Orchard tour highlights importance of local farmers

May 13 2021

The Recorder, May 12, 2021. By MARY BYRNE, Staff Writer

SHELBURNE — During a wagon ride through Apex Orchards in full bloom on Tuesday afternoon — in between conversations on how to better support the local agriculture industry — legislators from across the state sat side by side with local farmers, talking about their favorite local farms and markets.

“That’s what this is all about — building relationships,” said Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, after a brief exchange with a representative from the office of Rep. Paul Schmid III of Westport. “To get my colleagues from across the commonwealth to speak directly with our farmers, to understand agriculture, not only for the local economy, but for the tourism and our environment.”

Blais invited legislators and local stakeholders for a conversation Tuesday afternoon on the importance of local farmers and the food system. She was joined by legislators from across Massachusetts, including Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne, D-Northborough, and Rep. Jake Oliveira, D-Ludlow. Owners of several area farms were also in attendance.

“We’re so happy to have so many of you here from across the commonwealth,” Blais said. “I know it was a journey for many of you, but we want to welcome you to the 1st Franklin District.”

Before the wagon ride through the orchard, local farmers — including Apex Orchards owner Tim Smith, Field Maloney of West County Cider, and Kimberly and Chip Hager

of Hager’s Farm Market — introduced themselves and their family history in the area.

Though it was a challenging year in terms of staffing, rearranging stores for social distancing and more, many spoke of the “buy local” movement and the impact it had on business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chip Hager said the pandemic really set into motion an already existing effort made by the community to support locally owned farms and businesses. People wanted to know where their food is coming from, he said.

“I think it made people take a hard look at that,” Chip Hager said. “Last year, it was a rough year, but our sales were really good.”

Kimberly Hager added that the number of farms in the area, in addition to recreational sites such as Zoar Outdoor, are a draw to outsiders, boosting the local economy.

“It’s really become a destination area,” she said.

Maloney, who owns one of the longest running cider companies in the country, spoke to the rich agriculture in Franklin County, and the potential for growth.

“We have incredible agriculture,” said the owner of West County Cider, which has a retail site opposite the Apex Orchards Farm Store on Peckville Road. “How can we figure out ways to turn into something else special?”

Legislators who spoke credited Phil Korman, executive director of the South Deerfield-based Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), for the push toward buying local.

“We all have to stay local,” said Rep. Mindy Domb, DAmherst. “We have to trust local.”

Korman echoed the sentiment of the farmers who’d spoken before him, saying that the last year marked a change in the value people placed in knowing where their food was coming from.

“We didn’t create (buy local),” he said. “But we can continue to support it.” Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @ MaryEByrne.

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