Edible Berkshires

GROWING HEALTHIER HABITS: Garden Program Plants Seeds for Change


Photos by Austin Banach

The first time I learned about where food came from was around first or second grade.

It was a marvel to a 6-year-old’s eyes when we were instructed to place seeds between damp paper towels and discovered a plant “hatching” (germinating) from them in a mere three days. After the seeds sprouted we planted them into tiny pots with soil, watered them daily and watched them grow, inch by inch. I don’t recall if those small plants ever made it outdoors, or if I saw the edible outcome after that plant fully matured, but years later I now appreciate being exposed at a young age to how everything comes from just a tiny seed. A relationship with food is what my teacher perhaps wanted me to learn, a healthier relationship beyond the cereal I ate for breakfast, the pizza I ate for lunch or the spaghetti … Read the rest

Hoppy Days Are Here Again

Glass Bottom Brewery: See the Farm in Every Bottle


Left to right: Ezra Bloom and Evan Williams

You would not be the only one perplexed over the 25-foot-tall logs supported by cables sticking from the ground on Route 41 in between Great Barrington and Housatonic. When I first drove past, I thought it could be an art installation, a frame for a building or even a model of an ancient calendar.

The last thing I would have suspected was the growing of hops, an ingredient for beer. The hop yard is at an early stage for Evan Williams and Ezra Bloom, who started Glass Bottom Brewery with a mission to grow and work with local ingredients to inspire their traditional and creative beers.

Evan and Ezra started Glass Bottom Brewery around 2008, fueled by their mutual admiration for craft beer. In the early days, Ezra experimented with brewing his own … Read the rest

Chocolate Springs Eternal in the Berkshires

Reflections of a Berkshire Bonbon

Photo courtesy of Chocolate Springs café.

Becoming more conscientious regarding the effort it takes for products to get from their place of origin to the form we see on the shelves, I adapt an age-old adage—“There’s more than meets the eye”—to “There’s more than meets the mouth.” Such is true for Joshua Needleman’s chocolate cornucopia in the Berkshires: Chocolate Springs Café.

On a recent visit, I was filled with euphoria as I examined all the different chocolates inside glass cases and then sat down to enjoy a few in the calm and relaxing atmosphere of the café. It’s sort of a European chocolate shop crossed with an Asian-influenced spa.

I was pleased to learn that the name Chocolate Springs is homage to Joshua Needleman’s hometown, Lebanon Springs, a mere two miles over the Berkshire County/New York line. Lebanon Springs is home to natural thermal springs, … Read the rest

Designer Mushrooms

It’s best to learn their mysteries from an expert

Austin Banach and Erhard Wendt at the Williamsville Inn
Austin Banach and Erhard Wendt at the Williamsville Inn

My knowledge of mushrooms early on consisted of the common everyday white button mushroom or an occasional portabella making its appearance from the sauté pan to top an omelet or burger. Shiitakes were the exotic mushrooms of my repertoire but still had sparse appearances. In the fall of 2009 I met chef Erhard Wendt, who leads classes and foraging walks to explore wild food in our area. The world of edible (and non-edible) fungi was unveiled to me along with their array of culinary applications. I will share with you a few of them—but not their remote locations.

Erhard grew up in Germany, where from an early age he foraged for mushrooms, berries and other wild edibles of the forest as they had significant importance to the cuisine of his region. After … Read the rest


Young farmer sees oxen as key to greener farming


ox (noun): A castrated bull trained as a work animal.

Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t know this definition a week ago. I always assumed an ox was a specific breed of animal similar to a buffalo, spending its days roaming the prairie or something. I never gave much thought (apparently) to how things were in the times before cars or machinery.

I recently sat down with Rich Ciotola to hear his story. Farmer Rich (as he goes by around here), age 34, is among the rapidly growing new generation of farmers concerned by where today’s food comes. They are driven to take action and create their own sustainable and self-sufficient practices, along with spreading the ideas throughout the community and beyond. Rich’s passion is reviving the use of oxen for heavy-duty farm work to replace expensive, fuel-guzzling, polluting tractors.

Rich attributes his … Read the rest