Grazing for a cause at Berkshire Grown's Harvest Supper


GREAT BARRINGTON — Berkshire Grown's annual Harvest Supper may be celebrating farm-to-table, but it isn't a table gathering, per se.

Now in its fifth year at Ski Butternut's Upper Lodge and 19th overall, the annual event will bring more than two dozen chefs and beverage producers, farmers and foodies together to support and celebrate local agriculture. Just don't expect them to be tied to their seats.

"It's not a sit-down dinner," Berkshire Grown executive director Barbara Zheutlin said. "It's walking around and grazing."

The idea is to serve a wide variety of food that highlights the different meats, cheeses, vegetables and other produce that make their way from local farms into the hands of chefs from esteemed Berkshire establishments, such as Allium Restaurant + Bar in Great Barrington, The Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough and Wheatleigh in Lenox. For example, Williamstown's Cricket Creek Farm will provide Maggie's Round, a "semi-firm, raw milk cheese inspired by the toma cheeses of the Italian Alps," according to the farm's website, to chefs from Gateways Inn in Lenox, The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and even Williams College, Zheutlin wrote in an email.

"The local tomatoes, the corn, the kale, the butternut squash, the meat — these ingredients will be used by the chefs," Zheutlin said.

The executive director said chefs' initial affinity for the event wasn't borne out of sentimentality. "The chefs loved what the farmers were growing because it taste[d] better," she said.

New this year is a discounted ticket for attendees younger than 40 years old. A limited amount of $40 tickets will be made available to this demographic compared to the standard $75 and $85 entrance fees for Berkshire Grown members and non-members, respectively.

"We want to make it possible for younger people to become part of growing our local food economy and enjoying the fresh farm products," Zheutlin said.

State Sen. Adam G. Hinds, a co-chair of the state's Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, will also be in attendance this year.

"The spirit couldn't be better," Zheutlin said of the event's vibe at past events.

While Harvest Supper is a celebratory occasion, the need for such a fundraising event — a silent auction will also be part of the festivities — underscores the problems that Berkshire farmers face. For instance, Zheutlin said that the Berkshires' rocky terrain and climate doesn't afford it the agricultural production luxuries its neighbors have. "We're in between these two river valleys that have really big farms. They have longer growing seasons," Zheutlin said, referring to the Hudson River Valley and Pioneer Valley.

That problem, however, is a nice one to have from the perspective of those who can't even afford to buy property in the county.

"Land values are so expensive, particularly in the southern Berkshires, and that is a challenge," Zheutlin said.

Berkshires palates suffer when the county's farmers struggle. In recent years, major U.S. cities have experienced an oversaturation of farmers markets, leading to diminishing returns for many farmers who travel to these big markets to sell their goods. But Zheutlin said the Berkshires have the opposite problem: demand for these stands surpasses the supply of those who can run them.

"People create farmers markets for convenience," she said. "Every one of us wants to be able to get fresh food from our local farmer as close to our house as possible ... Instead, every time we start a new farmers market in the Berkshires, who's going to be the farmer there is the question."

A member of the Massachusetts Coalition for Local Food and Farms, Berkshire Grown has helped farmers by, among other things, connecting them with food pantries, offering business skills workshops and setting up markets during the winter.

"It's growing the local economy," Zheutlin said of Berkshire Grown's events and activities.

But the annual tasting doesn't need to serve a grander purpose to be worthwhile for guests.

"It's just so scrumptious," Zheutlin said.


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