CSA program is just one example of how local food could benefit from a coronavirus pandemic that has threatened supply chains and knitted ties between neighbors. But, while changing trends could benefit farms in the Berkshires, the other, less friendly consequences of the pandemic will present a challenge.
Tupper-Pulches and fellow Full Well co-owner Meg Bantle shared their community mindset and experience of the pandemic during a tour of their farm Wednesday, sponsored by Berkshire Grown, a local agriculture nonprofit. Participants, including Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux, visited High Lawn Farm in Lee after their stop at Full Well in Adams.
The pandemic has helped and hurt local farmers. While some farms that sell food directly to customers have seen an uptick in revenue, others who contract with now-shuttered businesses have had to drastically alter their production.
At High Lawn Farm, General Manager Roberto Laurens has seen both sides of the equation. After months of fulfilling takeout orders like Full Well, a new farm shop on the property is attracting customers hungry for ice cream, butter and cheese.
But, alongside their retail business, High Lawn supplies milk for a half-dozen universities throughout the state. Once those universities closed, Laurens said, that stream of the farm's revenue stopped flowing.
At Full Well, Bantle and Tupper-Pulches felt a similar sting when COVID-19 shut down the North Adams Farmers Market. While the market continued to operate online, the Full Well farmers didn't know how much produce to allocate for that part of their business.
"It's a lot of guessing," Tupper-Pulches said.
But, despite the challenges, Lebeaux is bullish about local agriculture's prospects amid the pandemic.
"There's been disruptions, but all in all, I think it shows how important local ag is, and how good Massachusetts is at it," he told The Eagle.
One program that gives him hope is MassGrown, an initiative that directs locavores to farms where they can buy anything from flowers to fruits to vegetables. An additional resource, the Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program, offers $34 million for Massachusetts farmers investing in new projects, with an eye toward expanding food access in the state.
For Tupper-Pulches and Bantle, that money could buy an item on their wish list: a greenhouse, giving them the opportunity to feed customers year-round.
In Lee, meanwhile, the customers keep driving to the top of Summer Street to visit High Lawn Farm. Nicki Wilson and Russ Garrison, both of Great Barrington, stopped by Wednesday afternoon to check out the new farm shop. And to see the cows, of course.
"We're loyal customers of their milk, and we wanted to see where it all came from," Garrison told The Eagle between bites of ice cream.
Garrison and Wilson said the pandemic didn't change their shopping habits — they've always tried to buy local. But, Garrison did notice one change that the pandemic brought.
"You just became more and more aware that you're part of the community," he said.
Jack Lyons can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JackLyonsND.