Having gone to Hampshire College (I started there in 1981) and then mostly, staying in the Valley (year and a half sojourn to London in 1994, so my new bookseller-to-be hubby could work at Sotheby’s in rare books and manuscripts), I’ve watched what was farmland and what were open fields become developed (houses, just like John Gorka sings about, Home Depot, now some other big box is going in by the Buffaloes and driving range in Hadley…). In recent years, though, that sense of this being a place where farming is avidly promoted and protected is growing, in large part due to the hard work of CISA (Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture), which offers practical support to small farms, promotes them with its Local Hero campaign, and so much more.
Simply consolidating the information about farms, farmer’s markets and events is itself a boost for the farming community (some farms have great websites while others have none; for those with none, CISA’s listing takes away the absolute necessity to put one up). It’s a link that can tell you about food and also about great activities in the area, such as places to go pick fruit—think how fun a trip to the strawberry fields or the apple orchard is—or hay rides or markets to visit (Northampton’s Tuesday Market generally has some live music; same is true of Northampton’s Winter Market on Saturdays). Amy Cotler, chef, educator, advocate for local food and author of The Locavore Way, says one of the most important things parents can do to help children grasp where food comes from is to take them to harvest food, that is to say, go picking!
Local has become, along with all social and political meanings in the context of business and social change and farming, an adjective to describe really fresh food. Remember thinking that local produce essentially disappeared during these cold winter months (save for, at least when I was a student and then working at Hampshire, Atkins Farms’ apples, not to mention the year-round treat of their famous cider doughnuts)? Replace that with the idea that there’s local produce to enjoy year-round (and even ways, such as with Enterprise Farm's winter share that partakes in an East Coast cooperative selling agreement with farms further South, to support a network of local farms beyond our Valley).
Last year, CISA helped mount a Winter Fare Market in Greenfield, a one-day market/fair/festival of local. This year, there’s going to be one in Northampton, too on Saturday January 9th at Smith Vocational High School (from 10-2). Volunteers are still welcome! For those of you who have meant to check out Northampton’s Winter Market—or, like me are regulars there—please be reminded here that the whole Saturday scene is taking a one-day hiatus to move to Smith Voke for the event. There's one upcoming in Greenfield, too, February 6th.
One of the striking things about these winter market experiences is how nice it is to gather and see friends and acquaintances rather than be isolated. On the coldest, most blowy day so far this winter, I crossed paths with a neighbor near town. We were both bundled and both walking with heads hunkered down as we pushed through space against the wind. I said I would pretty much expect to see you out here, and almost no one else. She smiled and replied, “You’re about the only person I’d expect to see, too.” Call it an adult version of a Go Do Go moment: Do you like my hat? I do not like your hat. Good-bye. Good-bye. We continued our separate ways. During the fairer seasons, the walk to town is often quite lively. So, a warm marketplace, maybe a little music, veggies, friendly faces, well, this is a very nice thing.
Winter is long. Winter is, when the snow is fresh, completely gorgeous (like a very winning toddler, that beauty is required for not wanting to punch the cold or shake a fist at it or something). Winter requires a number of strategies, and one may be getting out, seeing and doing and connecting (another may be hot chocolate drinking and still another reading great books in bed under a mountain of covers).
There are some other great opportunities for music and friendship ahead (my son, Ezekiel, will accuse me of getting too “list-y” now, but I’m going to forge ahead with a just few heads-ups anyway).
On WRSI, you can listen to the fantastically fun kids’ music program Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child (also available via podcast). If you’re local, you can go to hear music at the Iron Horse some weekends by attending the No Nap Happy Hour Series (for this and other shows, the Spare the Rock site has info). There are often other shows around town, at Cup and Top Café in Florence, or at Thornes Marketplace (often for free). And on March 27th, you can attend the River’s (WRSI) Family Music Meltdown: a Music and Book Bash, with such acts as Elizabeth Mitchell and the town’s own Mo Willems’ reading, this is going to be a hoot—and temporarily curative for the inevitable cabin fever you’ll be experiencing by then.
Northampton’s Academy of Music is home of the Four Sundays in February series (and Ezekiel will be very delighted to learn that the kick-off event on the 14th is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). In January, there’s a Paul Newman film series. And on January 30th, there’s a Mamma Mia sing-along. There’s nothing like getting to come inside on a cold (even snowy) afternoon or evening and enjoy some rousing good fun with your friends.
So, that’s a smattering over here in the Pioneer Valley. My friends in the Berkshires have events galore… Take Mass MoCA, where on January 16th Laurie Anderson is speaking (nothing more to say, save for cool). There’s a long list of events, each one of which looks fascinating. The trip, it’s worth the effort.
If you feel like physically moving, Pittsfield’s Storefront Artist Project has movement artist Dawn Meltzer offering three hands-on opportunities during a January residency (all of these events are free). Meltzer will draw upon her background in sacred dance and the healing arts, including Chinese Medicine, Medical Qigong and Sufism.
Pittsfield also has an exciting Thursday night ahead, January 21st. At Ferrin Gallery, there’s an opening for Jason Houston, whose incredible photographs of family gatherings (his family) comprise the show Family of Mine. While family snapshot in feel, these large—and decidedly on an order high above casual shot, found with a keen eye—format photographs are remarkable. That same evening (third Thursdays in Pittsfield, arts night, as is the case on the second Fridays in Northampton) at Alchemy Initiative performance artist Billie Best will perform The Widow Wears Red Pajamas, a monologue based upon Dying Beautifully.
Winter in New England feels long, longer than the appointed block of three months per season. The idea here is that there’s a lot to discover (not to mention great outdoor adventures, wintry, white, slippery-sliding ones) around here, and lots to do. Consider the local food fare and the local entertainment fare all fitting anecdotes to winter doldrums.