Farmers without Farms
By Jordan Archey

When most people hear mention of the Berkshires, what usually comes to mind first is the beautiful scenery. Along with the landscape, many cultural institutions and a burgeoning local food scene are of note- these characteristics draw 2.6 million tourists annually, and the second homeowner population ranges anywhere from 16-63% across Berkshire towns. “Tourism—from hotels to restaurants to arts and recreation—employs more people than any other sector except healthcare,” stated a 2018 article in Boston Magazine. In turn, these pastoral views, typically created by generations of farmers tending their fields, are in high demand and come at a premium for their real estate values-- these price points tend to fall outside what a farmer looking to start or expand their own farm can afford. This market dynamic negatively affects the operations of our local food producers, our ability to build a stronger local food system, the affordable housing options for employees of these farms, and in the end, the cost of locally-grown food. 
On a miraculously rain-free day in July, Berkshire Grown hosted Agricultural Commissioner John Lebeaux and members of the MDAR team for its annual farm tour, this year with the focus on farmers in the Berkshires working on leased or borrowed land. After spending the morning at Colfax Farm in Alford and then Indian Line Farm in Egremont (find more information on those two farms here), our next stop was Hidden Mountain Farm in New Marlborough. Owner Christian Stovall talked to us about his livestock operation. With the help of Benson, his livestock guard dog who keeps predators away from the flock, Stovall rotationally grazes 100 feeder lambs for market and raises 15 registered Border Leicester ewes for breeding. Stovall farms in four to five different locations, ranging from the Connecticut/Massachusetts border in Southfield to the New York/Massachusetts border in Egremont.
Almost all of the land arrangements between Stovall and landowners are handshake agreements. “There’s a lot of reliance on other people, and a big part of this is making promises. You have to keep up on those promises to maintain good relationships, which can take a lot of shuffling around. At the same time you’re chasing the best grass, so it’s a balance of cultivating good relationships and finding the best pasture for your animals. On top of that, the possibility of landowners changing their mind is stressful to say the least.”

Along with uncertainty and inefficiency, there is a lot of time spent driving. Coupled with a lack of permanent infrastructure, this makes for a challenging setup. Stovall says, “a benefit of living in New Marlborough is the many open pastures not currently being grazed, along with people who are interested and supportive of what I am trying to do. If I could consolidate my business to New Marlborough, like I have been trying to do over this season, it would truly help streamline [my business].”
Hidden Mountain Farm uses various pastures for its rotational grazing practices.

“Hauling water, hauling fencing, and burning fuel in my truck is too common of an occurrence, as well as inefficient, especially when in reality there’s a lot of pasture around in New Marlborough. If there could be more awareness around the benefits of grazing - benefits to the land through fertilization, benefits to the animal, benefits to our local and regional food systems - that would be so beneficial and more sustainable. Grazing pastures with animals is great for the land and a great opportunity for farmers to make their businesses work in this county.”
The tour’s final stop was a visit to Off the Shelf Farm, also based in New Marlborough. Anna Houston and Rob Perazzo started their business in 2018 with 13 lambs, 250 meat birds, and a single chicken mobile chicken coop containing 750 laying hens. Today, their business has grown substantially - it now includes four chicken mobile chicken coops with 3000 laying hens, 75 lambs, and 900 meat birds, all fastidiously rotated through leased pastures. With a lack of ability to build infrastructure, Anna, Rob, and their one full time employee spend hours each day driving to multiple locations in Egremont, Great Barrington, Southfield, and New Marlborough, moving tons of animal feed and hundreds of gallons of water from a central location to each of the different pastures. The distance between the furthest south and northernmost destination is over 20 miles -- about a 40 minute drive each direction, although it is not a common occurrence to drive from one stop to the next in geographical order, as many locations require more than one visit per day.
Houston does attribute part of the growth of their business to not having a mortgage payment however, this flexibility comes with pitfalls. “Farming on leased land has allowed us to start and grow our business from scratch. But it also means the future is a little uncertain,” says Houston. “At the end of the day the land we use is not ours, and because of that, our whole farm could disappear overnight. We are so lucky to work with incredibly kind and generous land owners, and we hope to maintain these relationships for many years to come.”

According to Agricultural Commissioner John Lebeaux, Berkshire County produces 20% of the food grown in Massachusetts. With all the hoops farmers jump through to grow food in the Berkshires, that’s no small feat. So what does the future look like? As always in the life of a farmer, a little uncertain, but with enough collaboration, gratitude, and support for our local food producers, it glows bright.
'Safe and secure': On Tour of Leased Berkshire Farms, Agriculture Chief Touts Efforts on Food Supply
by Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle

July 13, 2021
Elizabeth Keen stands in a muddy tire rut near a greenhouse fragrant with basil and unripe tomato plants, talking with the state’s agriculture chief about crop varieties and downy mildew.

Up on the hill, the original barn is getting a $230,000 makeover to increase output and efficiency here at Keen’s Indian Line Farm, with its legendary Community Supported Agriculture program — said to be the first in the U.S. Keen and her husband, Al Thorp, often are short on help as they oversee an overflowing output that also fuels farmers markets, grocers and restaurants.

“We just feel so grateful and honored,” she told a group of visitors, including Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Commissioner John Lebeaux, during a Berkshire Grown tour of four South County farms on Tuesday. “I just want to make sure this farm is something I would feel good about passing on.”

The earth here is a winner, since it’s on part of a tract so fertile that the Housetunnock people kept it as their reservation, as recorded in a 1724 deed. Yet, modern farmers still live on the edge — some more so than others. Berkshire Grown, a farmer and local food advocacy nonprofit organized this tour of farms that are vulnerable because they lease or rely on a handshake for a grazing pasture, for instance. Red the full article here.
Massachusetts Agricultural Commissioner Discusses Berkshire Farm Tour

WAMC Interview with Ag Commissioner John Lebeaux with Josh Landes

July 14, 2021
On Tuesday, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux made his yearly visit to the Berkshires. Appointed by Governor Charlie Baker in 2015, Lebeaux – the grandson of a farmer – spent years working with his father at their family nurseries in Shrewsbury and is a certified horticulturalist. He’s been a selectperson in Shrewsbury as well as a member of the Massachusetts Board of Food and Agriculture, and served two terms as President of the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association. WAMC spoke with Lebeaux in Stockbridge about his tour of four farms in Southern Berkshire County. (Massahusestts Agricultural Commissioner John Lebeaux/ Josh Landes)

LEBEAUX: Our department's mission is to keep the Massachusetts food supply safe and secure, and to keep Massachusetts agriculture economically and environmentally sound. So we do that through a variety of programs, both regulatory and promotional. We put out a lot of grants to farmers. So we're active, and here we're out today with Berkshire Grown. We deal with the various Buy Local groups throughout the state, and they're a little bit of our eyes and ears and help us navigate the individual region. And they showed us some great things today.

Read or listen to the full interview here.
You May Ask, How Does My Membership in Berkshire Grown Help?

With your financial support, 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.
In addition, we continue to produce eight indoor winter Farmers Markets, all offering SNAP and HIP benefits. Our Guide to Local Food & Farms connects you to Berkshire resources for farms and food. This year the Guide includes two new sections: listings of Berkshire farm stands and two pages of information for community food pantries in the Berkshires. I hope you keep a copy handy and use it to support our local food and farms!

For two decades Berkshire Grown has worked to keep farmers farming. We advocate for sound agricultural policy, for support of local farms, and for strengthening connections in our community between those who grow food and those who eat it. Check out our 5 minute video at – it will inspire and inform you.
If you have not already done so, please join Berkshie Grown, or renew your membership today. We thank you for believing in the power of food to nourish this community, its people, and its soils.
Margaret Moulton
Executive Director
Join or renew using this printable membership form or online securely at today! Check out our membership benefits, and consider a monthly Sustaining Membership to receive benefits at the next highest membership level!
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!
Guido's "Round Up at Checkout" Program raises $7,088.48 for Share the Bounty
During the months of May and June generous customers at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace donated $7,088.48 to Share the Bounty, a Berkshire Grown program, now in its 19th year. Berkshire Grown extends a special thank you to Guido's for its ongoing support.

The “Round Up at Checkout” is a program that gives Guido’s customers the opportunity to give back to their local community every time they shop. Guido’s shoppers have the option to round up to the nearest dollar, when they check out, and the difference will be donated to fight local food insecurity.

What is Share the Bounty? Berkshire Grown purchases CSA shares from farmers in the winter months, tiding them over with funds to help purchase seeds and supplies prior to market season. During the harvest season these farmers provide fresh, locally-grown food to local food pantries and community kitchens. You can learn more about Share the Bounty here.
Find Food and Farms Near You - all across Massachusetts
The Eat Local MA Mobile App is Available!

This month, Berkshire Grown and the Massachusetts Coalition of Local Food and Farms launched the Eat Local MA mobile app to help eaters find local food and farms. Just download the app on your iOS or Android device, and use the map directory or mobile searchable directory to find farms, markets, fisheries, specialty food producers, craft beverages and more -- all locally made!

"The Eat Local MA mobile app is an excellent example of a new initiative from the Buy Local grant funding that helps consumers find local food and farms, supporting the local food system throughout the Commonwealth," said John Lebeaux, MDAR Commissioner.
What We are Reading

The Rise of Cottage-Food Production

Josh Voorhees for Modern Farmer

July 16, 2021
Image by Karen Faljyan/Shutterstock

State legislatures are loosening restrictions on selling products made in home kitchens.

During the past year, many Americans found comfort in their kitchens. During the next one, a growing number of these at-home cooks, bakers and jam-makers will be able to turn a profit from their pandemic pastimes. 
Since the start of 2021, roughly a dozen states have either eased or eliminated safety restrictions on the sale of food products made in home kitchens, known as cottage foods. The new rules vary by state, both in how they came about and just how far they go in prioritizing individual rights over public health. But taken together, they represent a major expansion of who can sell what and where—be it from their homes or ranches, at the local farmers’ market or even over the internet.
July alone has delivered two major victories for the growing cottage-food industry, which in most but not all cases refers to the sale of foodstuffs such as baked goods, jams, jellies, granola and other shelf-stable items that are thought to pose a relatively low risk of causing foodborne illness.
Read the full article here.
The 2021 Guide to Local Food & Farms is here, pick one up and keep it handy!
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.
Stay in Touch
Berkshire Grown's e-newsletter comes out monthly. 
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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.