GREAT BARRINGTON -- Fresh eggs, maple cream, blue cheese -- even in early spring, before the asparagus is ready to pick, local farms have flavor to offer. A movement is growing accross the country to get back to its roots, grow and use locally grown food. To advance this movement in Berkshire County, Bard College of Simon's Rock has created a new Center for Food Studies.
College students have long shown an interest in these questions, from the classroom to working on the land. Students have traveled the world to work in the fields -- one student recently spent her study abroad semester on farms in Greece and Spain. The new center will build on the courses the college already offers, including a biology course on the economy of food in the U.S. and an environmental course through its student-run garden.
"Provost Peter Laipson came to me last fall and said ‘I really think we should get something started in the area of food and food studies because ... the Berkshires is a place for food,'" said Maryann Tebben, the center's new director. She teaches French language and French literature at the college, researches food history and food studies -- and also teaches "French Food, Culture and Literature."
"There's lots of interest in food," she said, "... and we thought Simon's Rock, as the academic institution in South County, should be part of that. [Berkshire County] is the place where the first CSA happened. There's lots of activism, lots of interest, lots of foodie culture, lots of restaurants, so we wanted to be involved, and we thought it would be a great moment to do it."
Saturday, April 19, the new Center for Food Studies, along with the Nutrition Center in Pittsfield, will host ThinkFOOD, a conference at the college, with panel presentations with regional food writers and leaders.
"It's the first big event that will bring together students, faculty and community," Tebben said. "The panels reach anybody who is interested in food in Berkshire County -- media representation of Berkshire County food, food studies research that we do here and how that can better connect with the community, and how you can bring local food into school cafeterias."
Peter Stanton, founder of the Nutrition Center and one of the conference's organizers, said he wanted to bring in "different voices, different conversations to complement the ... conversations happening in the community about sustainable agriculture."
He sees the center as a bridge between the day-to-day challenges of feeding children and students and the practical side of delivering food, eating food, tasting food.
He chose panelists for three conversations at the conference: "Perceptions and Prospectives: Our Regional Food Culture," "Fuel the Body, Fuel the Mind," and "Practical Matters: The Challenges of Feeding Our Students."
In the first, he said, he wants to ask "how we can tell a story with kind of an inside view and an outside view. How are we perceived as a region? How is our regional food culture percieved?"
Along with voices from the media, he will invite "a voice or two of people who have been in it for awhile, like Matt Rubiner [of Rubiner's Cheesemongers & Grocers in Great Barrington], having been here, just being a voice for a long time" and Dominic Palumbo of Moon in the Pond Farm in Sheffield.
Palumbo raises black pigs, highland cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, and makes products with traditional recipes and vegetables, seasonings and other ingredients he raises on the farm -- honey, garlic, onions, dill, sweet and peppers, juniper berries, hazlenuts, sage and basil and more.
Angela Cardinali, founder and director of Berkshire Farm and Table, will join in the conversation. She promotes the Berkshires as a source and a destination for food -- local makers, farmers, local chefs and the people who are creating the food from the ground up. She hopes a younger generation will get involved.
Cardinali sees the conference as a way to raise awareness of the value of growing and using local food.
"I think that we'll attract an audience of people who are definitely interested in this topic," she said. "My hope is that ... more people will pay attention to it."
She hopes to see "young people who choose to go into the food industry in some way to make better changes or they just take away an understanding, so they can make choices that contribute to their local economies, wherever they happen to live, and to their own health," she said.
Students at Bard College at Simon's Rock already work on the school's community garden, which is now fallow, but will resume thanks to new grant funding to support students working on it this summer, Tebben said. Some of the students also work on organic farms abroad in the summer through programs like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).
The Center for Food Studies will focus on teaching and on involving the community through student internships and projects, and bringing in the community with forums, talks and conferences. It has have already partnered with Berkshire Grown in a series of talks.
"We're hoping to do more of that, too -- making connections with farms and farmers for student internships, talks and panel discussions," Tebbin said. "We're hoping it will grow from there."
If you go ...
What: ThinkFood Conference
When: Saturday, 9:30 a.m.
Where: Kellogg Music Center, Bard College at Simon's Rock, Alford Road, Great Barrington
Admission: Conference only $15, with lunch $25