New Brewery Popping Up in “New City”

by Samantha Marsh

Easthampton is home to a number of historic mill buildings, many of which have been converted to studio space for artists or entrepreneurs, and some of which have sat empty for years. New City Brewery, which took over the old Paragon mill building on Pleasant Street, is one of a handful breweries that has popped up in Easthampton over recent years.

Easthampton is known for its pristine water, which has won several gold medals and is deemed the best water in the country. While this may have been what initially drew many brewers to the town, the historic charm that Easthampton possesses cannot go unnoticed.

“When I got into the space, even though it was in pretty rough shape, I could see the potential because it is so unique,” said New City’s brewer Sam Dibble. “It had a lot of elements that you look for in a brewery like industrial power, natural gas, nice high ceilings, concrete floors, and an industrial loading dock. It was love at first sight.”

Dibble and his five business partners (Danny Workman, Ray Pierson, Marcel Emond, Torrey Evans, and Bob Soares) have converted the mill space into what they hope will soon become a destination, complete with a production brewery and tasting room.

New City Brewery's main focus continues to be their ginger beer, which is currently distributed throughout Hampden and Hampshire counties to more than 25 bars and restaurants. The beer, made from organic ginger, fruit juice, cane sugar, and molasses, was the result of Dibble’s wish to make a dry ginger beer that still had a distinct ginger kick.

“If you don’t have some sweetness to balance the heat then it’s out of balance and it’s really spicy,” Dibble said. “So I’ve been tweaking with that balance and molasses is really the key. [Molasses] has some unfermentable sugars that the yeast doesn’t ferment, so it leaves behind a little body and a sweetness that cane sugar really can’t give you.” New City’s ginger beer, which is naturally gluten-free, is cold-filtered and bottled through a process called counter-pressure filling, making the bottles shelf stable and ready to drink.

While New City is known by locals for their unique ginger beer, they also brew regular beer to enjoy in their tasting room. These beers are currently brewed in a two-barrel system, however Dibble has plans to install a larger brewing system later this year.

“Beer is something we’re very passionate about. I love beer and I love making beer, and want to make it and sell it,” said Dibble. The tasting room, which recently opened to the public, has six beers rotating in a spectrum from light to dark. Dibble brews all different styles, as he believes that having variety in beer is essential.

“I love learning a style and making it, and then making it my own,” Dibble continued. “I like it all. We have a California lager that is one of my favorites. I’m kind of a hop head, though. I have, like, five IPAs that I rotate through,” he added with a laugh.

Dibble hopes that New City Brewery will become a place where people can come from all over to taste and experience their beer fresh from the barrels. “It's very cool because you get to involve people in the brewery,” Dibble said. “They get to come in and they get to see things in action. It's a very direct experience—something I haven't had before in my brewing career.”

Making Tamales Can Be as Fun as Eating Them

Story by Roxann Wedegartner | Photos by Dominic Perri

It’s tamalada time!

What time is that?

Any time you feel like having a great party where friends can gather together and make tamales This gathering is called a tamalada, and it is steeped in ritual and tradition. Aztec, Maya, and Inca women accompanied their men into battle to serve as cooks. Their ingenuity may have produced the first “to go” food in the tamal (singular for tamales).

Tamaladas generally occur during the fall in preparation for the holidays, when primarily the women in the family meet to share gossip and the duties of making dozens—sometimes hundreds—of tamales. The rest of the family and friends see to it that the music plays and the beer and margaritas flow.

I grew up in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where I met my husband and became a cog in an annual tamalada gathering. My mother-in-law, Alice, was a wonderful cook only surpassed by her maid and cook, Maria. Put the two of them in a kitchen together and you knew everyone was going to eat well for days.

Early in November before Thanksgiving and with a freezer stocked with freshly killed venison, duck, and quail from my father-in-law’s hunting trips, Alice would announce the tamalada to her friends. They showed up willingly, bringing their own favorite tamale fillings. Alice and Maria took charge, provided the masa, husks, and more fillings; she gave the orders, and we obeyed. Soon everyone was making tamales, talking a blue streak, and sipping bourbon or margaritas. Miraculously after several hours, the stack of tamales were ready to be steamed and then taken home to enjoy.

Here in this Valley I have established my own tamalada tradition and so can you. While a tamalada can happen any time of year, I like to stay with my Tex-Mex tradition and do it in the fall when the harvest from our own gardens and local farms is still abundant and fresh, especially our corn. Here’s how you do it.

The Plan

For a successful tamalada, invite at least five to 10 people––enough people to share the work and the fun. Put someone in charge of soaking and handing out the corn husks, have a couple of people spread the masa on the corn husks and pass them off to a couple of other people for filling. Next, have your most obsessive, detail-oriented people in charge of properly folding the husks around the filling, a very critical step. Someone else needs to oversee the steaming. Let the music play––live or CD––and pour the drinks. My favorite tamalada music is anything by Freddie Fender or Los Lobos, but then that’s the tejana in me.

For utensils and cookware, have spatulas or any type of spreaders, mixing bowls for the masa and the fillings, a large pot or container for soaking the husks, and steam pots or any large, deep pot with an expandable steam basket placed inside for steaming the tamales.

The Tamales

Almost anything can be put into tamales. So meat lovers, vegetarians, and vegans can all join the party. The basic filling ingredients of traditional tamales are meats, vegetables, fruits, cheese, and chilies. Think pulled chicken or pork, venison, duck, beef, turkey, tofu, squash, onion, corn, poblano and jalapeño chilies, pumpkin, raisins, cooked beans … the list is endless. It’s fun to have more than one filling type available. Corn masa and corn husks make up the casing (though some Latin American regions use banana leaves). Some recipes also call for a sauce, but others simply rely on the filling being moist enough. When saucing, go with a two-to-one ratio of filling to sauce. The trick is to not make the filling too moist or you’ll have soggy tamales.

As the host, plan to have at least the one batch of masa prepared before the party. I highly recommend Maseca-brand instant corn masa flour, which can be purchased locally. The instant version is really a must for easy preparation. Do not use cornmeal or regular corn flour. They are made from a different type of corn and will not work.

Lard, never butter or vegetable shortening, is an essential ingredient for the masa. If you are vegetarian or vegan and don’t want to compromise, solid coconut oil can be substituted for lard. The masa must be moist. How much masa you prepare depends on how big a tamalada you’re throwing!

The Assembly: Spreading, Filling, Folding, and Steaming.

Corn husks need to be soaked in hot water for 45 minutes before use. To fill, lay the husk on a flat surface with the rough side down, smooth side up. Then, on the smooth side, spread the masa to approximately ¼ inch in thickness on the husk nearly to the edges of the sides and the flat end, leaving a little more space on the tapered end. Don’t overfill as the filling needs to get completely encased in the masa and husk. Once filled, fold the sides in on one another, slightly overlapping. Then fold the tapered end up to seal the bottom. Some people like to have narrow strips of husks or cotton twine handy to tie a neat sash around the tamal.

If you’re using more than one type of filling, keep the tamales separated before steaming them. Once wrapped, they look the same. You can put them into marked plastic freezer bags. Tamales freeze well whether or not they’ve been pre-steamed.

To steam the tamales, place a layer of corn husks in the bottom of the steaming pot, layer the tamales in there gently and cover with another layer of husks. Cover the pot, bring water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 45–60 minutes.

A fan of cooking good food for family and friends all her adult life, Roxann Wedegartner is a former assistant food editor of the Houston Chronicle.  See some of her writing and recipes on her Facebook page Food Tales.

Get the full recipe for the tamales here

Sources for Special Ingredients

Masa: Ecuador Andino in Hadley or in many grocery stores

Lard: Ecuador Andino, Sutter Meats

Corn husks: Ecuador Andino, Foster’s Market (Greenfield)

Last Bite: Cabbage

Recipes by Edible Pioneer Valley staff / Photographs by Dominic Perri

Cabbage isn’t one of the most glamorous vegetables in your market basket, but it doesn’t deserve its dowdy reputation. Nutritionally, it’s a valuable addition to any diet due to its high levels of vitamins K, C, B6, and folate. Culinarily, it’s a powerhouse in the kitchen. Any variety of cabbage can be used in these recipes: green, Savoy, red, Napa … pick heavy, “squeaky” heads.











Street to Table

By Sandy D’Amato

My favorite Sicilian street food is sausage and peppers, but how I got there is filled with detours.

Even though sweet peppers are used in many different countries and varied cuisines, the first country that comes to my mind is Italy. You could think that I’m biased, being of Italian decent, but I grew up with a distaste for peppers—a distaste that bordered on repulsion.



It actually had nothing to do with fresh sweet peppers but with the aroma of pickled banana peppers that my cousin, who lived next door, would taunt me with. He would plunge his whole fist in the jar, extract a prime specimen, and proceed to wag it in front of my face, dousing me with the toxic juices. Then he’d pop it in his mouth and chew it to a pulp, swallow, then push me on my back and kneel on my outstretched arm to perform the requisite breath-blowing.

It’s also very clear, to those who know me, that I love hot dogs. As with most young children, to me the basic wiener was king whether eating at home or out at the car-hopped drive-ins of the time. In our backyard summer gatherings, when all the grown-ups were relishing their steaks and hamburgers, all I saw were the dogs tattooed with their golden grill marks.

At the age of eight, my world was about to change. St. Rita’s church, which was two blocks from my Dad’s grocery store, had a yearly outdoor fest during the summer. I could see the festival start to evolve on the street from the front window of the store. My anticipation was overwhelming—from the first sight of the Ferris wheel construction on Wednesday up to the opening on Friday.

By Friday afternoon I was a raging lunatic asking my dad every 1.3 seconds when we could go. He patiently ignored me and as 7pm rolled around and he locked up the grocery store for the night, we finally started walking toward the festival—actually, I was running like a gangly gazelle and my dad was calmly not keeping up.

Once we got there it was great: pitching pennies on plates, throwing rings over Coke bottles, and actually getting to throw dangerous metal darts at balloons to win a hanging provolone. Life was good.

Along with all the games was the food: giant slices of sfinciuni, baked mostacciolli, every imaginable kind of Italian cookies, and the luscious filled-to-order cannoli.

But the centerpieces for me were the open grills blanketed with links. These weren’t the familiar pink hot dogs. They were ruddy, charred sausages surrounded by leaping flames and tended by massive men in sleeveless T-shirts looking like shiny, hulking brown bears in the mist as the mixture of fat and ash glistened on their hairy arms and shoulders.

My dad walked me over and said “With or without.” I asked “With what?” Grilled green peppers, of course. My face scrunched as my head was shaking “no”. But as I watched my dad reveling in each juicy, bursting bite, I caved and asked for a taste. No ketchup, no mustard—just pristine, perfectly grilled fennel and garlic-infused sausage and charred-yet-firm-and-substantial green pepper that became one as their combined bright juices infused into the crispy, yielding oval bun. We walked and ate until the napkin was empty. I was euphoric, and then a little sad, lamenting the waste of my previous seven years of life without this combo. A new era was born in my sausage repertoire––I found out the wiener was not the lone king.

From that day on, the intoxicating aroma of charcoal-seared pork and peppers has always set off an emotional reaction that strikes me to the core. From my first prepubescent whiff of the wafting manna at St. Rita’s through my years in New York City at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, the aroma is always as welcoming as a family dinner.

At this time of year you can really taste the varietal difference between the various colored local sweet peppers. So, being inspired by the Valley’s market bounty, this is the perfect time to make my zesty Grilled Red Pepper Soup. It is generously garnished with quickly grilled or sautéed garlic-infused green peppers and spicy sausage. A real key is to grill (or fire-roast) the peppers very quickly so that you retain the individual textures of the peppers—high heat is imperative. Also procure (or make) a quality Italian sausage.

With a few slices of grilled country bread glazed with extra-virgin olive oil, you’ll have an elegant dish with an elite street food pedigree that is certainly worth sitting down at the table for.

Recipe: Red Pepper and Italian Sausage Soup

Behind the Kitchen Door at Auntie Cathie’s Kitchen

By Nikki Gardner

I walk into Auntie Cathie’s Kitchen on a booming Thursday morning. The tables are packed with the breakfast crowd, still lingering into the 10 o’clock hour. I take in the vintage charm, including a figurine of Betty Boop next to the bakery case, before wandering back to the kitchen where Auntie Cathie herself plates orders from tickets the servers tear from their order pads and pin to a clothesline, old school style.


Nothing fancy. Just a pen, notepad, calculator, and cash register, and it all works together seamlessly. We chat about her homemade coleslaw, jam, pickles, and gluten- and allergy-free baking mixes, all made and served in house. She and her team shop locally for daily specials and seasonal breakfast and lunch menus for eggs, meat, maple syrup, honey, goat cheese, blueberries, vegetables, and fruit from Blossoming Acres (Southwick), The Kitchen Garden (Sunderland), Barnum & Buckley (Southwick), Scantic Valley (Somers, CT), Sweet Pea Cheese (Granby, CT), and Gray Dog’s Farm (Huntington).

Beneath the cool retro vibe and mountain-high frosted cupcakes, there is a sense of home and being nourished by loved ones. As I watch plates of big beautiful pancakes, vegetable-laced omelets sidled up to home fries and gluten-free toast, and grilled salmon salads being carried out to one table after another, I understand why Auntie Cathie’s is West Springfield’s daytime hot spot.

217 Elm St., West Springfield | 413-788-0022 |

Closed Sunday and Monday. Open Tuesday–Friday 8am–2pm, Saturday 9am–2pm.


An Economy of Trust



Story by Marykate Smith Despres | Photos by Marilyn London Ewing

It is the day before Easter when I see it––the first one since fall. A green, wrought iron, lattice-top table stands in the shade of a large front yard maple. On top of it, a small plastic box is labeled with white tape and the words Money Jar written and underlined in green marker, the same marker used to write Pussy Willows and $3 on the sign propped up on the legs of the table. There are bills enough in the box to make change for a 20. The cut branches, boasting buds like buttons covered in gray velvet and bundled together with black rubber bands, reach out from an old metal milk crate, declaring spring.

The roadside farm stand takes many forms. I’ve bought asparagus out of the bed of a truck, flowers off umbrella-shaded folding tables, pumpkins from a pile just off the road. Many are seasonal, selling a variety of produce as it ripens in the fields or kitchen gardens behind it. Others are specifically sporadic, popping up for a week or two when there are simply too many berries or flowers to keep. Some stands and stores are staffed by farmers, or family, or sleepy teenagers, but most do business based solely on trust.

When I asked Gene Hoynoski, who grew the pussy willows I bought in Hadley, about why he sells them, he simply told me, “I’ve got some bushes out back.” He said I didn’t need to map out where to find his table. “People know me.”

It is hard to say whether this economy of trust grows out of the community or if a community grows around it, but I believe it’s a little bit of both. And though I’m sure that self-serve farm stands exist in many places beyond the Valley, I have never been to another place where this silent agreement to support, and be supported by, the honor system is so ingrained.



Erving, Seasonal

The farm stand is painted yellow to match the house and garage behind it. It has a blue metal roof and blue awning shading the main part of the stand, which houses the money box and summer squash and cut flowers 4 for $1.

In the center of the cart there is a display of tiered shelves built like a vegetable staircase, lined with green indoor/outdoor carpeting, a single row of brown paper lunch sacks on each step. Each bag on the right side holds a generous, tangled handful of beans, green or yellow. Blue and white and red potatoes anchor the bags on the left. The roof slopes down on one side to create an aisle between the main cart and a row of shelves that hold the greens: buckets filled with heads of green and purple lettuce; a half dozen glass vases and jars of water keeping the kale and chard and collards crisp.

Among the baskets of summer squash and salad cukes, I find the most enormous cucumber I’ve ever seen. Italian Barese Cucumber, the sign reads, and beneath it, Never bitter. It is light green and ridged and has skin that feels more like a peach than a cucumber.

For $1, I get the large, fuzzy vegetable and an uncontainable smile from a fellow patron. The man is on his way from Connecticut to Brattleboro and back again, for work, and wears a red polo shirt that matches the lettering on his white pickup. He makes the drive often, always with camera in tow for wildlife sightings and cash in hand so he can stop here. He folds and drops bills into the slotted money box that sits beneath a laminated sign detailing the farm stand’s origin story (a summer job for the Boyden family’s then-14-year-old son Dan, turned family habit too hard to break once he’d grown), tells me he loves being out in the country, and to “Have a sparkly day.”

It’s for folks like him that Jacquie and Warren continue running Dan’s Veggies and Poplar Mountain Maple, and, with careful planning and crop rotation, till three acres of crops on top of their day jobs. One day, it will be their retirement, but for now, Jacquie doesn’t mind the extra work farming. For her, it’s not another job, it’s relaxing. She enjoys being outside, “planting the seed and seeing it all the way through.”

While Jacquie relaxes after work picking cucumbers and squash, she is creating a home base for people who want fresh, local, affordable produce. “People build it into their daily routine,” she says. She doesn’t mind if someone is short a dollar one day, because they’ll be back the next and the money box will be over. The Boydens have dealt with theft in the past, mostly pumpkins, but Jacquie says it’s never the locals. “I have to tell you, for the most part, people are honest … It’s a system of checks and balances.”

Jacquie was a stay-at-home mom when her boys were young and didn’t get into farming until her 40s, though she always had a large kitchen garden. Warren’s family has been maple sugaring for generations. He and Dan tap 125 trees on the property, boil it down with a wood-fired evaporator, and bottle 30 gallons in a good year. Though the trees are on their own acreage, the Boydens do some of their farming across the street at Split River Farm, where parts of the land don’t work for the larger farmer’s tools. As Jacquie says, “We all work together so we can make it work for everybody.”



Montague, Year-round

Two wooden signs with yellow-orange painted letters hang at the end of Mary and Charlie Dodge’s long driveway announce the price of chicken eggs, $3.50, and duck eggs, $4.50, which reflect a recent rise to coincide with the price of grain. There is a small wooden duck cut-out on the duck egg plaque, and a wooden chicken, not much smaller than the real thing, perches atop the sign for chicken eggs. The eggs themselves are nestled around back of the Dodges’ house, at the very end of the driveway, on a small porch just big enough to stand on, open the door of the mini fridge, and drive the pair of pomeranians inside the house wild.

Mary and Charlie love their birds. “I love the ducks and the geese, and he loves the chickens,” Mary tells me. “It’s fun, but, you can’t do it forever. We’re 82 years old and winters are getting hard.” Mary and Charlie do not make a profit off their eggs. They laugh at this idea. They sell their eggs to offset the price of grain and because they can’t seem to stop buying birds. They recently added seven new ducks to the their flock of over 50 chickens, ducks, and a pair of geese. The number of children, grandchildren, and great-grands, all local, about equals that of the birds, (“We don’t only raise chickens,” Mary laughs) and the eggs they sell are simply what’s left over after feeding family and sometimes donating to the Survival Center. That’s why they started “messing with chickens” in the first place, 64 years ago when Mary and Charlie fell in love, got married, and went to work on the local tobacco farms for a dollar an hour.

Mary remembers, “We could get cheap chickens if we wanted to butcher them ourselves, and so we did. I think we bought chickens for like,” they finish the sentence in unison, “50 cents apiece.”

People dip in and out of the kitchen in the hour I’m there: a granddaughter with a great-grandbaby in her belly, her partner who keeps two rescued pigeons, Toby and Glen, next door; a son just back from the tractor supply store; a friend down from Maine to buy a cockatiel from Mary’s friend; another son who calls on the phone as he does every day to say “hello and I love you.” Someone comes to buy eggs and sets the dogs to barking. Mary worries what will happen to the folks who count on their eggs once they are too old or feed is too expensive or there are none left over after feeding the family.

“A lot of the people come right in and sit down at the table, have a tea or a coffee and visit,” Mary tells me. “We have some that come every week looking for eggs, and those are the ones I worry about it if we don’t have any.” Charlie even tried buying eggs from the store to have on hand for folks who came looking when there weren’t any extras, but, he barks, “They don’t like store eggs.”



Northfield, Year-round

Neat rows of wide-mouthed jars––quarts and half gallons of cream-topped milk––fill the shelves of glass-front refrigerators wet with condensation. A geometry is made of the triangular hunks of cheese, the cylinders of milk, the line of tall refrigerators and the long freezers that form an “L” in one corner of the large box of a barn. The sun and summer air fill most of the space, not so much flowing through the open, wide doors into the barn, but more like the barn and its contents came in and settled around it, sitting itself in a space borrowed from the bottom of the sky. There is a human silence only––the birds are busy outside––so that the air itself seems huge––like there is air between the air, and I feel small in the most wonderful way.

A small table holds a few baskets of vegetables and herbs, but the meat and raw milk are the main attraction here. Price lists for cuts of beef, veal, pork, and chicken are taped to the tops of the freezers. South Wind Farm is just over a year old, about 20 acres, and home to a herd of 13 animals for beef and dairy, 77 laying hens, plus meat chickens and a handful of pigs. Ben and Laura Wells-Tolley feel just as strongly about sustaining the land itself, which is reflected in their farming practices, as they do about sustaining the community.The farm store, which is open seven days a week for 12 hours or more a day, was one way to make their product accessible. “Ever since we moved to the region over eight years ago the trust-based system at farm stands astounded us and we so loved it,” Ben says.

The small, sure voices of two young boys echo and rise from the floorboards as the pair clod in rubber boots up the stairs behind the freezers. They smile shyly as I say hello. Their grandfather greets me as he comes up the stairs behind them and the boys spill into the yard. I pay for my milk with a credit card using the tablet provided, though there is a clipboard and money box for those with cash, and wave in thanks to the family playing catch with their sleek brown dog as I leave.

The images in this story come from Marilyn London Ewing’s Farm Stand Project.

The entire collection will be shown at the Leverett Library from September 1 to October 31.

A reception will be held on September 20, 2–4:30pm. All are welcome!




Mary and Charlie Dodge

274 Federal St., Montague

Open year-round when available

Dan’s Veggies and Poplar Mountain Maple

Warren and Jacquelyn Boyden

151 Northfield Rd., Erving

413-423-3242 |

Open June–November

South Wind Farm

Ben and Laura Wells-Tolley

664 Millers Falls Rd., Northfield

413-829-4881 |

Open June–November

Marykate Smith Despres writes about food, art, and knitting for various blogs and publications. She has worked as a baker but learned how to cook from her mom, who taught her that everything good starts as a little butter and onions in a pan. Marykate is the program manager at Whole Children in Hadley, a recreation program for people of all abilities.

Marilyn London Ewing has been a photographer for over 30 years. She has exhibited in western Massachusetts and the Boston area. Her images range from landscapes to portraits from around the world. She lives in Leverett.

Her farm stand project will be shown at the Leverett Library from September 1 to October 31. A reception will be held on September 20, 2–4:30pm.

The Autumn Olive

Delicious, healthful, and (sometimes a little too) bountiful

Story by Carly Leusner | Photographs by Marie Viljoen



Early fall, the moment when autumn olive bushes begin developing buxom clusters of ruby silver-glittered berries, my yearning to taste their irresistible flavor overtakes my good sense. A small handful of immature berries turn my mouth into a desert. Their astringency nearly shuts down my ability to eat more; but certainly not my desire!

My lust for the celestial flavor of mature Elaeagnus umbellata berries has driven me to gobble down one too many unripe promises until my throat nearly closed up. A little patience, however, and the autumn olive harvest arrives as a timely, gracious gift––the most abundant, ambrosial, nutritious berry this corner of the globe now has to offer. They ripen to perfection right as we mourn the loss of our tender, frost-killed garden crops and start to shudder from the deeply chilling snaps of late fall. Autumn olives, also called autumn berries or silverberries, are the sweet companion to the bitter pill of autumnal death.

A single autumn olive shrub (also known as autumnberry), in a good year, can drip with up to 80 pounds of toothsome fruit, which warrants “superfood” status. The berries have up to 17 times the lycopene levels of tomatoes––a nutrient noted for protecting against cervical, prostate, and colon cancers. The berries also boast high levels of vitamins A, C, and E, and a diverse array of other potent antioxidants. Autumn olive is easy to identify, pleasurable to eat, a nutritional powerhouse, freely available, and abundant––how could we ask for more?

Well, we did ask for more and this wish yielded results loaded with new challenges. Hailing from eastern Asia,  autumn olive was introduced to the U.S. in the 1830s, originally promoted as an ornamental shrub. Our love affair with autumn olive grew as her ecological charms were realized, we thrilled at her supreme ability to thrive in dry, saline, infertile soils; fix nitrogen, feed wildlife, prevent erosion, and withstand drought. Enchanted by the potential of  autumn olives to return life to forgotten wastelands, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service arranged extensive plantings along highways and strip mines in the 1950s and 60s. She performed so well at this challenge, her dense colonies are now deemed a threat to biodiversity in some areas and appear on many invasive species lists. Birds in celebratory duty deposit her seeds, perfectly packaged in fertilizer, over vast territory. Autumn olive’s sheer fecundity, and ease at getting along in harsh conditions, has transformed its image from poster child of land renewal to invasive nuisance.

Employing any of the myriad culinary applications––steak sauce, salsa, jam, catsup, and chutney, to name a few––offers a much more elegant approach to berry bounty than the shortsighted response of spraying Roundup on such a lavish banquet. After all, do we want to support Monsanto, or gastronomic creativity? Autumn olives boldly elevate the nutritional profile of condiments and dishes while lending a sublimely full-bodied pomegranate-tomato flavor.

Savory sauces that involve long, slow cooking techniques concentrate the brightness of the berries while intensifying the bioavailability of lycopene. Catsup made from wild-harvested autumn olives becomes a sophisticated, healthful addition to a meal. Make your own autumn olive catsup and invite more dietary diversity and nuanced flavor to your dinner table.

Are these shrubs a threat asking for a chemical blasting or a wellspring of resilience and nutrition, a testimony to the triumph of abundance over barrenness? A bit of wisdom from a Haitian proverb: “We see from where we stand.” When I am lost in a thick grove of autumn olives, with buckets of berries, the birds indulging in the feast and finding refuge alongside me––this patch of “invasive species” looks more like a sanctuary of food and habitat than a malignant menace.



Identifying Autumn Olive

Autumn olives have distinctive silver sprayed leaves distinguishable at high speeds cruising down highways. After you get officially introduced, there is no turning back—you’ll find them everywhere. Harvest autumn olives after the first hard killing frost. They appear in September and can linger on the shrubs through November. Birds wait patiently until they perfectly ripen; take a cue from them to find the best bushes. Taste each bush; each is different, with a range of berry colors and flavor. They can be eaten raw or cooked in sauces.



Fall 2015 Cover Story

Cover photograph by Dominic Perri

One of the flavors that shouts “Fall!” to us is apple cider. In this issue we visit a family-run cidery and orchard: Bear Swamp Orchard. Find recipes using hard and sweet ciders, including one for tangy-sweet apple cider caramel, in the story here. We like this caramel drizzled over a big bowl of ice cream, naturally, but it’s also a decadent topper for a bowl of yogurt and granola. For a savory option, drizzle it over a pork roast, or mix with mustard to make a spicy-sweet sandwich spread.



The Pig Next Door



Words by Barry Estabrook

Several years ago, I bit into a chop that caused me to all but eliminate pork from my diet. It wasn’t that the chop was bad. On the contrary, it was transcendental: rich, juicy, fatty, and sublimely piggy. Compared to the commodity meat at the supermarket, it was like an August heirloom tomato picked from the garden versus a pale, imported January facsimile. I lost my taste for the factory-raised “other white meat.”

I also became determined to find out how meat from pigs could be so different—and how I could secure a dependable supply of great pork for my own table.

A little sleuthing revealed that the pig that produced the chop responsible for my epiphany was an old-fashioned heritage animal bred for flavor, not cookie-cutter leanness. It had spent its life with about 300 fellow hogs on the rolling pastures and woodlots of a small farm about an hour from my Vermont home. It had cavorted, rooted, wallowed in mud baths, snoozed in the summer sun, and dined on a plant-based diet. Its manure made the vegetation richer for future pigs.

As I got deeper into my quest, which by then had become a book project, I spent a memorable day with a pig farmer in Iowa. He raised 150,000 hogs a year that produced meat of the sort that makes up 95 percent of the pork Americans consume. To prevent my bringing in diseases, I had to strip naked, shower, and put on special clothing, as did the owner and everyone else who entered the facility. In one dimly lit barn, more than 1,000 sows spent their entire lives in metal cages too small for them to turn around in or even contain their swelling, pregnant bellies. Piglets were raised indoors in groups of twenty or so in enclosures too small to allow them to take more than a step or two in any direction. The floor was slatted concrete that allowed the feces and urine to dribble into a basement-like pit directly below, where it accumulated, creating an eye-watering stench and emitting gaseous ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that would have killed every pig in the barn were it not for jet-engine-sized ventilation fans that blew the fumes outside, causing the air to reek for miles around. The hogs’ commercial feed included “animal protein” rendered from dead pigs, chicken litter (feces contain protein), and “feather meal” from poultry packing houses. Their feed also contained antibiotics, a practice that breeds resistant bacteria that kill 23,000 Americans a year.

My taste buds were obviously trying to tell me something.

At first, finding pork that met my new standards involved effort. I could order it online from a few suppliers such as Niman Ranch, which entailed shipping costs and more advance planning than I typically give to weeknight dinners. Then one Saturday morning, I noticed that a cheese maker at the farmers’ market I frequent had a cooler full of frozen pork. She told me her animals were free range and fed a vegetarian diet mixed with whey left over from her cheese operation. I became a customer. Around the same time, a few conscientious chefs in the area made deals with farmers to produce hogs, which they would buy whole and break down into an array of tasty, often imaginative dishes.

After listening to the stories of these chefs and farmers and visiting a few swineherds , I settled on a simple principle: By any criterion—environmental, ethical, and gastronomic—factory-raised pork is the worst meat you can eat. By the same token, pork raised by small farmers near home is the very best.

A year or so ago, the long-time meat manager at a nearby supermarket saw that an increasing number of his customers came in looking for the same sort of meat that I sought. He left his job, purchased a USDA-compliant mobile slaughter truck, and opened a meat market a about ten miles down the highway. Demand was so brisk that he soon opened a second store not much farther away up the road. For me today, getting great, local pork requires no extra effort, regardless of which direction I drive.

You may not be as fortunate—yet. But in my travels, I have noticed that pork and other meats are on offer at more and more farmers’ markets. Websites such as Eat Wild (, Food Alliance (, and Slow Food USA ( have national listings of small, sustainable pork producers that can guide you to well-raised pigs living near you. Get to know them, but be warned, you may never visit the supermarket meat counter again.

Barry Estabrook is the author of Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Guide to Sustainable Meat. You can find his writing at Politics of the Plate.

Way Beyond Old MacDonald



Variety of Enterprises Flourish at Brook’s Bend Farm

Story by Lee Wicks | Photographs by Brianna C. Stachowski

With all the bravado and ignorance of a Brooklyn street kid, I once thought I’d go live off the land someday, grow all my own food, raise animals, weave flax into linen. For various reasons, that never happened—but a sketch of my future farm would have looked a lot like Brook’s Bend Farm in Montague, where sheep graze, chickens wander, and faded red barns stand out against winter snow. That’s what you see if you drive by––the place looks like a perfectly contained family farm.



In reality, owners Suzanne Webber and Al Miller have created a hub of interconnected enterprises. They turned Brook’s Bend into a shared resource for wilderness educators, an herbalist, a permaculture designer, and a pig farmer. Al and Suzanne raise sheep as they have done since 2003 when they bought the place.

I discovered all this one afternoon when I was asked to pick up my grandson from Roots, a wilderness education program, which operates at Brook’s Bend. When I visited their website later I discovered that this 90-acre farm is growing food and healing plants, and helping a new generation of farmers and land-based educators get a start.

Al and Suzanne are among those whom the New York Times referred to as “Agrarian Elders,” in an article in 2014. They have years of knowledge to pass along, a deep reverence for the environment, an aversion to one-acre house lots on some of the most productive farmland in the world, and they have Brook’s Bend Farm.

In their sunroom where skeins of natural-dyed wool are stacked in shelves and woven rugs and throws hang from rods, they talked about the history of Brook’s Bend. In the beginning, Al said, “we ran everything on the edge of domesticated and wild.” In what they describe as “the time of the steep learning curve,” their Highlander cow went into heat during a storm that blew a limb down on her pen. She stepped out and found her way to a bull on a nearby farm. Al and Suzanne got a calf from that adventure. They had a dog that insisted on herding the turkeys. They had large gardens. It was a lot of work.



Then they met Neill Bovaird, founder and director of Wolf Tree Programs, during a visit to the Montague Grange (now called the Montague Common Hall). Neill was looking for a home to expand his wilderness education program and that night Suzanne and Al invited him to visit the farm.

When Neill first walked the land with Al, he pointed to a tree where he thought he might create a learning circle. Al nodded and then quietly led him to a huge ancient white oak. Al said, “I’ve always imagined a classroom under this tree.” Neill agreed, and now this “wolf tree,” so named because it has grown huge and dominant, is the centerpiece of a program where children and adults learn wilderness skills and develop a deep respect for the natural world. The outdoor programs run year round, in all weather.

Al and Suzanne act as wise elders to the children at Wolf Tree. Each spring when the kids have an overnight, Al and Suzanne sit by the fire and tell the story of the land, how it was geologically formed, inhabited by Native Americans, how they came to live on it, and their hopes for the future. Neill said, “The kids love it. They are always filled with questions. Al and Suzanne help them understand that we are just guests here for a while.”



Wolf Tree is not the only wilderness program. Full Moon Girls, run by Dhyana Miller (no relation to Al) focuses exclusively on the needs of young women. Dhyana believes that girls thrive in a female environment. At Full Moon Girls they seek out adventures, prepare herbal remedies, engage in storytelling, and follow their passions guided by women mentors. A tranquil afternoon spent there proved all of this to be true. Girls, grubby from gathering firewood and mucking in the stream, talked, enjoyed long silences, showed me the things they’d made, and demonstrated how to take the sting out of young nettles.

On a sunny field across from the sheep meadow, Chris Marano, a “world-class herbalist” according to Al, grows medicinal plants. He lives down the road, and when he was looking for a place to do this he simply knocked on Al and Suzanne’s door. They connected, and Clearpath Herbals became part of the Brook’s Bend family.



Chris describes himself as a community herbalist. In addition to teaching he offers clinical health consultations and custom-blended herbal preparations for people looking at alternative medicine. The garden and the forest at Brook’s Bend are an extension of his classroom and the source of his apothecary.

Such diversification required planning. Help came from another neighbor. Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group in Greenfield, is a master permaculture practitioner, and since 2008 he’s been helping Al and Suzanne develop permaculture plantings. A small grove of Chinese Chestnut trees at the edge of the woods, a selection of native habitat plants and a long protective hedgerow by the gardens reflect his work. Jono said, “Al and Suzanne have been super generous in finding all these interconnected uses.”

Grass-fed lamb, wool, and textiles are the cornerstone of the farm. Brook’s Bend lamb is raised on organic, re-mineralized pasture with nothing but the sun, pasture, and forest edge in them. Al and Suzanne would not let me leave without taking lamb loin chops along with me. They were perfect sautéed with garlic and fresh rosemary.



Tyler Sage is the latest addition to the Brook’s Bend Community. He raises pigs that are a cross between a Hereford boar and Berkshire Hereford sows, both heritage breeds in need of preservation. Tyler said, “They are a nice combination of fat and lean.” He sells whole pigs to Sutter Meats in Northampton, and frozen cuts to farm stores and at farmers’ markets.

Tyler is committed to farming and has been for a long time, but like most young farmers he cannot afford to buy land. He said, “Al and Suzanne’s support has been crucial to the development of the business.” He pays rent for a house and access to the barns.

Tyler invited me to a barn to see a sow and her piglets on a cool April morning. The sow was enormous with clear eyes and a beautiful brown bristly coat. Sunlight filtered through the barn. The hay smelled sweet. With the lambs grazing across the street and the pigs cozy in the barn, all seemed well at Brook’s Bend that morning. There’s a powerful sense of place there with people who are right where they want to be doing exactly what they love to do.

Finding your perfect flour



If the idea of milling your own grain at home seems like a too big a project for you, there are a number of options for fresh-milled flour in the Valley:

Four Star Farms grows many varieties of grain and offers whole grains and whole-grain flours for sale. They mill to order, once a week. Place your order online or by phone. You can have your order shipped to you or pick up your fresh-milled flour (by appointment only) at the farm., Northfield, 413-498-2968

Upinngil Farm grows organic grains and offers them for sale at their self-service farm store. You may buy whole grains to take home or grind them yourself in the store’s mill., 411 Main Road, Gill, open daily 8am–7pm

Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA offers a range of grains to its CSA members. Shares are on sale now for delivery later this year (check their website for details on pricing, share sizes, and grain varieties). The CSA offers milling options at various pickup locations around the Valley., locations throughout the Valley

Want more whole-grain goodness? Read on!

Going With the Grain

Tips for Success

The Hardwick Loaf

Blender Milling


Blender Pancakes

Cheddar, Black Pepper & Chive Bread

Walnut-Pear Cake

Whole-Grain Chapati

Baking with whole grains: tips for success



Properly stored, whole grains can last almost forever. To avoid pantry moths, keep grain in covered containers in a cool, dry place (the freezer is great) until ready to use. Whole-grain flour is another story, however. It should be stored in the freezer, but for the best flavor, flours should be used soon after milling.

Try experimenting with different grains and different combinations of them. Thanks to the variety of grains available, you can try using spelt, emmer, rye, triticale … Find your perfect flavors and create your own “house” flour blend!

Whole-grain flours can feel gritty when you work with them, and they need a little more time to absorb liquids. Especially in bread recipes, like the chapati, you’ll get better results if you let your dough rest: a sticky dough can become supple and easy to work with.

A common warning when baking is that a lot of stirring can toughen up baking goods. That is true with flours that have had the bran removed (like all-purpose flour)––overworking forms gluten strands that can toughen up your baked goods. But in the case of whole-grain flour, the bran “cuts” the gluten strands and keeps things tender. This is why the pancakes in this recipe don’t become leaden hockey pucks, even after taking many spins around a blender.

Want more whole-grain goodness? Read on!

Going with the Grain

The Hardwick Loaf

Finding Your Perfect Flour

Blender Milling


Blender Pancakes

Cheddar, Black Pepper & Chive Bread

Walnut-Pear Cake

Whole-Grain Chapati

Mill grains at home: In your blender!

If you own a home-sized mill you’re already one step ahead. But if you’re just starting out, you can start out by milling at home in a high-powered blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec. We used a Vitamix to mill the flour for all the recipes in this issue.  Vitamix suggests you purchase a special milling canister if you want to mill flour as the plastic canister can scratch, but we decided to risk it.

A blender will heat the grains quite a bit as they get ground up, so it’s best to mill exactly what you need for a recipe––usually about two cups for these recipes. Just add the grains, and start blending! For best results, we blended on high for about 45 seconds, shook the canister to redistribute the flour and then blended again for about 30 more seconds. This yields a fluffy, nutty flour with a slightly gritty feel. If you want a finer flour, mill only one cup of grain, or less, at a time.

Want more whole-grain goodness? Read on!

Going With the Grain 

Tips for Success

The Hardwick Loaf

Finding Your Perfect Flour


Blender Pancakes

Cheddar, Black Pepper & Chive Bread

Walnut-Pear Cake

Whole-Grain Chapati

The Hardwick Loaf: Hyperlocal bread



Baking with fresh local flour at home is something every baker can try, but how’s a local grain lover who doesn’t bake going to get their fill? Fortunately for bread lovers, plenty of local bakeries are using local fresh-milled flour in their goods. Rose32 co-owner and master baker Glenn Mitchell is one, and he goes hyperlocal with the bakery’s Hardwick Loaf.

The Hardwick Loaf could be considered a nearly 100% local loaf of bread (salt being the only ingredient not sourced locally). Mitchell purchases the wheat for this bread from Hardwick farmer Stan White. The wheat variety White grows on his farm, located less than three miles from the bakery, is called Redeemer.

Mitchell describes this Hardwick-grown, hard red winter wheat as the “best wheat for me.” Each week he mills between 30 and 40 pounds of Redeemer himself (another 100 pounds of Redeemer goes to Four Star Farms for finer milling there). This whole-grain, coarsely ground flour goes into the Hardwick Loaf. Mitchell uses a sourdough starter to leaven the bread. It takes about 60 hours for one batch to go from grain to oven.

Many of Rose32’s other breads are made with local wheat: Henry’s Harvest, the Local Loaf, and the Market Loaf use fresh-milled Redeemer and/or fresh-milled flours from Four Star Farms in Northfield.

If you are making a trip to Rose32 for a local loaf, it’s best to call the bakery at 413-477-9930 for availability as not all bread types are baked every day.

Find local flour in the breads at:

Rose32 | 413-477-9930 | 412 Main St., Gilbertville |

Tart Baking Co | 413-584-0717 | 192 Main St., Northampton |

The Hungry Ghost | 413-582-9009 | 62 State St., Northampton |

Want more whole-grain goodness? Read on!

Going With the Grain

Tips for Success

Finding Your Perfect Flour

Blender Milling


Blender Pancakes

Cheddar, Black Pepper & Chive Bread

Walnut-Pear Cake

Whole-Grain Chapati

Seedy Business


Story by Karen Gibson | Photographs courtesy of Seeds of Time

For a local take, read about Seed Saving and Sovereignty in Easthampton.

Samantha Marsh's story on a new seed bank in Easthampton here. When you buy that magnificent heirloom Cherokee Purple tomato, or the clever, open-pollinated inside-out watermelon radish, or the delightfully fragrant lemon basil plant from your local farmer, you're participating in what is arguably the most important food preservation effort on the planet. And in a grand way, too.

By selecting open-pollinated or heirloom varieties, you're signaling your interests and preferences to the grower, who will use customer buying patterns to decide what she plants next year, and how she'll expand her offerings with unique open-pollinated varieties.  The farmer will then purchase seeds from a fellow grower who has carefully nurtured those varieties from healthy plant to healthy seed. That purchase encourages the seed producer to broaden his open-pollinated plantings, as he learns what farmers need for their direct-to-consumer businesses.

And soon, we have a wider variety of produce from which to choose, and more importantly, you, I, and others across the city, region, and country, can help slow the alarming trend of global biodiversity loss.


Biodiversity Loss: a Global Threat

Biodiversity encompasses the unique varieties of life on earth – human, plant, animal, insect, avian, marine, soil microbes, etc. – and the intricate and critically important interdependence that exists among them in the global ecosystem. Our planet has experienced an alarming decrease in the variety of species thriving today. In food terms – that is, in agrobiodiversity terms – this is very bad news.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that we've experienced a 75% loss in genetic crop diversity in the last century, due in significant part to the advancement of industrial agriculture, which requires efficiency and simplification through monoculture (i.e., a large industrial farm growing only corn – and perhaps just one variety at that – rather than corn, plus various cultivars of beans, squash, garlic, onions, and tomatoes) to be productive and profitable. Absence of diversity threatens global food security: as we have fewer and fewer fruit and vegetable cultivated species, the risk of devastation by pests and disease looms large.  

Think of it in terms of your financial portfolio: your advisor encourages investment diversification to stabilize your overall wealth. If you invest everything in Acme Sprocket, Inc., and Acme Sprocket goes under, so does your portfolio. But if you spread your investments among multiple companies with unique operations, the loss of one company or a tilt in one business sector will be compensated by the health of the others.

The massive potato crop losses throughout Europe in the 1840s, leading to the Irish Potato Famine and the starvation deaths of almost one million citizens, is an example of an agrobiodiversity disaster. None of the potato varieties grown in Europe at that time was resistant to the particular strain of potato blight that destroyed the crops, nor was the Irish Lumper variety upon which the Irish population solely depended. An agrobiodiversity crisis of this type also has cascading and long-reaching effects: not only is there crop loss in a given growing season, but once the crop fails there are no healthy specimens remaining from which growers can take seed for future years.


Open-pollinated vs. Hybrid Seeds

When we speak about preserving crop agrobiodiversity, the focus must always turn to the viability of seeds and their ability to reliably reproduce the same crop year after year. Open-pollinated varieties are the answer to this need.

Open-pollinated varieties – plants that are pollinated through natural mechanisms, such as wind, birds, and insects – create, over time, genetically diverse plants that naturally adapt to the climate and soil where they grow. As long as varieties do not cross-pollinate, a plant's seeds will produce similar plants and similar fruit the next year, inheriting the characteristics of the plant that pollinated it.  (Heirlooms are a subset of open-pollinated plants, so named because of the historical background and heritage that is carried along with each variety.)

Hybrid varieties grown for commercial sale are the result of controlled cross-pollination, with the intent to favor certain characteristics – not just color and flavor, but also disease resistance, growing habits, and higher yields.

Hybrid strains, while hardy producers in the first year, are actually genetically weak, and seeds taken from the fruit of a first generation plant will not produce the same plant or fruit on a second generation plant.

For example, in one recent year, I grew a hybrid red cherry tomato plant in an isolated spot in my yard. Seeds from its fallen fruit volunteered the next year, producing grape-shaped tomatoes with green shoulders and an undesirably bland, winter-tomato quality flavor.

If we want to preserve the edible crops on our planet and protect ourselves from food crises caused by biodiversity loss, we must save and expand the world's cache of open-pollinated seeds. There are many significant operations devoted to doing just that, globally, nationally, and locally.


Regional: Seed Banks

Over 1,700 seed bank facilities exist around the world today. Their raison d'etre is to collect, preserve, maintain, and regenerate seeds from species that are at risk for extinction, regarded as critical to the global ecosystem or food supply, or are particularly suited and relied upon as crops for the region in which the bank is located.

Seed bank facilities are large and complex in their operations, as they are charged not just with seed collection and storage, but also tracking and cataloging every seed in their facility, which is an enormous responsibility.  The storage units themselves must be carefully monitored and managed for optimum climate and temperature (-18°C is the international standard for seed preservation).  Many have labs and scientists on staff devoting their efforts to gene research, species health, and improving preservation practices.

A critical part of the seed saving process at these banks is ensuring that the entire collection survives: seeds must be periodically checked for viability, grown to maturity, and evaluated for health and hardiness to replenish the collection with fresh seed.

Seed banks can be associated with and/or funded by governments, universities, or private trusts or organizations, but are generally inaccessible to the public (in terms of requesting seeds or storing seeds). The world's largest seed bank is the Millennium Seed Bank in the UK, near London (although they do not focus on food crop seed saving), storing almost two million seeds at present.


Global: The Svalbard Seed Vault

Located as close to the North Pole as it is to its governing country of Norway, this underground fortress was built into the side of a sandstone mountain on the Svalbard archipelago with one goal in mind: to provide a fail-safe and permanent storage facility for genetic crop materials with protection against threats both man-made (such as war and large-scale accidents) and natural (climate change, natural disasters). An insurance policy, if you will, for the world's food supply.

Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Vault is an extension of the work performed by seed banks. One can think of the vault's purpose as a safety deposit box for seed banks: banks store backups of their seeds in the vault, often in addition to backups that already exist onsite at seed bank facilities. No genetic research or lab work occurs at the vault; it is simply a high-security storage facility. Each seed bank is responsible for testing and regenerating the seeds they store in the vault to ensure viability, and banks can access only their own seeds.

The location was selected based on a variety of factors. Its arctic permafrost climate ensures appropriate freezing temperatures that will protect the seeds even in the event of power failure within the vault. The thick walls of the structure and the mountain surrounding it provide more than adequate insulation to sustain proper temperature. It's location far above sea level ensures safety from floods.

The region is geologically stable with a notable absence of tectonic activity, and engineers constructed the walls of the vault to withstand forces such as explosions and earthquakes. On an island with more polar bears than humans, it's an unlikely target of invasion. These factors and more compensate for the physical vulnerabilities of standard seed banks, where an unexpected power failure could put the bank's entire collection at risk.

Most important, the Norwegian government is completely committed to its success and partner with seed banks around the world to assist them in their seed saving – and seed backup – efforts. The Crop Diversity Endowment Fund funds the vault completely and permanently. (Learn more about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at

Local: Seed Swaps & Libraries

At the community level, many home gardeners are devoted to the practice of seed saving, and regularly connect with other local growers to share their collections and discuss successes and failures with specific varieties. These casual associations often transform into something more organized, such as seed swaps and seed libraries.

A swap is an event where gardeners meet in person to exchange seeds they've harvested from their year's plantings, usually for free. Seed swaps are an easy and socially engaging way for home gardeners to gain access to seeds of varieties they've never grown, and to see firsthand the diversity of plantings in their area.

Seed libraries are small to medium sized operations that gather seeds – often through donation of home gardeners – in an organized fashion and retain them for sharing.

Unlike seed banks, whose purpose is to collect and store seed, a seed library collects and distributes seeds to gardeners in its community. Similar to a book library – and, indeed, seed libraries often find convenient homes within existing book libraries – seed libraries catalog and inventory incoming donated seeds, and then those seeds are "checked out" to growers, much like books, often with the expectation (or at least the hope) that the gardener will save and return a fresh set of seeds at the end of the growing season, along with an account of how the plant fared.  In this way, seed libraries hold the unique position of seed depository, seed distributor, and seed educator.  

Sadly, however, seed libraries are currently under fire. In a well-publicized action last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture brought the hammer down on one public library's new seed lending program, citing the potential of "agroterrorism" through the library's public and unregulated activities. According to Pennsylvania's Seed Act, seed growers must jump through a number of hoops, including purchasing a license, keeping complete records along with samples, and submitting their seed for testing before distribution can occur, in the interests of ensuring seed health and labeling accuracy. All of which is overkill for home gardeners just looking for new varieties of heirloom tomatoes or squash to sample, so the library ceased its seed program.

Although smaller in scale to banks, seed swaps and seed libraries contribute to biodiversity both in practice – by encouraging the growth and seed replenishment of open-pollinated varieties among farmers and gardeners – and in education.  As these activities spread across the country, so does awareness of the importance of biodiversity and preserving and sharing open-pollinated seeds. Facebook is a popular platform for swap and library members to stay in touch with each other.

Seed Saving: A First Project for Beginners

I began saving seeds out of curiosity (and a little bit of awe): could it really be that simple, letting seeds dry on their own, tucking them into a cool spot for the winter, and next year I'd have my own collection of seeds? Indeed, it was.

I started with herbs, and to this today they're my favorite seed saving subjects. I recommend growing cilantro or dill as a first project, as their seed heads are large and beautiful, producing fully visible seeds, thus making easy observation of the plant's seed development.

As a heads-up, know that cilantro and dill can grow a bit gangly when left to mature and produce seeds, so be certain to plant them where their heights (two to three feet) won't interfere with nearby plants. Both cilantro and dill readily bolt – that is, produce a flowering seed head – in hot weather. Let them flower and leave them be. Seeds will quickly form. (Note that while the seeds from the dill plant are known as dill seed, cilantro becomes "coriander" in seed form.)

Let the seeds dry right on the plants. It will take a couple of weeks, but you'll know they're ready to harvest when the seeds have turned brown and dislodge easily from the stems (coriander seeds are small and round with ridges; dill seeds are flat and tear-drop shaped). Cut the seed heads from the stem and shake the seeds into a paper bag. Clear the seeds from other plant debris and store them in an airtight container in a cool spot.  That's it – so easy.

Plan on growing extra of these two herbs: not only can you save their seeds for next year's plantings, but they're also great in cooking and, if stored whole, you'll have a long-storing supply of coriander and dill seed (dill pickles!).

An Apple That Fell Close to the Tree


Three generations make cider at Bear Swamp Orchard

Story and photographs by Leslie Lynn Lucio

In the hilltowns of western Massachusetts, in the small town of Ashfield, you’ll find Bear Swamp Orchard, a small organic apple orchard run by the Gougeon family. Jen Williams and Steve Gougeon operate the orchard along with their sons, Aidan and Elliot. The orchard offers pick-your-own during the early fall months (starting in mid-September), hosts hard cider tastings throughout most of the year, and they make and sell both organic sweet and hard cider made from their own apples.

Bear Swamp Orchard is located on land that has nurtured apple orchards for over 100 years. In the 1950s the whole area was entirely apples, but toward the mid-1970s, some of the orchard was cut and burned and switched over to pasture. As time passed, woods took over the old orchard. Any apple trees that remained were embraced and hidden by the trees that grew around them.

When Steve was young his parents, Melinda and Richard, moved to the site and built a house right next to the old, still-hidden orchard. In the mid-1980s, an apple-growing neighbor helped out when he came through and cleared out the trees that weren’t apples, enriched the soil, and planted new apple trees.


Many years later, when Jen and Steve finished school, they moved back to the area, their family, and the orchard. Steve, who’s also a carpenter, built a second-family addition to his parents’ home, bringing three generation to live on the property. Jen and Steve decided to return the orchard to its former productive state.

“It was sad to see all these apples fall on the ground and just rot. So we decided we wanted to try and take care of it,” says Jen. They knew there were more apple than they could consume, so in 2006 they began selling apples and offering pick-your-own apples as well.

They have since put in five acres on two fields and planted more varieties of apple. This is an exercise in patience, as the trees will take years to produce fruit. The Gougeons have worked since the beginning to make sure the orchard is growing in a sustainable and holistic manner. The apples share the land with their animals: a llama named Fern and some Shetland ewes, which help by grazing the pasture and orchard.

Juicy Recipes

Apple Cider Caramel

Crispy Pork Belly with Braised Apples and Cabbage

Putting ideas in place

Steve and Jen had been making hard cider for themselves for many years.

“We realized we could share a lot of the fruit with other people, but the thing about organic production is that the majority of apples are not dessert-quality fruit, people aren’t buying them in stores. So you need to have some plan for all those apples that people don’t want to just pick and eat. That’s where hard cider comes in,” says Jen. They had already done the organic hurdle, so now it was a matter of time overcoming the level of paperwork that involves the selling of alcohol. It was a lot of work, time, and patience, but they knew it was worth it.


“Ten years [of cider experiments] gave us a lot of time to try out different varieties,” says Steve. “A lot of the varieties we have aren’t necessarily the varieties that most people would use to make cider, so we had to really figure out which ones were good and which ones weren’t.”

The process they use to make their hard cider is a traditional one. They ferment the juice with wild yeast and use lots of wild organic apples that are harvested when fully ripened. They also don’t interfere with fermentation by filtering or by adding other processing and fermenting aids. Steve says, “We did many yeast trials and we realized that none of the yeast you could buy gave us a better ferment than leaving it alone and letting it ferment by itself. Our process has always been simple.” There are six varieties to choose from, including New England Hard Cider, Sparkling Organic Hard Cider, and Hop Hard Cider.

This year, they put in a new production building and tasting room. They offer hard cider tastings and you can purchase cider, baked goods, and other local products in their shop. Steve is now a full-time cidermaker and orchardist and part-time carpenter. Jen teaches part-time when she is not working the orchard and cidery. They do most of the work themselves, but are able to bring in family or friends when they need a little extra help. Their two boys, Aidan, and Elliot, help out as well, but Jen and Steve keep their ages in mind, so they don’t put too much on them. But the boys like to lend a hand when they can.

It has taken time to build Bear Swamp Orchard to where it is today. Like the slow growth of an apple tree, their efforts have taken time to yield fruit. Thanks to their passion for the orchard and the cidery, the Gougeons’ relationship with their land is one that will endure.


Bear Swamp Orchard, Ashfield | 413-625-4829 |

Visit the website or call for tasting room hours, Pick Your Own information, and details about ciders.