We drove a winding, up-and-down backroad in search of the Moon In The Pond farm. It was a pretty drive just outside the village of Sheffield in Western Massachusetts. Slants of sunlight filtered through the forests and rolling farmlands flanked the dirt road; around curves we had peek-a-boo views of the Berkshires Hills. We nearly missed the small farm sign hanging from a tree that advertised the day’s bounty: sausage, free-range chickens, eggs, pastured pork, grass-fed beef, and lamb. We pulled to the side of the road, got out, and poked around. A well-loved farmhouse sat to one side, surrounded by fields littered with farm buildings, fences, and tractor parts. We walked a path down to open fields and patches of vegetable gardens, beehives, and chicken coops. We visited the curious goats and poked in the barn, with a rustic wooden table piled up with garlic heads. Bees buzzed and birds sang, but we didn’t see another human soul in sight. Oh well, we’d hoped to meet Dominic Palumbo, the founder of this 30-year-old organic farm, and to pick up what one local called “in-your-dreams bacon.”
“We were out farming,” Palumbo told us later. “Make some noise when you get here. People think it’s rude to honk their horns when they arrive — it’s not!”
In fact, Palumbo loves to show people around his 100 or so acre farm, and to introduce them to his chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys, sheep, and geese. And he loves talking and teaching the tenets of sustainable farming, offering farm tours, workshops, internships, and educational programs.
Palumbo is one of the luckier Berkshires farmers, whose businesses have survived the pandemic.
“It’s such a time of flux,” he says. “It’s really hard to see where small, organic farming is going.”
During the pandemic Palumbo tried to meet the immediate need of the community by putting everything online and offering drive-thru pick-up at the farm. “It was incredibly stressful as we had limited resources and people were desperate for safe food.”
Business slowed, almost to a halt, as traditional stores re-opened, but he’s hoping the desire for organically produced local food increases, and that local farms can become stable again, and expand. “It’s like throwing a deck of cards in the air. Who knows?” he says of the future.
But we were here to do our best to support him and other local farmers in a region long known for its strong farm-to-table ethos. We were also looking forward to exploring off-the-beaten-path places, along scenic back country roads. We’d jammed a cooler packed with ice into the trunk of the car and headed west on our own DIY Berkshires farm tour.
After our stop at Moon In The Pond farm, we meandered through Great Barrington, stopping at popular Bizalion’s Café and Market, known for its locally sourced provisions, and gourmet specialty items. We ordered fresh salads and an eggplant, tomato, melted mozzarella, and pesto sandwich served on a fresh baked baguette sourced from the Berkshire Mountain Bakery. Owner Jean-François Bizalion was on hand to talk with customers and help with orders. We chatted with him a while and he suggested a few must-see farms in the area, including Highland Farm and Taft Farms. “I think the owner of Taft just wrote a book,” he said. Yep, we looked it up: “Green: A Reflection on Love and Loss Through a Lifetime Relationship with the Land,” by Dan Tawczynski. (We’ve since put it on our reading list.) Tawczynski and his brother Stanley founded Taft Farms 55 years ago, pioneering pesticide-free, sustainable agriculture in the rich and fertile Housatonic River Valley. It’s our next stop, a bountiful market with baskets and boxes packed with just-picked produce, and coolers filled with local specialty products. There’s a farmhouse deli and café with soups, salads, and sandwiches; inviting picnic tables overlooked the rolling farmlands. We loaded our bags with heirloom tomatoes — knobby Great Whites, funny-looking Green Sausages, and red and yellow Virginia Sweets.
That evening we checked into the Wyndhurst Manor and Club in Lenox, a grand, rambling mansion that was once home to the Berkshire Hunt and Country Club and later the Cranwell Resort & Spa. Today, the property includes a towering Tudor-style brick mansion, expansive lawns and gardens, tennis courts, fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, and an 18-hole golf course with views of the Berkshire Hills. Also on the property is the recently opened Miraval Berkshires wellness resort. Rooms in the historic manor house are handsome, with traditional furnishings befitting the property, but have been updated with modern baths, light, neutral tones, and cushy, lush linens. The lobby is grand and the main-floor dining room, with an outdoor terrace overlooking the mountains, is elegant, with its large stone fireplace, marble floor, and white linen topped tables. That evening, we dined on bowls of uber fresh cucumber gazpacho, Lenox Farms local greens, and Hudson Valley steelhead fish served with pancetta and fava beans.
The next morning, we chatted with the resort’s Chef de Cuisine Andrea Pang, while enjoying slices of fresh-baked sourdough bread and local High Lawn Farm ricotta cheese with honey. The cheese was amazing. “Yeah, it’s almost like raising an animal,” she said of the cheese. “The cultures are alive, and it matters how they’re handled, how they’re raised.”
High Lawn was on our list of places to visit, but first we checked out North Plain Farm in Great Barrington. What a sweet spot! The family-owned farm is surrounded by rolling hills and pastures, a quiet, lush oasis inducing thoughts of abandoning our day jobs and becoming farmers in the Berkshires. A store contained the farm’s bounty, including grass-fed beef, pork, milk, eggs, chicken, veggies, and other local products.
The historic High Lawn Farm in Lee was our last stop. The well-regarded, family-owned farm has been raising Jersey cows since 1923, and produces some of the richest, tastiest dairy products in New England. We visited the calves in the barn and enjoyed an artisanal cheese and charcuterie platter from the on-site Farmstead Creamery, followed by “in your dreams” ice cream cones.
If you go: Moon In The Pond, 413-229-3092, www.mooninthepond.org; Wyndhurst Manor & Club, 877-781-7125, www.wyndhurstmanorandclub.com; Taft Farms, 413-528-1515, www.taftfarmsgb.com; North Plain Farm, 413-429-6598, www.northplainfarm.com; High Lawn Farm, 413-243-0672, www.highlawnfarm.com. For more information on the Berkshires, visit www.berkshires.org.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org