Editorial: Monday mix on Abundance Farm; Amherst choral director; Miss Florence Diner

  • Abundance Farm manager Rose Cherneff, arms raised, gives a tour of the one-acre garden at Congregation B'nai Israel on Prospect Street, during "A Celebration of Shared Abundance" hosted by the farm and the Northampton Survival Center on June 3. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The appropriately named Abundance Farm on Prospect Street in Northampton provides not only a bounty of food, but also opportunities to bring the community together.

The farm is a collaboration of Congregation B’nai Israel, Lander-Grinspoon Academy and the Northampton Survival Center — which are clustered near the one-acre plot where food is grown. That partnership was celebrated June 3 when about 70 people gathered to learn about the history of the land and tour the farm and Survival Center.

The Abundance Farm, in its fifth season, has a mission of justice, community and education, said Rabbi Jacob Fine, its director. “The partnership with the Survival Center has been a core part of this project from the outset.”

When the first harvest was ready in 2014, farm staff picked the fruits and vegetables and brought them to the food pantry at the Survival Center. Now, the produce is picked by others, including clients from the Survival Center, who take part in pick-your-own harvesting.

“At the Abundance Farm, we’re trying to blur these lines between who is giving and who is receiving,” said farm manager Rose Cherneff, who added that this year one woman brought her own squash plant to grow. “That to me is a sign we’re really doing it.”

Heidi Nortonsmith, executive director of the Survival Center, echoed her. “It just grew, no pun intended, in a really organic way. We’re really, really grateful for that, and to see what comes next.”

The farm is part of the curriculum at the Lander-Grinspoon Academy, a Jewish day school, and the ALMA religious school and Gan Keshet preschool at the synagogue.

Students help run the farm situated on land that was once the city’s “poor farm,” which was established in 1825. It is close to the bike path, which was originally part of the 19th-century canal system built to connect Northampton and New Haven, Connecticut. When the site later became a railroad line to Haydenville, much of the richest farm soil was lost.

Nevertheless, with the help of leaves dumped on the property and other compost brought by community members, Abundance Farm thrives. “There is no such thing as bad soil,” Cherneff declared, while showing off peppers, peas, tomatillos and other plants.

It is a place for abundant growth — by the plants and people who tend them.

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We wish David Ranen well in his retirement after 38 years as choral director at Amherst Regional Middle School. He conducted his final concert with the school choruses on Wednesday, where he was described as “an Amherst treasure.”

Patricia Bode, principal of the middle school, pointed out that Ranen is a licensed guidance counselor and he brought a “guidance counselor’s touch to his work. He has had a hand in many people’s futures.”

Geoff Friedman, a math teacher at Amherst Regional High School, said that Ranen made “immeasurable contributions to the lives of literally thousands of middle schoolers over the past 38 years.”

For his part, Ranen observed, “In that time, I learned how amazing 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds are and that the thing they want most is to be listened to and respected.”

Though Ranen is retiring, the music he made with his students will long be appreciated.

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The iconic Miss Florence Diner remains in good hands after it was purchased this spring by Georgianna Brunton, 46, who grew up in Southwick.

The diner at 99 North Main St. had been owned for the past 15 years by the Zantouliades family. John Zantouliades said last summer he decided to sell the business after his parents had to cut back their involvement.

He found an enthusiastic buyer in Brunton, who started a career working in restaurants at age 13 and most recently was at Epic at Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vermont. She and her two sons moved to Florence in March.

She plans no major changes in the menu or service at the diner, which is in a classic 1941 Worcester railroad car and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. “There’s a great history here,” she said.

We’re glad that Brunton is on board to help write the next chapter.