Colin Harrington: Finding food in a new-normal world

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WINDSOR — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a new normal in our lives in so many ways. While losing my work outside the home, discovering my own underlying fear of exposure, witnessing terrible illness and death that has the whole world shut down, I have also realized just how grateful I am to be healthy and resilient. I feel especially grateful to live in the Berkshires. I also have the daily joy of being married to a person who is not only a fabulous chef but loves to cook three scrumptious meals a day! How lucky is that? My wife, Deborah, can whip up any number of gourmet meals in the time it takes me to extricate myself from my puttering around and wool gathering just in time to wash my hands, desperate not to be late for dinner.

I imagine I'm not alone in this renewed discovery of food at a time when all the world has slowed down to a bracing pace and we actually practice a mindful appreciation of what we are eating at the table with sitdown meals. I know people everywhere must be trying new recipes and ordering different foods they may not have had the time or inclination to experiment with before this scary new virus stopped us in our tracks. Every aspect of our lives has been abruptly pushed off the tracks and new ways of operating pervade, including vital food access issues.

The pandemic has disrupted the well-established global agricultural supply chain. Agribusiness has streamlined how and where we can buy our foods on a massive scale. But there are baffling reports of farms plowing under all kinds of food and mega-dairy farmers pouring milk out by the tons. As a result, the shift to small farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has never been more successful. The opportunity to taste fresh, nutritious, and wholesome foods right from your local farm has never been so great.

These small farm CSAs, as well as farm stores and farmers markets, are well-established in Western Massachusetts. Shopping with them is an open air experience on pickup and many have online ordering. Some farmers markets are even offering home delivery, such as the Pittsfield Farmers Market and the Roots Rising crew. Our long-valued relationship buying fresh produce and locally produced staples from Sawyer Farm in Worthington has only deepened during this pandemic as they've expanded their offerings by networking with other farms and local suppliers. Obtaining fresh food from people you know, and who care about you as valued customers, has enhanced our lives tremendously.

When I first tasted food just one step from the farm, I realized what vegetables, meat, and dairy are actually supposed to taste like. I had never fully appreciated the flavors of carrots, pork chops, or chicken and beef until recent years. It's truly amazing. Good food is not an exclusive privilege. It is available to everybody. While this kind of food does not necessarily have anything to do with advertised sales, coupons, and rock bottom savings, CSAs often have payment methods that can meet anyone's budget. Sawyer Farm has generous forward payment plans that save on all items and they also accept SNAP/EBT. CSAs care about the community and they generally strive to enrich our quality of life.

The Golden Age of Agriculture was between the 1830s and the 1930s. People look back on those times with great fondness when it comes to real food. For those of us in the older generation, we fondly remember taking drives "out to the country" to find special treats that were otherwise fresher, more wholesome, flavorful, and nutritious. This fresh food is now readily available through these small farms, run by well researched and ambitious young people making a go of it. My observation is they are growing and more successful than ever. The current new normal world seems to have naturally turned to them when we needed them most.

We get poultry from Square Roots Farm in Lanesboroigh and beef from both Sawyer Farm and Sidehill Farm in Hawley. Sidehill also sells delicious, rich, "raw" milk and they make the most delicious yogurt. Their yogurt is a featured ingredient in the very popular Ayelada frozen yogurt sold in Pittsfield. These farms are one step distribution. Just you and the farm, and it does not get any fresher or more satisfying.

CSAs are in numerous Berkshire locales and this is a very good time to visit them and explore a change in lifestyle. It could be a positive twist in our new-normal world.

Colin Harrington is a retired public school teacher, poet, museum guide, events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox and an occasional Eagle contributor.

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