Despite weather, attendees in their element at Pittsfield's Harvest Festival

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PITTSFIELD -— Relentless rain and biting cold Saturday might have kept some people from attending this year's Harvest Festival, but they didn't deter hardy regulars from picking up produce from the last outdoor farmers market of the season.

For the third year, the Office of Cultural Development teamed with the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market to host the festival in collaboration with the last outdoor market in October.

The event featured its typical market vendors and farm representatives, but there also was a craft fair, paint-your-own-pumpkin station and free rides on a miniature train.

"I've come every week since the beginning of the farmers market," West Side resident Linda Kelley said after watching a recipe demonstration. "I get greens and whatever else is in season."

About 500 people shop each week in the summer and fall when the farmers market is outdoors on The Common, according to Stacy Strain, the market manager.

Despite the Harvest Festival, "today will be a bit lower, because of the weather" Strain said.

When the market goes indoors at Zion Lutheran Church from November to April, that number typically drops to about 150 to 200 visitors.

"A lot of people walk here," and in snow, that can be difficult, Strain said.

On Saturday, a small group of people bundled in raincoats crowded around chef Anna Gershenson of Pittsfield while she prepared two seasonal recipes.

Gershenson used to have a catering business in the Boston area and would work with farmers to craft recipes with whatever ingredients were available that week. Then she would show shoppers at the farmers market in Boston's Copley Square how to use the produce they were picking up.

A few years ago, she started to do the same in Pittsfield, where she has a cooking show on Pittsfield Community Public Television.

On Saturday, she whipped up a fall pesto using arugula, pumpkin puree, roasted pumpkin seeds, lemon juice and nutmeg, giving visitors a taste as they moved through the recipe.

"Basil doesn't grow anymore," she said of her decision to use arugula. "We've had some cold nights."

She also made a quinoa salad with arugula, walnuts and goat cheese.

Next to the table of savory autumn flavors, steam rose from the Assembly Coffee Roasters booth, where owner Julia Doyle discussed its variety of whole beans.

Being primarily a wholesale retailer, Doyle uses the farmers markets as an opportunity to interact directly with her customers.

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When rain dripped from the tent and into a cup of coffee beans at her table, one customer joked that cold brew was being made.

"Nothing quite like a good cup of coffee," Doyle said while she poured a steamy cup for Jose Bruno-Santiago. "Especially on a day like this."

Doyle compared naming her favorite coffee blend with choosing a favorite child. Right now, she is enjoying a Santa Maria blend from El Salvador.

As for whether Doyle is a purist, she said she always has milk in her first cup of the day, which, she said, is mostly "a temperature thing" so she can quickly take in her morning caffeine.

For the rest of the day, she enjoys it black.

Sipping his coffee, Bruno-Santiago said he lives over a mile from The Common, but he walks there at least twice a day.

He likes shopping for fresh fruit at the farmers market because "it's a community thing."

On Saturday, he was with Zach Durso, who uses the state's Healthy Incentives Program, which allows for the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market to match up to $15 of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for each eligible shopper buying fruits and vegetables.

Kate Pike of Holiday Brook Farm said that the use of HIP, a program that started in 2017, has decreased this season at her farm because customers were confused as to whether the program was active. That confusion lead to a decline in business at the market, Pike said.

HIP is now a seasonal program available at the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market until Nov. 21.

"It benefits us as farmers and them as consumers," Pike said about the program.

When the HIP program isn't active, the number of people buying produce at farmers markets drops, market manager Jessica Vecchia said.

"It affects our indoor markets, for sure," she said, noting that the program isn't available in the winter months.

Keeping as dry as possible under an umbrella, Cultural Pittsfield spokeswoman Jennifer Glockner said that she considered turnout at this year's Harvest Festival a success, considering the weather.

"We're just so happy people come out rain or shine," Glockner said. "It's very important to do events like this for the community and for residents."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle.com and 413-770-6977.


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