Monday, December 3, 2012

I left my heart in Shelburne Falls

Since my first book came out, I've done quite a bit of traveling, and although it's fun, I'm always happy to come home to my little homestead on the prairie. Such was not the case, however, when Mike and I recently attended Jim Wallace's cheesemaking class in Shelburne Falls, MA. I had to remind myself that I had a farm full of animals counting on me to come home and take care of them. Otherwise my visit would have ended with a stop at a real estate office! What's so awesome about Shelburne Falls?

I imagine this is what most of America looked like and felt like 50 or 75 years ago. There isn't a national chain in site in their lovely downtown. The locally owned grocery store has a sign out front that says they support local agriculture. Each of the quaint locally owned restaurants have about a dozen tables, and local foods are on the menu. Towards the end of dinner one night, I asked a question about the lavender-maple glaze on the heritage pork tenderloin at the Blue Rock Restaurant, and the chef came out to tell me how he made it. He sat down, and we chatted about his use of locally grown ingredients. As we were talking, a customer stopped by our table on her way out to compliment the chef on her dinner and give him a kiss on the cheek.

When Mike suggested we check the menu of a pub our second night in town, I assumed they would have the usual pub fare -- factory farm burgers and previously frozen stuff that is tossed in a fryer. The West End Pub had a pleasantly surprising menu with locally raised grassfed beef burgers and chili! They even have locally made liquor and beer. Even though Illinois has plenty of wineries, I don't think I've ever seen Illinois wine in a restaurant here. A few restaurants have sprouted up that make their own beer, but otherwise, the alcohol in our restaurants comes from far away.

While at Jim's house, I had my first ever hard cider and wondered why -- coming from a state that grows apples -- we don't have hard cider available commercially in any of the stores or restaurants that I've been to.

We stayed at the Dancing Bear B&B, whose owners have their own farm and served delicious farm fresh breakfasts! When we arrived, Phil asked if we had any dietary restrictions for breakfast, and I sheepishly said, "Well, if you have meat, you don't have to fix any for us because we only eat locally grown, pasture-raised," and as my voice trailed off, he replied, "Oh, that's the only kind we serve." If we had not needed to be at our class by 9 o'clock, I could have really stuffed myself with the delicious breakfast Phil prepared, which included a to-die-for quiche and fresh baked bread and muffins. And because we were totally captivated by the B&Bs food, we did not have the chance to try Mocha Maya's breakfast, whose sign is pictured at right!

Unfortunately, we hardly got to experience the community at all. Jim said that they have lots of world-famous artists and crafts people living there, including a leather worker and a man who ties flies for fly fishing. The downtown certainly had a great mix of little shops. I personally was very interested in the Vavstuga Weaving School, but when I checked their website, all of their beginner classes for 2013 are already full!

Ever since Superstorm Sandy chased us home in a rental car when our flight was canceled, I've been saying, "I left my heart in Shelburne Falls!" So if you live in the northeast and want a great place to spend the weekend, head over there! And if Mike didn't have tenure at the college, I'd be begging on a daily basis, trying to convince him that we needed to move.

Instead, I've been daydreaming about turning our little village into another Shelburne Falls. It's been dwindling for more than 40 years, so I've been told, but why couldn't it become a weekend destination with quaint B&Bs for people from Chicago and St. Louis? Why couldn't the farmers around here grow organic food to serve in small, locally owned restaurants with chefs who can see their future steaks grazing in the fields? Why couldn't we have world famous artisans whose classes fill up a year in advance? It could happen ... couldn't it?


hamesfarmer said...

That's kind of what we're working on at North Country Sustainability Center, Inc. It's not just about the food though, it's also about reviving local crafts and culture, so people can learn from their neighbors. Glad you got to see it in action in Shelburne Falls,though. Good luck with a Prairie version.

Karl J. Schmidt said...

I know how you feel. I live in a small town in South Dakota. While the town has maintained its population over the years, the number of shops and other businesses has declined dramatically as the farming population has shrunk. Most of the people who live in town work elsewhere. We have wineries, too, in the state, and there's been an effort to market them, but I can't think of more than one restaurant that stocks these wines. We visited the northeast this past June, and it's very clear that the place has a different sensibility about the things you mention in your blog post.

JayW said...

Hi Deb .. did I happen to mention the house across the street was for sale? Oh no room for goats in the neighborhood .. oh Well ..
Maybe see you for the Italian class eh!

Diana said...

Thanks so much for writing this! I will be in Boston for a week at the New Year and will definitely make the trip out there.


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