Business Is Mushrooming

Mycoterra Farm saw a niche and filled it - deliciously

By Leslie Lynn Lucio | Recipe photographs by Dominic Perri

When Julia Coffey decided, as an experiment, to start growing mushrooms for sale, she had no idea how much of a part of her life they would become. Now the owner of Mycoterra Farm, started in 2010 at her home in the woodlands of western Massachusetts, Julia started with a small amount of savings, some previously owned mushroom equipment, and 15 years of studying fungi.

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She decided to take a chance on something that was familiar to her and felt it would complement the local agricultural economy in the Pioneer Valley.

“As a friend of people running farms or working on farms, [I saw that] pretty much all the vegetables were covered, animal products, dairy ... The Valley had everything but year-round mushrooms and I wasn’t quite prepared for the demand I would find,” says Julia.

In Mycoterra’s first year, she maintained a full-time job while taking on the risk of starting her own business. She got into the Williamsburg farmers’ market with the help of a friend; at that time she only sold oyster mushrooms, merely a few pounds a week. River Valley Market in Northampton started selling Julia’s mushrooms and to this day she still works with them.

Last year she finally decided that it was time to focus on Mycoterra full time. Currently, Mycoterra sells at six markets in the summer as well as six winter markets. Julia’s mushrooms are served in restaurants in the Valley as well as restaurants in the Boston area. In addition, Julia runs a mushroom CSA so, like many farms in the Pioneer Valley, she makes it easy for people to get their pickups from whichever farmers’ market is most convenient from where they live. She does this in the spring, summer, and winter.

To support this growing demand, the Mycoterra farm has grown from one small room to multiple heated greenhouses, complete with radiant-heat flooring. Julie describes the growth this way: “I cut through the walls and started using this room. Within two months I outgrew this room and eventually everything started spilling out.” She jokingly adds, “I’m inhaling these spores and they’re getting in my brain and driving me. I sometimes I feel like I’m not running the mushroom farm, but it’s running me. It’s my life.”

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When walking through Mycoterra Farm, one can easily understand what Julia means. There are hundreds of spawn bags lined up in rows on racks with varieties of stunning mushrooms including shiitake, lion’s mane, oyster and enokitake. The mushrooms all start out looking like bags of sawdust. As they fruit, the mushrooms evolve from sawdust to small knobs (what Julia calls the “popcorn” stage) to mature, full grown mushrooms.

Even with a background in chemistry and environmental science, Julia says her intuition plays a big role in her success.

“There is always more to figure out. There’s the big learning curve on the intuition. When I’ve really been trying really hard, being really attentive, it’s like they’re not growing for me. When I back off and give them more room, they explode and things are smoother.”

Julia appreciates this little niche of mushroom farming and feels a sense of responsibility in her work. It’s important to her that Mycoterra Farm leaves the planet better than they found it. She does this by using agricultural and forestry byproducts, using natural methods of production to accelerate decomposition, and helping build soil and encourage cycling of nutrients, something critical and beneficial for a healthy ecosystem.

It’s clear that a lot of work has been put into her farm, a true labor of love, and Julia recognizes that hard work pays off, and clearly thanks those who have helped her along the way.

“I think it’s paid off over time. I felt shut out at first, then I got my respect and that struggle has gone away.” Down the road, Julia would love to build more. With the direction Mycoterra is going, there is no doubt of that happening.

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Mycoterra mushrooms can be found at these farmers’ markets: Amherst, Egleston (Jamaica Plain), Farmers’ Market at Forest Park (Springfield), Florence, Northampton (Saturday and occasionally Tuesday), and Roslindale. River Valley Market carries Mycoterra mushrooms year-round.

MycoterraFarm.com

mycoterrafarm@gmail.com

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Leslie Lynn Lucio has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was a small child, as well as being an involved member of the local community. She can found running Beets & Barley Catering (BeetsAndBarley.com) and at LeslieLynnLucio.com. She can be reached at info@beetsandbarley.com.

Recipe for Mushroom and Lentil Salad

Recipe for Shiitake Ginger Glaze

Delivering the Goods

Bringing the Valley to the Big Apple

By Caroline Pam | Photographs by Caroline Pam and Dominic Perri

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It’s 10am on a frigid December morning on an industrial block in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Annie Myers is on her tiptoes with her face pressed against the window of her refrigerated van. It’s packed to the gills with vegetables she picked up from a dozen farms in Vermont and Massachusetts and drove down to New York City last night. Yup, the keys are right there on the driver seat and the doors are all locked.

Annie shrugs and hustles in the back door of Roberta’s—the hipster haven of wood-fired pizza—and delivers the radicchio and maple syrup she had luckily already unloaded.

“This business is so full of disaster. So little can faze me,” she said. “I always have five backup plans so when crisis comes, the puzzle pieces always come together. It’s kind of a nice feeling.”

A half hour later, a local tow truck driver jimmies the lock open with a wire and she’s back in the van making stops at Brooklyn’s local, seasonal hot-spots like Franny’s and Brooklyn Larder, Forager’s upscale grocery, and CSA-style subscription services Nextdoorganics and Good Eggs. By noon, the van is empty and pointed north again.

Annie Myers started Myers Produce in November 2013 as a year-round distribution company to bring Vermont produce to the Big Apple. A few months later Myers began to stop at farms in the Valley to pick up winter greens and roots to supplement what was available from her Vermont suppliers.

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By the time the company celebrated its first anniversary Myers had set up headquarters at the Pioneer Valley Growers Association (PVGA) warehouse in South Deerfield and moved into an apartment in town.

In its first year in business Myers Produce delivered $500,000 worth of organic and sustainable farm products to New York restaurants and stores. Valley farms supplied half of that produce in 2014 and are ramping up quickly to meet Myers’ growing demand for the coming season.

I accompanied Myers on one of her delivery runs to understand how Myers Produce has succeeded in creating a significant channel for New England farm products to reach the massive market of local food lovers in New York City.

She met me at my farm, The Kitchen Garden in Sunderland, on a Wednesday morning to load up her order of cilantro, radicchio, and turnips that my crew and I had harvested and packed the day before. I hopped in the van and we continued on to Red Fire Farm in Montague to collect kohlrabi and kale that were waiting for her there. Next stop was in Amherst for spinach from Queen’s Greens.

Queen’s Greens farmer Danya Teitelbaum grew up in New York City, but she told me that working with Myers Produce means much more than a connection to home. “Myers has been extremely significant to our business this year, actually our largest single outlet, making up 15% of our gross sales,” said Teitelbaum, who started growing salad greens with her partner, Matt Biskup, in 2010.

“I think it’s important for the Pioneer Valley overall to get our products to nearby cities,” Teitelbaum told me. “Even though we don’t often think this way, in the grand scheme of things we are a local farm to New York and Boston.”

Myers Produce is hardly the first new business in recent years trying to connect local farms to city dwellers, but it seems to have struck on a model that fills a need for farmers and buyers alike.

Ryan Voiland of Red Fire Farm gave me two reasons why he’s happy to be one of Myers’ suppliers. Myers, he said, “is a reliable payer and she picks up at the farm.”

Voiland offered another explanation for why Myers is succeeding where several other start-ups have failed: “Getting produce from where it’s grown to where it’s needed continues to be a big challenge for the local food movement,” Voiland told me. “Like any aspect of the food business it’s not an easy or super-lucrative undertaking. The margins are often thin and it takes someone astute to make it work.”

In other words, the secret to Myers’ success may be Annie Myers herself.

“Annie has a vivacious personality,” said Mickey Davis, produce manager at Greene Grape Provisions, an upscale market in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, that buys from Myers Produce twice a week. “There are a lot of companies out there that are faceless, but since Annie is at the center and heart of her business, you feel more like you’re working with a person.”

Annie Myers does not look like the sort of person you expect to see driving a big box truck. At just five-foot two-inches, and still in her 20s, she is small but mighty. She moves fast, and with startling power and agility. One moment she’s leaping off the loading dock with a 50-pound sack of onions, the next texting about orders while steering the pallet jack down the loading dock, and yet still finding time to smile and quiz me about how much arugula we’ll be cutting from our greenhouse next week.

A pallet of Valley vegetables destined for New York City

A pallet of Valley vegetables destined for New York City

Myers’ tireless work ethic is essential to her business but it’s her strong grasp of New England farm seasonality that gives her an edge. New York City is well-worn territory for farms and distributors from warmer climates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania but Myers works with farms that can fill supply gaps from these other regions.

“There are times when it’s too hot in Jersey for leafy greens and Myers has a ton of it. It’s nice to have sources spanning the region,” says Davis.

Shortly after graduating from New York University, Myers worked for a year as a forager, sourcing ingredients for celebrity chef April Bloomfield’s Manhattan gastropub, the Spotted Pig. She became familiar with many of the local farms and distributors supplying city restaurants, and also noted the shortage of produce available in winter.

Myers then moved to Craftsbury, Vermont, and spent two seasons working at Pete’s Greens, an innovative four-season farm growing salad greens and specialty crops on hundreds of acres. In Vermont, Myers connected with a community of farmers who are producing high-quality crops year-round in a deeply rural part of the state and are constantly challenged by the need for more distribution networks.

“In northern Vermont,” Myers explained to me, “you can’t take a break over the winter. That’s half the year!”

In the spring of 2013, while still working at Pete’s Greens, Myers was telling her friend Kate Galassi, who founded Quinciple, a local food delivery business in New York, about an idea she’d been dreaming about for years.

“I told her I honestly felt the best option would be to drive up to Pete’s to get stuff,” Myers said. “And Kate said, ‘You have to do it. The time is here and now. You have the stuff; we need it.’”

The business plan came together quickly after that conversation.

“I didn’t think I wanted to stop farming but I felt like there was an urgent need,” Myers said. “I decided I would start in November.”

Myers took three days off work that October to meet with 10 potential buyers in New York. All 10 are now regular customers. (She knew who to approach from her days in the restaurant industry.) Myers raised $50,000 in five months from friends, family, community members from Craftsbury, and even her boss Pete Johnson from Pete’s Greens. She leased a van, built a website and got to work.

For the first year Myers did all the driving herself. Five hours from Vermont to Massachusetts on Tuesday, then four hours to New York City on Wednesday with an overnight at her sister’s apartment in order to start deliveries at 6am Thursday. A new round of orders came in Thursday during the drive back north and it started over for another round of pickups and deliveries ending in New York on Monday morning. And repeat.

The logistics are incredibly complex, but Myers seems to thrive on solving tricky problems.

She says the nature of the business forces her to be constantly figuring things out. “That’s why I like it. The minute things are going smoothly I add complications,” she said with a wry smile.

Myers recently made a number of decisive changes to improve her quality of life while helping the business run more smoothly. The rented space at the PVGA warehouse allows her to stage orders and load them by the pallet instead of by hand into a new refrigerated box truck. She hired someone to do the Vermont leg of the route, another to help with deliveries in the city and added a third driver so she can bring another truck into the fleet and add more delivery days.

But in spite of her constant innovations, there seems to be no shortage of problems for Myers to solve. Cold storage in Brooklyn remains a challenge and Myers cobbles it together with a shared cooler and a refrigerated shipping container in two different neighborhoods.

Myers puts a positive spin on these urban challenges. “This is what keeps me in business,” she explained. “It’s not easy for farmers to warehouse or deliver in the city.”

Happy customers are also good for business. Chef Matt Hyland of Emily artisanal pizzeria in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, told me he orders all the restaurant’s salad greens, kale, herbs, and rainbow carrots from Myers because the quality and customer service are so superior.

“It is refreshing,” Hyland said, “especially in NYC, to have a vendor that is actually trying harder than status quo. Annie has never missed a delivery or forgotten a single item. The quality is perfect every time and I never have to worry about the nonsense that comes from nationwide vendors.”

Word is getting out and Myers has big plans for 2015. She is in discussions with Black River Produce about distributing their new line of meats and she’s starting to transport fresh Vermont cheese to Crown Finish Caves in Brooklyn for aging. She just got her first orders from Fresh Direct, an online grocer and delivery service with big buying power. And a new delivery route to Boston and Cambridge will begin in April.

In anticipation of increasing demand Myers is working closely with growers to increase their offerings so that her truck is filled to capacity even during the darkest days of winter.

It’s this personal touch that makes farmers like Danya Teitelbaum at Queen’s Greens eager to continue working with Myers.

“One of the biggest things we’ve gotten from Myers is feedback on how we can do better,” Teitelbaum told me. “She’s a new business and we’re a new business and it’s nice to be in a relationship where we’re both moving at a similar fast and motivated pace to figure things out.”

Annie Myers seems to have figured out quickly that Pioneer Valley farms are an important part of her business model.

“It’s incredible how close together all the farms are in the Valley, and how different that is from Vermont,” Myers told me. “Every day I’m finding more farms I want to work with.”

Farms don’t necessarily need to be organic to catch Myers’ interest, she told me.

“My customers trust me to buy from good farms,” Myers said. “I want to know that the farmer is part of a community of farmers working to strengthen agriculture in the Northeast, and part of a world we want to be in.”

In the Pioneer Valley Annie Myers discovered a vibrant farming community that fits this profile and decided to become a part of it.

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Caroline Pam grows organic vegetables with her husband, Tim Wilcox, at their Sunderland farm, The Kitchen Garden. A former cook and journalist in New York City, Caroline writes about food and farming for various publications. She also organizes the farm’s annual Chilifest in September, a weekend-long festival celebrating all things spicy, including Kitchen Garden brand sriracha. She be reached at KitchenGardenFarm.com or kitchengardenfarm@gmail.com.

Recipe for Carrots with Peppers, Lemon and Sunflower Seeds

Recipe for Kale Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

Beyond "Eat Local"

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Investors put their money where their mouth is

By Ilana Polyak | Photographs by Dominic Perri

Shortly after the midday rush one day this past winter, Susan Mygatt Ragasa was behind the counter at Sutter Meats pressing ground pork into little squat maple breakfast sausages. She carefully stacked the patties three layers high on a platter bound for a display case where they sat alongside thick slabs of bacon, plump Italian sausages and pink roast beef.

The air was thick with the aroma of pastrami and a signature semi-cured product called “beef pancetta” in the smoker as customers weighed the merits of different cuts of steak—ribeye or porterhouse?

In a little more than a year, the Northampton butcher has become a go-to destination for consumers craving local, humanely raised meat. Animals from the almost two dozen farmers with whom Sutter Meats works are slaughtered at Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol. They are then delivered to Sutter Meats for butchering.

“This way we’re able to use almost all parts of the animal and introduce the community to different cuts of meat they may not have known about before,” says Ragasa’s husband and co-owner, Terry.

Things are humming along at Sutter Meats now, but the future didn’t always look so bright.

As they were getting ready to open the business in January 2014, the Ragasas had already sunk close to $200,000 of their own savings into the venture. They had secured their 1,300-square-foot store on King Street, but paying contractors, electricians, suppliers, not to mention purchasing the freezers, cutting tables and display cases, required even more cash.

“We got to the point where we were going to have to have to write some big checks,” says Susan.

To keep their vision for a small-scale butcher on track, they turned to the PVGrows Loan Fund for financing. PVGrows connected the Ragasas with the Franklin County Community Development Corporation (the CDC), in Greenfield to provided a much-needed cash infusion.

“Our whole business is meant to support the local food system, so it made sense that we would get our funding locally too,” says Terry.

The CDC helped the butchers secure a small business loan of $288,000 with an interest rate of 5.75% through Florence Savings Bank, with the CDC kicking in a portion. But the Ragasas got so much more than financing.

The CDC took the lead in helping them refine their business plan so that it demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the supply of pastured meats in the region and the market for a store like theirs. “The CDC had more information on the local climate [for pastured meat] than we were able to get online,” says Terry about their first pass at a business plan using online tools.

Moving toward food independence

Community members will now have the ability to help fund the local food economy too. The PVGrows Fund is accepting investments from community members to be lent to local food businesses.

The Fund hopes to raise $500,000 and offer investors a 2% interest rate on their money—though that rate of return is not guaranteed. It will be administered through the CDC. The Fund now operates under the CDC’s auspices, as reflected by a recent name change: Franklin County CDC’s PVGrows Investment Fund.

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The Fund is part of a larger plan to move New England toward food independence, says PVGrows’ former executive director Sam Stegman. Food Solutions New England has set a goal to have half of the food consumed in the region to be produced locally by 2060. Right now, just 3% to 5% is. “If you want to reach that, that’s a complete transformation of the food system and is vastly different from what we have now,” says Stegman.

To get to a quarter of that vision requires $250 million in financing for local food businesses. “We could never create a $250 million fund,” Stegman explains. “We just have to create a smaller fund and then have banks and other financial institutions join in. We have to lead the way.”

Because investing in just one or two businesses directly can be risky, pooling the money together for a variety of investments helps spread the risk for investors. If one business fails, it won’t necessarily mean losses if the other businesses are doing well and making their loan payments. And since the loans are paid back over several years, it further reduces the risk.

For borrowers the first step is an application through PVGrows. A 10-organization committee reviews it for “mission fit,” explains Rebecca Busansky, PVGrows Fund coordinator. This committee is made up of potential funders and food and farm specialists. Once an organization’s application is deemed appropriate, it moves on to the CDC, which is the loan administrator, for due diligence, the process of vetting for financial soundness.

While PVGrows starts the ball rolling, it may not ultimately loan out the funds. One of the other funders may be better suited due to their expertise. For example, Common Capital is interested in healthy foods, Equity Trust has expertise in land issues and Cooperative Fund of New England provides financing to co-ops in the region.

“That’s the advantage of having everyone at the table,” says Busansky. “It’s so efficient and then you throw in the technical assistance piece that really makes a difference.”

Small investors, big impact

It’s difficult for non-accredited investors—those who have less than $1 million in assets and under $200,000 in income; in other words, most of us—to invest in small businesses.

Typically individuals rely on mutual funds when they want to pool their money and invest in companies. But mutual funds don’t invest in local businesses—defined as one where the producer and consumer are a short distance away from each other. An exemption to the Investment Act of 1940, which governs mutual funds, allows non-accredited investors to participate in local funding if they invest in a nonprofit fund to support small businesses.

Through the PVGrows Fund, community members can invest from $1,000 to $10,000.

Though not federally insured, says Jeffrey Rosen, chief financial officer of the Solidago Foundation and one of the original members of the PVGrows finance working group, the investments have some protection. Solidago and the Lydia B. Stokes Foundations are both contributing to a risk loss pool for the first five years, so that in case of default, the pool should be able to cover losses. Both foundations are also footing the Fund’s administrative costs.

Capital-intensive businesses

The loan fund is not meant to support start-ups, says Busansky. “Our sweet spot tends to be farms and food businesses that have been around for three to five years and are ready to grow to the next level,” she adds.

Businesses like Carr’s Ciderhouse in Hadley, for instance. Owners Jonathan Carr and Nicole Blum found themselves in a typical small business predicament in late 2013. As their sales were growing (they expect an increase of 50% in 2015), their cash outlays were too. They will need to buy $30,000 worth of bottles and pay $15,000 to print labels on them in March. However, the busy holiday selling season for the business’s ciders, vinegars and syrups is in the last few months of the year. What’s more, distributors and retailers can take up to 60 days to pay their bills, creating a significant cash crunch.

“Agriculture is a capital-intensive business,” Jonathan notes.

When the Carrs applied for their loan, they were connected with Common Capital of Holyoke. Before closing on the loan, Common Capital gave them technical assistance, mostly designing spreadsheets that would help them with their cash flow projections.

Their $45,000 loan from Common Capital will help Carr and Blum avoid bank overdrafts and financing through credit cards.

Artisan Beverage Company, the Greenfield purveyors of Ginger Libation and Green River Ambrosia, was also ready to take its business to the next level when members of the cooperative applied for funding last winter. The worker-owned brewery couldn’t produce its beers, meads and kombuchas fast enough in its old 1,200-square foot facility. The company was readying plans for a bigger space, which they moved into last fall, and needed funding to hire a design consultant.

The loan from the Cooperative Fund of New England helped the business take full advantage of its new facility’s 3,000 square feet by stacking fermenters on top of one another. “We doubled our production space, but our actual capacity increased by 300% to 400%,” says Will Savitri, ABC’s president and operations manager.

Before ABC was approved for the loan they got a $6,000 grant for technical assistance to write a new business plan.

“We had written a business plan on our own and it was good, but it was driven in large measure by our values,” Savitri explains. “This business plan has more of a business focus. When we’re looking to raise $1 million, someone is going to want to see that.”

Loans through PVGrows are different, Savitri says. The funders are willing to loan money for things like marketing and sales, activities that carry more risk than lending for equipment as most banks prefer. If a business goes under, equipment can be sold and at least some of the lender’s losses can be recouped. But while riskier as investments, marketing activities are essential for business growth.

“PVGrows is willing to take on a little bit more risk for the values they’re lending for,” Savitri says.

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Growing demand

The timing is right to introduce a fund like this in the Valley, says Doug Wheat, a certified financial planner with Family Wealth Management in Holyoke. His clients are increasingly asking him about more ways to invest in businesses headquartered in their backyard. “Investing locally means knowing where your money is going, like knowing where your food is coming from,” he says. “It’s very satisfying.”

As evidence, he points to the experience of local food businesses that have raised money from the community in recent years. In March 2013 Real Pickles of Greenfield embarked on a financing campaign to buy out its founders, Dan and Addie Rose, and transition to a worker-owned cooperative. The picklers were able to complete the $500,000 campaign within two months with 77 investors.

Similarly, River Valley Market in Northampton launched a $2 million campaign to refinance its start-up loan and raise funds for a remodeling project in March 2014. The member-owned co-op raised $2.4 million from 220 participating member households over a six-month period, says Rochelle Prunty, River Valley’s general manager.

One of those local investors is Paul Lipke of Montague. He participated in both deals and is looking for more ways to help out local food businesses. “If it were possible to be entirely invested [in locally sustainable businesses], then I would do it,” he says.

He likes being able to see the businesses he invests in and have their products on his dinner table. “Part of the pleasure of this is you’re investing in something where you have a real relationship with the person producing your food,” he says.

Lipke says he thinks about risk and reward differently when investing this way than investing for other purposes like retirement. His motivation is community development, not necessarily profit.

Wheat, the financial planner, supports this reasoning. Because small businesses are by their nature riskier than larger ones, investors shouldn’t be surprised if things don’t go as planned.

A pooled approach, such as the PVGrows Fund, certainly helps to minimize the risk, but it’s not foolproof. When the Fund was still in its pilot stage, it experienced one default. For that reason, Wheat recommends investors should only commit money they are willing to part with. “There is risk involved,” he says. But so many rewards, too.

Ilana Polyak is financial writer. Her work has appeared in various national publications including CNBC.com, BusinessWeek and the New York Times. She lives in Northampton with her husband, Jean-Paul Maitinsky, and their sons, Stefan and Kobi.

Turners Falls: A Small Village Feeds Big Appetites

By Erin MacLean and John McNamara as told to Marykate Smith Despres | Photographs by Dominic Perri

The village of Turners Falls, one of five villages comprising the town of Montague, is located in Franklin County, just off Route 2.

Our tour guides are Erin MacLean and John McNamara. Seven-year residents of Turners Falls, they were attracted to the town’s commitment to arts and culture, which they saw flourishing through local businesses and the initiatives developed by RiverCulture. Their love for Turners Falls inspired them to open their own shop, Loot, three years ago.

When it comes to food, Erin is a vegan and John prefers fish to red meat, so their dining suggestions reflect restaurants that cater to these preferences.

The Rendezvous

78 3rd St. 413-863-2866 RendezvousTFMA.com Open daily

Patrons of The Rendezvous can get comfortable at the bar, on the patio, or at a booth inside, and enjoy drinks, snacks, meals, and entertainment. “The Voo,” as locals affectionately call it, has monthly Quizznite, Bingo, and movies; open mics and karaoke twice a month; plus live music, dance parties, art openings, and a full calendar of other events in between. The expansive, eclectic menu includes small plates, entrées, burgers, panini, and pizza.

Great Falls Harvest

50 3rd St. 413-863-0023 GreatFallsHarvest.com Open Thursday–Sunday

Great Falls Harvest is true farm-to-table dining. They have created organic, locally sourced menus for dinner, Sunday brunch, and feature a thoughtful, complete menu for vegetarians and vegans. With offerings like gorgonzola fig salad and maple-brined pork tenderloin, and a special three-course Thursday menu, Harvest provides fine dining in a comfortable atmosphere. Appetizers and drinks are also available for those wanting to relax at the bar.

Jake’s Tavern

66 Ave. A 413-863-8938 Find them on facebook here  Open daily

Jake’s is the place for fish sandwiches and Friday night raffles. This neighborhood bar and restaurant is known for its seafood, chowder, and its ability to make you feel like you are home. If you are not in the mood for seafood, there is a full menu of sandwiches, burgers, and sides. Jake’s is open for lunch, dinner, and takeout.

2nd Street Baking Co.

104 4th St. 413-863-4455 ◆ Find them on facebook here ◆ Closed Monday

Whether you’re looking to sit down for soup and a sandwich on house-made bread, grab a locally roasted coffee and a pastry to go, or order an intricately decorated fondant cake for a special occasion, 2nd Street Baking Co. has you covered. Despite its name, the bakery has made its permanent home on 4th Street, right across from one of Turners Falls’ abundant community gardens.

Black Cow Burger Bar

125 Ave. A 413-863-5183 ◆ Find them on facebook  here ◆ Closed Sunday

Build your own burger with house-made sauces, cheese, and toppings on one of Black Cow’s Angus beef, black bean, or salmon burgers. Wash down your burger with a cold draft, a glass of wine, or a frosty milkshake. In honor of the space’s former resident, Equi’s Candy Shop, Black Cow even makes handcrafted chocolates.

RiverCulture’s Third Thursdays

TurnersFallsRiverCulture.org

RiverCulture is a community partnership promoting the arts and cultural programming in Turners Falls. Third Thursdays manifest this mission through monthly events featuring the work of local artists and performers and by showcasing the community’s diversity of culture and industry, both past and present.

Great Falls Discovery Center

2 Ave. A 413-863-3221 ◆ GreatFallsDiscoveryCenter.org 

Open Friday and Saturday in winter, daily in summer

In addition to their permanent exhibits on the history, culture, and ecology of the Connecticut River watershed, the Great Falls Discovery Center hosts weekly children’s storytimes, monthly live-music coffeehouses, lectures, art shows, and other special events. Admission is free.

The Shea Theater

71 Ave. A 413-863-2281 TheShea.org

Converted from a 1920s movie theater, The Shea is a performance space that houses community theater, live music, comedy, and film screenings. The Shea is home to several theater groups including the New Renaissance Players, Ja’Duke Productions, and The Young Shakespeare Players East.

Old Depot Gardens Farm Stand

504 Turners Falls Rd., Montague RedFireFarm.com

Open daily: May 1–November 1

Granby’s Red Fire Farm offers the folks of Franklin County and visitors a chance to get their fill of fresh, organic produce, flowers, plants, and other local products like jam, pickles, and kombucha at this charming roadside farm stand (though closed for the season at the time of this printing). Their hearty bundles of kale come especially well recommended.

The Lady Killigrew Café

440 Greenfield Rd., Montague 413-367-9666

Find them on facebook here  Open daily

Nestled just outside of Turners Falls alongside the Sawmill River, The Lady Killigrew offers local beer and wine, coffee, baked goods, and a small but perfectly and consistently executed menu of sandwiches and salads. Their peanut noodles are a favorite and the apple and brie sandwich alone is enough to warrant a visit. Ingredients are sourced from local farms and bakeries, seating is indoors or out, and The Bookmill is right next door.

 

Also Worth A Visit

Loot

62 Ave. A 413-863-9500 LootTheShop.com Open Wednesday–Sunday

Erin and John’s shop Loot is nothing short of a menagerie of useful industrial artifacts, multiples, and handcrafted items and jewelry from local artists. From vintage typewriter tables, to milk crates, to notepads salvaged from old mills, visitors can find objects that function as furniture, storage, or the raw materials for making art.

 

Funk*Shun

38 3rd Street, Turners Falls 

Find them on facebook here

 

Nina's Nook

125A Avenue A, Turners Falls

Find them on facebook here

 

Five Eyed Fox

37 3rd Street, Turners Falls

Find them on facebook here

(opened Oct 4)

 

Evoke Liquid Glass Collective

149 3rd Street, Turners Falls

Find them on facebook here

 

The Wagon Wheel

39 French King Highway, Gill

Find them on facebook here

 

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 with 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. She lives in Turners Falls, where she bakes lots of cookies and grows a small, edible garden with her family.

 

Lying Lovingly: Sneak "Healthy" Into Your Desserts

squash

squash

Story by Christine Burns Rudalevige | Photographs by Dominic Perri

The cacao is one evergreen tree not likely to be at home in the Pioneer Valley anytime soon. It greatly prefers the warmer climes of Central and South America and West Africa, which don’t experience Western Massachusetts wintertime weather.

But that is not to say that cocoa powder and full-blown chocolate bars, chips, chunks, and shavings can’t be paired up with a host of local ingredients in heartwarming chocolate treats exchanged between lovers, family members, and friends.

Fresh local eggs and dairy are two obvious inclusions in chocolate-heavy baked goods. But fruits like apples, pears, and dried plums (previously known as prunes) and hearty vegetables like beets and winter squash can be cooked, puréed, and stirred into batters and bases to add both moisture and nutrition to cakes, muffins, and brownies without changing the rich chocolaty flavor. These additives also allow bakers to cut back a little bit of the fat, if that is a goal, without much notice taken by the eater.

Baker Laura Puchalski, owner of the 2nd Street Baking Co. in Turners Falls, says that when you are looking to slip a little extra nutritional love into a chocolate treat, it is imperative that the cocoa powder and chocolate you use be of high quality. She routinely turns to many of the Fair Trade options widely available in both health food and grocery stores in the Pioneer Valley.

Cookbook author Virginia Willis, who splits her time between homes in Hatfield and Atlanta, says adding buttermilk to chocolate desserts tends to heighten their flavor due to buttermilk’s slightly acidic demeanor. The constitution of buttermilk has changed: Once simply the liquid left over when butter was made from cultured cream, today’s store-bought version is low-fat milk infused with a culture that sours and slightly thickens it.

Many baking recipes call for only a cup of buttermilk, which is typically sold in quart containers. To make a quick buttermilk substitute from local milk you’ve already bought from market, simply add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar to 1 cup of low-fat or whole milk.

Each of the following recipes—contributed by Puchalski; Willis; Vermont-based food writer, recipe developer, and photographer Katie Webster; and myself—introduces an ingredient or two—some local, some a bit more foreign, but all to help address dietary issues—that can help you put just a little bit more love into this year’s holiday treats along with the chocolate.

redvelvet copy

redvelvet copy

Cream Cheese Kissed Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes 

Chef, food stylist, and cookbook author (and part-time Hatfield resident) Virginia Willis is a recent convert to using vibrant local beets as the coloring agent for her Red Velvet cakes and cupcakes. They also

contribute to the very moist crumb on these little sweets. 

mousse

mousse

Avocado Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Coconut Cream 

Baker Laura Puchalski, owner of the 2nd Street Baking Co. in Turners Falls, developed this recipe to provide vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free eaters with a little chocolate love. Bakers can adapt the type of milk, sweetener, and flavoring to their dietary needs and tastes. She recommends using high-quality Fair Trade cocoa powder for the pudding, and suggests getting the can of coconut milk––as well as the bowl you’ll be whipping it up in––as cold as possible in order to get the best whipped coconut cream. 

brownies

brownies

Claire’s Cream Cheese Brownies

In Virginia Willis’s new cookbook called Lighten Up, Y’all (Ten Speed Press, March 2015), she gives credit to French-trained pastry chef Claire Perez for helping her build the recipe for these dark, rich, knock-your-socks-off chocolate brownies. Willis likes to call these “grown woman” brownies, and advises to make them for yourself and your loved ones rather than the next PTA meeting. The secret ingredients are local applesauce and buttermilk. 

torte

torte

Fiber-Filled Flourless Chocolate Torte

Katie Webster is a food writer, recipe developer, and photographer who focuses on seasonal, healthy eating in the Burlington, Vermont, area. She eats chocolate every single day. With this recipe, she sneaks in a cup of pitted prunes to add both moisture and fiber to this dense torte. You really only notice the chocolate. Webster blogs at HealthySeasonalRecipes.com and is working on her first cookbook: It’s about cooking sweet and savory dishes with maple syrup. 

muffins

muffins

Triple Chocolate Winter Squash Muffins

When I ask my 16-year-old son if he liked the newest version of chocolate chip muffins I’d made him and his sister for breakfast, he typically grunts, “Yes.” But that affirmation is always followed by an accusation: “Why? What did you slip into them this time?”

He knows me well. There is a cup of puréed winter squash in these. You can use butternut, acorn or blue Hubbard. I prefer the latter, and my son doesn’t even notice, really. 

Christine Burns Rudalevige grew up in Berkshire County but currently calls Maine home. There, she writes about sustainably sourced foods and develops and tests recipes that use them. Contact her at cburns1227@gmail.com.

In Season: Values, Dedication Flourish at Taproot Commons Farm

By Leslie Lynn Lucio | Photographs by Leslie Lynn Lucio and Dominic Perri

High in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts there is a raw-milk dairy farm in the small town of Cummington. Taproot Commons Farm was established by Sarah Fournier-Scanlon, then 23 years old, and her father. Though they choose to live differently in many ways, they share many of the same values, and so it made sense to farm together rather than apart.

Sarah didn’t grow up in Cummington, but spent time on the same land as a child. Her father, who is a pastor, used to spend time with the family on the same very spot when the land belonged to the United Church of Christ.

While walking around the farm, you can’t help but notice the serene beauty and peaceful sounds that embrace it. As Sarah herself says, “I came to this farm all the time as a kid; it’s one of those weird full circle things. I used to come to these wetlands and think how crazy would it be to live in a place this beautiful ... and here we are!”

Sharing this space with others, including her father, has felt good to her, as she believes in intergenerational living, and has intentionally chosen to live this way. At the age of 20, Sarah suffered the painful loss of her mother. Sarah and her father were determined to make the most meaningful use of life insurance funds her mother left them. Though people told Sarah to use the money to finish college, she and her father chose to purchase the land that is now Taproot Commons Farm.

“It was all our money, people thought it was stupid because I had to hustle and I couldn’t just let things float” said Sarah. It’s clear when speaking with Sarah, that her heart belongs to this special place. “I wanted to do this and learn from the land, I wanted to give back to the community.”

Visitors can immediately see how much appreciation is given back to the land. The farm encompasses 130 acres, but it’s mostly wetlands and woodlands. After establishing the farm, the first thing Sarah and her father did was put the land under a conservation restriction, so it would always be protected. Part of this includes a public access waterfall trail and trout fishing near the wetlands.

It’s clear that Sarah is committed to her community and the farm.

Taproot2.jpg

“I am kind of thrown by how specialized everything is in our society today and I really wanted to learn how to farm in a way that didn’t hurt the planet. I wanted to learn about all these things, but I couldn’t really find another way to do it. It just seemed the best way was to get into it and just figure it out.”

Sarah began working in her late teens, when she became passionate about dairying. Sarah has done thousands of milkings: She keeps Swiss and Jersey cows for their protein- and butterfat-rich milk.

Taproot3.jpg

“We calve all year round because we have to keep the milk flow steady. We’re not a seasonal dairy because I really believe in giving my community good milk all year round. Winters are really hard because we do the exact same thing that we do in the summer, but it takes 18,000 times as long!” She treats her animals well, even taking them on long walks with the help of others.

Sarah is excited for the future growth of Taproot Commons Farm. Plans are underway for a small folk school that will offer affordable classes on traditional farming and foodways.

“The folk school is where my heart is. I’ve wanted this for forever and just really want people to feel empowered, to think differently about what they want to be doing with their time, and to free people up.” In addition to the school, Sarah is restoring a barn on the farm as a home for community gatherings and celebrations.

For six weeks of the year, Sarah and a few others plan on hosting weddings back to back, each weekend. As Sarah says, “If you look at when you can have a true local-foods wedding in our area, it’s August through September. We’ll facelift the barn for those weeks and make it really pretty and just host a wedding every weekend!”

It’s easy to see the dedication that is being put into Taproot Commons Farm, either as a CSA member or farm stand visitor. Sarah Fournier-Scanlon knows she was given an opportunity and wants to give back as much as she can.

Walking around this piece of land and seeing what is being built for the community, there is no doubt this is an exceptional place. As Sarah says, “I want people to be able to think about livelihoods connected to the land, which builds community and serves community and to look at this tricky time as opportunity. It’s an exciting time ... it’s unprecedented, there’s nothing to lose anymore.”

Taproot Commons Farm

11 Porter Hill Rd., Cummington ◆ 413-634-5452

TaprootCommons.org

Leslie Lynn Lucio has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was a small child, as well as being an involved member of the local community. She can found running Beets & Barley Catering (BeetsAndBarley.com) and at LeslieLynnLucio.com. She can be reached at info@beetsandbarley.com.

Food for the Soul: Maintain Winter Health with Local Ginger and Turmeric

ginger1

By Samantha Marsh | Photographs by Dominic Perri and Samantha Marsh

The cold weather has arrived. Although it can be a bit hard to cope with at times, I try to remind myself that winter is a time for relaxation—a time to stop doing quite as much and savor the hours spent swaddled up in sweaters and blankets.

I also try to embrace the change in the foods that we eat during this colder season. Winter foods tend to be richer and heavier than the lighter, brighter foods that are so abundant in the summer.

While very nourishing, these heavy foods, perhaps coupled with a few too many festive cocktails and sweets during the holiday season, can make anyone feel bogged down. Cooking with ginger and turmeric, both of which are grown locally at Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA, is a wonderful way to lessen the impact of too many eggnogs or third helpings of Thanksgiving turkey.

We are lucky here in the Pioneer Valley to have access to fresh, local ginger and turmeric, crops that are typically grown in much warmer climates. Old Friends Farm pioneered ginger production in this part of the country about 10 years ago. Co-owner Casey Steinberg says the farm began growing ginger when they realized that one of their greenhouses got too hot during the peak of summer to grow much of anything. When thinking about what could grow in that type of climate, they asked themselves, “What do we love to eat? What is there good demand for?” And so, Old Friends Farm began growing ginger.

Old Friends Farm ginger is harvested when it is still young (the growing season lasts from about early September through mid-November) so it is less fibrous and tough than much of the ginger sold in supermarkets. The farm has grown quite a reputation around their ginger production, and Casey and co-owner Missy Bahret are continually seen as the authorities on the subject.

“We’ve made a very conscious decision not to grow everything and sort of specialize in a handful of things. It feels good to be able to choose to do a few crops well instead of spread ourselves really thin,” Casey explains.

“There’s something that’s kind of magical about [growing ginger],” Casey says. “It’s not something that we’re used to seeing every day.”

Casey describes that he loves watching people that are in their 80s or 90s see his young ginger for the first time at the farmers’ markets. “It’s not often that someone who has seen so much in this world sees something they’ve never seen before.”

The farm started growing turmeric about five years ago, and it is a popular item at the farmers’ markets during its growing season (September through November). Both ginger and turmeric freeze very well and can be enjoyed throughout the year. Casey’s favorite way to use ginger is to make homemade ginger beer, and he enjoys eating turmeric as an ingredient in curries or grated raw in salads.

Brittany Nickerson, herbalist and owner of Thyme Herbal in Amherst, uses ginger and turmeric in many of her winter health recipes and remedies. Brittany describes ginger as a “warming digestive aid that can increase metabolism and the absorption of nutrients.” She explains that ginger stimulates digestion, allowing us to consume heavy foods with more ease. Ginger can also help with digestive upsets such as stomach aches and nausea.

“I like to start the day with ginger tea or chai,” Brittany explains. Consuming ginger first thing in the morning is a great way to boost metabolism and rev up the digestive system. Brittany explains that turmeric is a great food to include in winter diets because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. She describes the bright orange root as being excellent for the liver as it eases some of the “damage caused by stress and exposure to toxins,” and explains that it helps break down fats and oils.

I am grateful to have ginger and turmeric, both wonderful winter health aids, grown just down the road. I buy in bulk and store it in the freezer to enjoy all winter long!

Old Friends Farm ginger and turmeric can be found at the Amherst Farmers’ Market, River Valley Market, Greenfield Market, the Brattleboro Co-op, and Whole Foods Market during the growing season (September–November).

Old Friends Farm
413-253-9182 ◆ OldFriendsFarm.com

Samantha is a writer and food lover based in the Pioneer Valley. She holds a BA in journalism and anthropology from UMass Amherst and works as a literary associate at The Lisa Ekus Group in Hatfield, where she spends her days obsessing over cookbooks and working with authors to bring their book ideas to life. When she is not writing about food, Samantha can be found teaching dance, practicing yoga, or testing out new baking recipes at her home in North Amherst.

Recipe for Homemade Turmeric Fire Cider 

Recipe for Ginger Chai