Time to 'pass the baton': Barbara Zheutlin plans to step away from Berkshire Grown

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Berkshire Grown has grown substantially over the last decade, and the nonprofit continues to do so.

But after 11 years spent heading a nonprofit that supports and promotes local agriculture at a time when the local food movement in the Berkshires has also grown exponentially, Barbara Zheutlin believes it's time for a change.

The executive director of Berkshire Grown since February 2007, Zheutlin, 68, will step down from that position this fall.

"It's the timing that makes it the moment to pass the baton," she said, adding that Berkshire Grown is "at this exciting moment of growth.

"I feel it will be a positive for the organization moving forward," she added. "And I'm ready for my next chapter which will probably be quite different."

Zheutlin, who has previously worked as a documentary film producer, been involved in global nuclear disarmament and human rights causes, co-authored two books, and served as a therapist, mostly in her native Los Angeles, will leave Berkshire Grown following the nonprofit's 20th annual Harvest Supper on Sept. 24.

Berkshire Grown has already established a search committee to find Zheutlin's successor, and hopes to have a replacement in place by August, according to longtime board and steering committee member Martin Strosiek, who owns Markristo Farm in Hillsdale, N.Y.

"I think we want to have a bit of an overlap," Strosiek said. "August would be a good time to have someone on board to hand off the torch."

Between now and then, Zheutlin plans to pass her knowledge of Berkshire Grown on to those who will succeed her.

"In a tiny nonprofit, so much has been in my head, and I'm going to spend the time making sure I can transfer all this institutional knowledge and relationships," she said. "I've focused my life and passion on Berkshire Grown the last 12 years. The next steps are important to me. I want to make it as exciting as it possibly can be."

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When Zheutlin started at Berkshire Grown, the Great Barrington-based nonprofit had 1 1/2 employees. Now it has three, including a full-time program manager, who fills a position previously staffed by two part-timers. Workshops and farmers markets were also established under Zheutlin's tenure.

It could not be determined how many members Berkshire Grown had when Zheutlin became executive director. But the nonprofit currently has about 600 members, she said, which include over 120 farms and 80 food producers and buyers.

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"At least half the members are couples or families, so we have significantly more than 600 individual members," she said.

"We as an organization did a strategic plan with the board in 2016 and the goal was to grow the staff and grow the organization," she said. "I'm so excited that we were able to do that. The workshop program the last two years has been fantastic for farmers. We've had outreach and farmers markets; in 2019 we're adding a March and April market. So we're at this exciting point of growth."

Zheutlin's tenure has also coincided with the growth of the local food movement in the Berkshires, which has become a contributor to the local economy. Berkshire Grown isn't the only regional entity that supports the local food movement. Berkshire Farm & Table, which promotes three regional "taste trails" — beer and cider, cheese and charcuterie — is another.

But since 2007 the region has seen an increase in farm-to-table restaurants, and the continued interest in local food has made events like taste trails possible.

"When I took this job in February of 2007, the cover of Time magazine right then had an apple on it and it said, 'forget organic, eat local,' " Zheutlin said. "It was just, bam, right there on the cover of Time magazine. I think from that moment the movement has just taken off. All these different groups across the country joining."

As for Berkshire Grown's part in spreading the local food gospel, "we've been part of re-educating people about the past and local food ... how many miles has your food traveled to get to your plate. That issue has resonated."

Another longtime board and steering committee member, Peter Platt, the owner/chef of the Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough, Zheutlin said has helped the public better understand what Berkshire Grown stands for than anyone else in the nonprofit's 20-year history.

"People understand better now how they support restaurants and the local farm community," Platt said. "Apart from her dedication, her knowledge is encyclopedic. She knows all the restaurants and farmers. She knows where all the resources are. They're always looking for new ways to help restaurants and farming.

"I think we'll find a great person to fill her shoes, but it's not going to be easy."

Zheutlin and her husband, Jonathan Hankin, a member of the Great Barrington Planning Board, came to the Berkshires in 1995 during a cross-country trip because they had cousins who lived in Great Barrington. She originally worked at the Austen Riggs psychiatric center in Stockbridge doing research on a long-term study, before joining another local food program, Share the Bounty, which she directed for three years before joining Berkshire Grown.

Zheutlin, who holds a master's degree in clinical psychology, plans to do research on child care after leaving in the fall.

"People ask me what I'm going to do in October," Zheutlin said. "I'm going to enjoy the changing of the leaves, go to farmers markets for a month, and walk my dogs. I'm going to explore things."

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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