Do you like pie? If you live in the Pioneer Valley, you are in luck. For the very last year of the Food Bank Farm—as locals know, an institution; if you live elsewhere, click, read, (click both, two part interview) be awed, as we are here—its famous Thanksgiving Store continues. And, says farmer Michael Docter, will they have pies. YES, there will be pies (about 700 of ‘em). These won’t be just any old pies; these pies will be made from scratch, the old-fashioned way, they will rely upon local ingredients: pumpkins, apples, raspberries, and maple syrup, as well as organic cranberries from the cape and wild blueberries and products from local dairies.
Quick aside in appreciation of the efforts such massive pie production requires: my first year at Hampshire College, two of my housemates were residential life staff and as such, were involved in organizing an end-of-year bash for the entire campus called Southern Exposure (one of my housemates, Laurie Anderson, hailed from Louisville, Kentucky). In the days leading up to the event, our apartment—mod, in Hampshire-speak—became pie central. On the floor (basically into the living area, because the kitchen space was not long and also narrow) sat huge sacks of flour and sugar. Baking scents—that is to say sugar and fat—permeated the place (what was being made were I don’t know how many pecan and derby pies; derby pies are essentially pecan pies with chocolate chips).
There’s little less appetizing, truth be told, than a small living space overtaken by major pie production, yet at the same time, it was such a wondrous effort we felt inspired (if a little sick) by its being completed (climb every mountainous baking challenge or something like that). And feed the college for its big ol’ Southern event those pies surely did, in Kentucky-would-be-proud style. All those pies disappeared in short order. And two other good things came of it: I learned what a derby pie was (in time to become very close friends with another Louisville native) and I developed an unanticipated reverence for people who feed loads of people (something that’s not so easy to do).
I begin with pies at the Food Bank Farm’s Thanksgiving store, because these pies have become legendary. To hear Michael Docter wax poetic about the pies (by which I mean, listing all the kinds they are making and explaining how many local and organic ingredients are going into said pies), I got off the phone with him and quickly emailed my mother—in Philadelphia—with an offer to bring a pie. I mean, after all these years thinking I had to forgo the local fare, I was sold—if we’re having pies, at least one must be a Western Massachusetts pie—and she immediately agreed. It seems win-win; she’s got a portacrib; we’ll bring a pie.
Docter doesn’t keep count, but the place is generally jammed—and he’s worried it won’t be this year, because the Food Bank Farm’s CSA is ending (food will still be grown for the Food Bank, though)—and people seem confused about the store remaining open for this last year. He very much hopes people will flock there per usual for pies, vegetables, and other ingredients useful to create wonderful Thanksgiving feasts. Besides root vegetables and winter squashes from the Food Bank Farm, Enterprise Farm will have its veggies on hand (including greens, lettuces, and other such niceties).
Now, if you missed out on the pleasure of belonging to the Food Bank Farm, or just visiting one day with a friend, let me say this, besides the strawberry fields (which I’ve written about on Literary Mama, and have become, for me, one of the finest places on earth), part of what makes this particular CSA special is what a hub it is; people come from Northampton and Amherst and points nearby, creating a kind of whole Valley scene. It’s so fun on a summer’s afternoon to pick beans beside an old friend or a friendly acquaintance. I know the Thanksgiving store has this vibe in spades, in the cold (if it gets cold next week), and with a little holiday spirit sprinkled in—sweet and lovely, like cinnamon—for good measure. So, locals please don’t ignore this opportunity. It really is, as my seven year-old would say, “too good.” (And if only I could approximate in words the lip-smacking sound he makes when he thinks something is “too good,” I would do, but I cannot).
Pies for good works isn’t a phenomenon limited to Western Massachusetts. In Philadelphia, we’ve eaten many Manna pies, proceeds of which help to bring meals to people in need in that region living with major illnesses, including with HIV/AIDS.
The Food Bank Farm not only began what’s become a craze around here—the CSA craze—and it’s not only acted as training ground for many local farmers with the next generations of CSA’s, it’s part of a larger movement of CSA’s and using food production—growth, baking, kneading and making (ah, the cadence of In the Night Kitchen echoes in the mother of a toddler’s overtired brain)—for the greater good. Docter is taking winter produce he grew at Winter Moon Farm and selling it through Brookfield Farm’s winter share program, another way to keep eating local through the cold months. Enterprise Farm also offers shares year-round (including a seasonal share, for the winter). CISA (Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture) is organizing a couple of winter market endeavors (volunteers welcome!)—and that’s really just a tip of the iceberg project for an organization that does so much to support farmers and farming around these parts.
In Philadelphia (my hometown, did you guess?), Weaver’s Way Co-op is a really inspiring organization (I think by now, really, it’s almost more apt to call it an institution). Wedged (to overflowing) into a very small storefront in West Mount Airy, the co-op has kind of morphed in all sorts of ways: it’s become friendly, anchoring neighbor to a host of small businesses where before there were next to none; there’s the High Point café, Greene St Cleaners, Maternal Wellness Center, Big Blue Marble Bookstore, Philly Electric Wheels, the C.W. Henry School (my first and second grade alma mater), and a blue mailbox. It’s helped other co-ops come into existence, nearby and farther afield (WW provided a loan to the River Valley Market, for example). It’s got a farm. The farm educates and engages kids. A new venture, in the next neighborhood over, will bring a roomy satellite co-op to “the (Chestnut) Hill,” where a longstanding, independent grocery store used to operate.
There’s no question that the push to buy and grow local requires a synergy between not for profits and businesses in ways that are either new or (re)newed. I find this a completely exciting development, the way that what’s cutting edge is really about going smaller and almost simpler—and what’s more, how the Internet, which makes the global so accessible, also works to make the local work more seamlessly, from neighborhood list-serves on out.
I can’t close musings on pie without mentioning that my mother-in-law elevates pie to such a vaulted level that I plan never to bake one. There would be no point; hers are, to quote Remy, “too good” (make juicy, lip smacking sound now). And it’s not just like her apple pie is the best ever, or her peach, or her pecan… You get the idea; she owns pie making. Rocks it. Because she is such a pie savant, I was delighted, years ago, to find a book, American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America’s Back Roads, for her birthday, only to have pie-loving (book-worshipping) Ezekiel want me to read it to him (he was maybe five or six) and for whatever reason, I did. One sentence description: a food writer moves across the country and journeys across via car, with her best friend and a shared purpose—to find the best pie in each state—and of course, herself, too.
But back to next week and pie: if you are local, go get yourselves a pie at the Food Bank Farm. You won’t be disappointed.