Climate Change and Berkshire Farms
By Martha Jackson Suquet

Under the best of circumstances, unpredictable weather has always made farming a challenging occupation. One season might bring heavy rains, leading to flooding, washed out crops, and an increase in pests and diseases for both plants and livestock. The next year might be dry, requiring extra labor to bring water to fields and pastures. A cold spring puts a damper on getting crops started, and an early frost can cut harvests short in the fall. As this year is making clear, we all need to adapt to a climate that is changing, warming, and becoming increasingly more extreme. Farmers feel those changes more sharply than many of us, and they also have developed innovative ways to adapt in the face of climate change.
We spoke with Max Morningstar, co-owner of MX Morningstar Farm in Hudson, NY, about the extreme rain this summer. Max responded “Though there were various setbacks in July, the potato crop this year is beautiful. The crop was planted in a well-drained field producing a high yield. On the other hand, the winter squash, planted in a not so well-drained field, is coming in less than 50% than expected. Overall the wet July was not a net gain, but the crops planted and grown in the well-drained fields were not devastated.” (Image courtesy MX Morningstar Farm IG.)

Climate change is a hard topic to face, whether you’re a farmer or a consumer. The threats to our food system, our communities, and our natural resources are very real, and very alarming. We’re going to lay out some of those threats in this story, but we also want to emphasize that our local farms are addressing climate change in creative and inspiring ways—we'll go into more detail on their efforts in a future article.
Meg Bantle, co-owner of Full Well Farm in Adams, says “no-till practices helped our crops be more resilient in times of rain because there was no flooding in fields. Building resilient soil is important to withstand heavy rains and to stay moist during times of drought as the soil retains the water. Most of the crop loss [we] experienced was disease due to high humidity.” (Image-Full Well farmer Laura Tupper-Palches using a no-till tool.)

The Berkshire Eagle reported that rainfall totals for July in the Berkshires ranged from nearly 9.5 inches to 13 inches, when the average for the month is 4.25 inches. The constant, soaking rains have thwarted farmers as they manage their crops: even if the extra moisture doesn’t cause disease, it can be impossible for farmers to get into the field to weed, fertilize, and harvest. And heavy rainfall can make pastures unusable for livestock.

Other effects of the changing climate aren’t always as obvious as flooded fields. Warmer temperatures allow weeds, pests, and diseases to creep northward. 

Sarah Lipinksi at Sweet Brook Farms in Williamstown, is very concerned about the effects of rain on their maple trees and the potential threat to their maple production. “The maple trees on our property have lost their leaves already and we are unsure of the impact for the next sap season. The excessive rain caused mold growth on the leaves and they may have dropped early to shed disease." Farmers need to stay up to date on emerging threats and be prepared to handle them. Plant varieties and livestock breeds that have worked well in this local climate may not be adapted to handle new temperature extremes. Lipinski continues, "we stay informed by reading articles published by UMASS Extension and hope for the best.”

Many farms depend on agritourism and pick-your-own operations, which suffer in extreme weather. And farmers themselves (including the farmworkers who make much of farming possible) have to contend with hotter, more dangerous working conditions.
How can local farmers cope with these threats? UMass Extension recommends several tactics that growers can use in the face of climate change. These include improving soil health with cover crops and no- or low-till practices, building water storage capacity and improving irrigation efficiency, and using protected structures like high tunnels to have more control over growing conditions. Increasing crop diversity (planting more different types of crops, or many varieties of a single crop) can help reduce the risk of crop loss to pests and disease.
Farmers definitely see substantial impacts when they use these strategies. Jim Schultz at Red Shirt Farm also witnessed the benefit of climate-smart practices this season. Using raised beds, no-till systems, organic mulch in pathways, and high tunnels helped him get through this year’s extremes. “There were no washouts or puddling, and the soil has better water holding capabilities and allows excess water to drain, and using high tunnels also eliminated the worry of crops getting excessively wet,” Schultz notes. (Image courtesy Red Shirt Farm IG.)
Farmers also helped each other through the struggle of farming in a changing climate. When Colfax Farm lost its fall squash crop they were able to purchase extra squash from MX Morningstar for their CSA members. We’ve heard many similar stories of farmers sharing extra seedlings when someone’s planting has been washed out, helping fill gaps in CSA shares, and trading knowledge and experience as the farming community navigates the future. (Image courtesy MX Morningstar IG.)

For those of us who love local farms and appreciate what they offer, there are many ways we can help farms as they adapt to the changing climate. Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm could help a farmer manage risk: CSA members accept that the food in their shares can vary depending on growing conditions. In general, being willing to accept change and embrace new types of food will allow us to support local farms. Some standard crops, like corn and wheat, may start to be replaced with new ones, like sorghum, that will produce more reliably in extreme conditions. We can welcome those changes and expand our diets, as our local farms do what they can to address climate challenges.
ThinkFOOD 2021
Field and Forest, October 1 – 2, 2021
Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, MA
The 8th Annual ThinkFOOD conference will look to nature for
sustainable ways of feeding ourselves and softening our impact on the planet. Our workshop themes include sustainable eating from home gardens, food entrepreneurship, urban gardening, ethical foraging, agroforestry,
and Berkshire-local agricultural initiatives.
Emily M. Broad Leib, Clinical Professor of Law, Faculty Director,
Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School,
and author of the “Blueprint for a National Food Strategy
will give the keynote address.

What We are Reading
Farm to Able: CHP effort provides local produce for pregnant women, new moms, people with diabetes
By Francesca Paris for The Berkshire Eagle
September 1, 2021

It didn’t take long for Lindsay Tillou to realize how hard cooking as a new mom would be.
“Anybody with a brand new baby doesn’t have a lot of time to do anything,” she said. “Especially plan meals.”
By the time she and her husband moved to the Berkshires and had their second child, Tillou needed help — and the chance to talk to more adults. That’s when she found Community Health Programs, where she could put her older daughter in play groups. The staff also signed her up for a pilot program called The Nutrition Club.

“They would come up with a meal for the week,” she said. “They’d give me the recipe. They’d give me all the ingredients. So even if I didn’t have anything, I knew I could count on for meals; Wednesdays we’d have something to cook together.”
Every week she wrangled her daughters to CHP’s offices in Great Barrington, gathering with other pregnant women, new moms and diabetes patients — the target demographics for the program — around a folding table packed with blue bags.
In the winter and spring, the bags were filled with groceries from local stores. But once the summer began, green kale leaves spilled out of the bags, tucked beside white turnips, bok choy, and lettuce heads, all from local farm shares.

Read the full article here.
Jen Salinetti harvests Swiss chard for the CSA at Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham. When Berkshire Grown pitched the idea of selling farm shares to Community Health Programs, for a pilot nutrition and food education program, Salinetti jumped on board. Image courtesy Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle
Can Land Conservation and Dual-Use Solar on Farms Coexist?
By Lisa Held for Civil Eats

Massachusetts is one of the national leaders in renewable energy, but conservationists worry that a push to expand solar on farms will lead to cutting down forests and paving over cropland.

Most Massachusetts residents agree on the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis. But when it comes to the question of solar development, they’re much less aligned. While some believe the state is blazing a trail for renewable energy infrastructure, others worry that the construction of new solar arrays throughout the state is accelerating the destruction of forests and farmland.
Despite its diminutive size and cool climate, Massachusetts ranks eighth in the nation for solar energy capacity. And unlike other leading states like Texas and Arizona, flat, open expanses are hard to come by in New England. As a result, to cash in on the state’s generous renewable energy incentives, some companies clear trees or take over cropland to build massive systems that place panels on the ground in long, compact rows.

Read the full article here.
What the UN Climate Report Means for Food
The continuing rise of global temperatures will have dire consequences for agri-business.
Emily Baron Cadloff for Modern Farmer
August 10, 2021
Things are getting bad. Very bad. Photography by leolintang/Shutterstock
new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is direct and unequivocal. Humans are responsible for climate change across the atmosphere, oceans and land. 
The report found that each of the last four decades has been increasingly warmer than ever recorded and human activity has sped up things such as the rise in temperatures, melting of Arctic glaciers and rising sea levels.
These changes to global temperatures have resulted in increasingly severe weather patterns, impacting large swaths of the planet. The report lists heatwaves, such as the recent heat pocket over the pacific northwest that resulted in the death of a farm worker in Oregon, along with droughts, flooding and tropical cyclones. 

Read the entire article here.
LAND: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World
Written by Simon Winchester
Book review by Carlos Lozada, for the Washington Post
Spend some time with Simon Winchester, and you will sail oceans, survive earthquakes, peer into volcanoes, pore over maps, mine the origins of language and measure the immeasurable world. So it’s fitting that, in his latest book, the author-geologist sets out to chart even more of our planet, claiming as his subject all the earth visible upon the Earth. Yet “Land” is more than a travelogue or popular history or geographic exploration — it is a political work, a chronicle of human efforts to possess, restrict, exploit and improve our lands, all while, ideally, not destroying them. Above all, it’s a critique of the very notion of land ownership, of “the mystery of why any man could think of himself as actually owning a piece of what, in essence, eternally belongs to Nature.”
The tale begins with Winchester’s own first such experience with possession, when he handed over a cashier’s check during the final days of the 20th century in exchange for 123 and 1/4 acres of “forested and rocky mountainside” in Wassaic, N.Y. “I had just purchased a piece of the United States of America,” he writes with awe, noting that his ancestors had always been tenants, never landowners themselves. “I would walk the forest — my forest now! — as often as I could.”
With that purchase, Winchester also acquired a bundle of new rights, including the rights of possession, control, exclusion and enjoyment of the territory to which he now held title. “Land” chronicles the battle over such rights throughout history, showing how ideology, greed, conflict, science and altruism have all sought to plant their flags. Though the land is his landscape, it is people — conquerors and cartographers, collectivists and capitalists — who cast their shadows over it, usually at the expense of the land itself and of the native populations who first exerted dominion.

Read the full review here.

On shelves at your favorite local independent bookstore.

"A Conversation with Simon Winchester"
Simon Winchester will talk about "Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World," on October 2, 2021 at 4:30 PM at the
New Marlborough Meeting House
Route 57/183, New Marlborough, MA
Information and tickets at

Simon Winchester will be joined by Kathleen Brown-Pérez, lawyer and Senior Lecturer of Native American Studies, UMass Amherst, Heather Bruegl, cultural director of the Munsee-Stockbridge Community, and Setsuko Sato Winchester, artist and creator of Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project. Moderated by Judith Friedlander.
GREEN: A reflection on love and loss through a lifetime relationship with the land
Short stories about the formation of Taft Farms
by Dan Tawczynski, Taft Farms, Great Barrington
"There's an old joke about farming that is as appropriate today as it was when first told. "How do you make a small fortune in farming? Of course, you start out with a large one." I didn't start out with a large fortune but, as with the rest of my family, I had a great deal of determination. Any success I've subsequently had is attributed to being able to stand on the shoulders of those who came before.

Taft Farms, Inc. started with a five-year-old boy on the front lawn with a few veggies on a card table under a beach umbrella. It has undergone many changes in over seventy years. Green is a collection of short stories (just a few of many) spanning from childhood events, adulthood lessons, and the formation of Taft Farms, all of which have shaped my life, on the land and elsewhere. In most cases, names have been changed to protect the innocent (or the guilty), as the case may be, but one thing remains true throughout: I am the luckiest person I know. I think the reader will agree."

Visit your favorite local independent bookstore and pick up a copy today.
Your Membership with Berkshire Grown Keeps Farmers Farming
Berkshire Grown continues to address the needs of farmers, food producers, and consumers. By collaborating with other local organizations, we learn about the needs of our community. As a result, the new Farm to Food Access project is establishing direct purchasing connections between farmers and food pantries; Share the
Bounty continues to deliver CSA shares to food access sites, and our program staff offers workshops, technical assistance, and networking events that help local farmers and food producers build their capacity and grow their business. (Image: Harvesting kale at Abode Farm.)
In addition, we continue to produce eight indoor winter Farmers Markets so you can meet the farmers who grow your food. The markets offer SNAP and HIP benefits, too. Our Guide to Local Food & Farms connects you to Berkshire resources for farms and food.

Join or renew your membership today and keep farmers farming! It's easy- use the safe online form or download the printable Household or Business membership forms. Thank you.
Join or Renew your membership with Berkshire Grown at the $100 (or above) level and receive this signature Berkshire Grown mesh produce bag.

Use it while you shop local at farm stands, farmers markets, and your favorite grocery stores!

Offer is valid while supplies last!
The Guide to Local Food & Farms
Makes Finding Nutritious Food Easy
The 2021 Guide to Local Food & Farms is the Berkshire region's most comprehensive reference for finding local food, farms and restaurants that source from local farms and food producers.

This valuable resource connects you to farmers markets, CSA's, farms stands and farm stores, specialty producers, Berkshire County food pantry sites, local food & lodgings, and other business members who support Berkshire Grown and its mission to keep farmers farming.

Complete with contact information and a handy map, the 2021 Guide is now on the news stands throughout Berkshire County and the surrounding region. In addition you can find the 2021 Guide digital version and the Find Food and Farms searchable map on the Berkshire Grown website.
Berkshire Grown connects you with local farmers, restaurants, and food producers. DONATE TODAY to celebrate local farms and food, sustain our Berkshire food economy, and Keep Farmers Farming! Support your favorite local eating establishment.
  To pay via check or phone, make payable to Berkshire Grown, mail to:
PO Box 983, Great Barrington, MA 01230 or call (413) 528-0041.
Contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
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Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Jordan Archey, Program Manager, Business Members
Kate Burke, Program Coordinator, Farm to Food Access
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Community Membership and Office Manager
Join Berkshire Grown here.