At the Experimentory, we're hands on and feet in. And if someone asks us to try some local food while we're on a field trip for Architecture + Culture, it would just be wrong to say 'no.' Below, Media Manager Kayla Corcoran accompanies the group on a series of field trips this week designed to get the students thinking more intentionally about designing menus reflective of New England culture.
To say that it’s well over a hundred degrees (Fahrenheit!) in Deerfield Academy’s greenhouse is no exaggeration. But it’s the heat that allows the school to grow veggies and herbs year round, and growing veggies on campus is much more sustainable than trucking them in from somewhere else. “We know that if kale and dill are coming straight from the greenhouse, they’re going to be fresher than something arriving from the back of a truck that’s been on the road for a while,” remarked Patrick Diemand, who helps manage things on the dining hall end of the operation. Mr. Diemand reported that menus in the dining hall have shifted in recent years, reflecting the school’s desire to source more local, nutritious foods.
|Tysean and Guillermo get lost among the tomatoes and pepper plants in Deerfield Academy's greenhouse.|
As the students in Architecture + Culture learned this week, it’s not just Deerfield Academy that’s looking towards organic and sustainable produce. Western Massachusetts has always been known for its farming communities. Purchasing Manager for the Atlas Farms Store Brad Dana shared that the soil in and around the Pioneer Valley has become synonymous with the ideal kind of soil in which to grow plants: “They used to call the soil around here ‘Hadley Loam,’” he said, referring to the town of Hadley, Massachusetts, “and now people all over the country call good soil ‘Hadley Loam.” The soil is part of what makes the produce here so delicious. When our students visited Atlas Farms, they were able to sample black raspberries, heirloom tomatoes, farmhouse cheese, and maple products, which also come from the region.
In the summer, Mr. Dana noted, there’s lots of produce readily available from Atlas Farms for their store, which is open year round for the community. “But sometimes, especially in winter, there are lean times. What we do is work with other local farms in the community who might otherwise not be able to sell products to a bigger market. Or, if we know they’re growing a lot of asparagus, we might grow less and buy asparagus from them to sell.” It’s Mr. Dana’s job to work with other farmers and craftspeople in the area to stock the Atlas Farms Store. At the heart of local farming efforts, it seems, is community and hard work. Mr. Dana told the students that a big part of running the farm is managing the business side of things – deciding what to keep for the local community and what to sell to grocery stores. But ultimately, he said, the farm is part of the community, for the community.
|Mr. Dana explains the benefits of greenhouses to students at Atlas Farms. "But," he cautioned, "you can't bring down the heat, which can add a challenge to growing plants that are more sensitive to heat, like tomatoes."|
Those same two principles also hold court at the Farm Table Restaurant in Bernardston, Massachusetts, which the Architecture + Culture class visited on Friday. General Manager Curtis Mercier and members of the kitchen crew graciously welcomed students onto their turf, giving tours of the restaurant, kitchen, kitchen gardens, and wine cellar. In addition to serving up some savory pizzas and a golden-beet goat cheese salad (made from scratch and with local ingredients), Mr. Mercier shared the ins and outs of running a restaurant that specializes in local foods. Students peppered him with questions, wondering how often the menu changes; how they use their ingredients most effectively; how to price dishes; and how the climate and season impact the flow of customers.
As with Atlas Farms, whose farm store is housed in an expanded and renovated barn, the Farm Table found its home inside an old colonial home that’s been subsequently remodeled. The restaurant still boasts colonial charm, especially in the room where our students ate, which features a central fireplace like most of the homes in Historic Deerfield. So in addition to all of the talk about food and local culture, students were able to see modern reinterpretations and uses for historic buildings. Both of these businesses are helping to preserve traditional architecture for the area while also running successful operations.
Most of the time, the students were too busy chewing to comment on the field trips. But I overheard lots of snippets while they were eating at Farm Table, mostly along the lines of, “Wow, this is so, so amazing!” And it is amazing, not just the food, but the dedication of all the places we visited to the idea and process of sourcing organic, local foods. Our students certainly walked away with a better understanding of how to create their own menus based on the agriculture around the Pioneer Valley. Next week, they’ll be cooking, so I’ll be the one with a full stomach then, and I can’t wait!