Fork & Spade: A community food digest for May

  • Ellie Viggiani, a volunteer with Grow Food Northampton, spreads mulch on one of the Giving Gardens at the community garden site off Spring street in Florence. Valley Grows Day 2021 is Wednesday, May 19, a collective fundraising effort among community-based food and land access and farming nonprofit organizations throughout western Massachusetts. Gazette file photo

For the Gazette
Published: 5/14/2021 4:30:22 PM

One thing your Fork & Spade moderator loves about putting this column together is that while this monthly feature is always about food access and sustainability, there are so many different and innovative ways people are approaching these issues that there’s always something new and interesting to learn.

This month: a chance to make an impact on both local farming and food insecurity at the same time, as chef Aimee Francaes of Belly of the Beast gives us her take on eating locally; and the Amherst mobile markets prepare to bring fresh produce and community to underserved neighborhoods.

Read on and be well!

Valley Grows Day

Valley Grows Day 2021 is this Wednesday, May 19. Valley Grows is a collective fundraising effort among community-based food and land access and farming nonprofit organizations throughout western Massachusetts. In the last year, seven sustainable agriculture organizations — including Valley Grows founders Grow Food Northampton and Greenfield-based Just Roots, along with Abundance Farm and Pioneer Valley Workers Center in Northampton, Gardening the Community and All Farmers in Springfield, and Seeds of Solidarity in Orange — have worked tirelessly to respond to the rising rates of food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participating organizations are working to address food insecurity by expanding access to healthy local food and creating opportunities for the next generation of urban and rural gardeners and farmers.

So many community members have been disproportionately impacted by a lack of food during the pandemic, particularly people of color. Grow Food invites everyone to show their support for farming and food justice by picking one or more participating organizations to which to donate funds to ensure that the food grown locally reaches those most in need.

For even greater impact, Grow Food Northampton is offering a dollar-for-dollar match challenge to donors on Valley Grows Day. A local giving circle, Local Roots Care, has generously offered to match $15,000 of Grow Food donations received. This support that will allow us to make necessary infrastructure improvements to our Community Farm to optimize the growing potential of three new farmers: Riquezas del Campo, an immigrant-led cooperative; a collective of Somali Bantu refugee families growing food for themselves and their families; and 2 Cents Home Grown, a mother-daughter flower, herb and produce farm owned by Springfield resident Shaunia Swinton that provides healthy food access to food apartheid neighborhoods in Springfield.

To donate and learn more about the work being done by all Valley Grows partners, please visit

A chef’s take on local food

Belly of the Beast has been an amazing community helper over the course of the pandemic. From the first week of the shutdown in March 2020 to April 2021, the eatery organized with the Northampton public schools to make meals for families once a week, supplementing the Grab n Go meals provided for students. It’s currently gearing up to install a community fridge, which will most likely debut in Florence by the bike path.

But Belly of the Beast is also a great restaurant, and here, owner Aimee Francaes gives us her thoughtful take on local food through the lens of a chef.

“Late April through early June is a heck of a time each year. It’s spring! You can feel the season change with every glorious fiber of your being. Your body knows that there is new growth — you can see all the green around you, and flowers! Everywhere! And that’s just about all anyone wants to eat: newness, things that are happening NOW.

“The irony is the complete dearth of variety during this spring period. Yes, there are ramps, and asparagus and fiddleheads, and nettles, along with the first spring greens. But the reality is that, while these things are a welcome foretaste of the bounty of summer and early fall, anyone eating a local-based diet during these six weeks will be eating and preparing the same things that they’ve been eating since November: root vegetables, the last of the winter squash, radishes, mushrooms, spinach, alliums. This is limbo time, and the contrast between what our bodies sense, feel, and expect, and what the reality of the season provides in terms of variety is not small.

“This is why I’ve always felt that Belly of the Beast works on more of a farm schedule than a regular restaurant schedule. From late June through November, our production is over the top.

“Because once you start pickling and preserving, you aren’t just pickling and preserving for winter. You are doing this to last you well into spring and early summer, making enough food to last another eight to 10 months, which, if you’re going to eat on a majority local-based food cycle in the Northeast, you have to plan on. Our beloved golden beets that we serve year-round need to be pickled and stored up for the break between what’s available over cold storage winter and the new beets that aren’t usually ready until June or July.

“Same with cabbage; same with potatoes — we have to get enough of them in season and keep them in good storage in order to continue serving our Smashed Fried Potatoes through May, June and sometimes even July.

“And every year is different. Too much rain? Not enough rain? Hail? Hail at a particular time in the spring is great for peaches and stone fruit, but wipes out  vegetables. There is a mischievousness and fun to the unknown of the season ahead, which keeps you working your creativity in waves.

“But all of these veg and fruits I’m dreaming about need to hold in my imagination until they appear. Right now, and for the next six weeks or so, I am looking around at what pickled veg is in the walk-in, what last veg and fruit was stored away in the freezer, what preserve I can pop open, to make the last of the winter taste more like spring.”

Amherst Mobile Market

Looking for ripe tomatoes, bunches of bright carrots, or some garlic to add zest to your next kabob? Every week, from June 8 until Oct. 30, the Amherst Mobile Market will bring affordable farm fresh produce and seasonal fruits to its four locations — Olympia Oaks, the East Street Common, Butternut Farms and the Valley Bike Station on East Hadley Road (see below for specific days and times).

Shoppers can pay with cash, credit, SNAP, HIP, WIC, or Senior Farmers Market Nutrition program coupons, and those looking for a great deal can sign up for a six-item farm share at $5 per week. The market will follow strict COVID precautions, and all shoppers must wear masks.

Though anyone is welcome to shop there, the goal of the Amherst Mobile Market is to bring fresh, affordable produce to residents who might otherwise have to take a two-hour bus ride to reach the grocery store. This is a common challenge for many residents of Amherst, where one in four residents is both low income and lives more than a mile from a supermarket.

But the Mobile Market extends beyond just providing fresh fruit and veggies, having created community and support of many different kinds for residents involved with the market in all capacities. Through the power of produce, neighbors have come together: sharing recipes, improving their health, finding paid jobs, and expressing care for their friends and family through great food.

The racially and economically diverse Amherst Mobile Market Planning Committee provides community guidance to the project, and the committee itself chose Many Hands Farm Corps as the market operator due in large part to their commitment to hiring from among the food insecure residents involved in planning for the market.

Initial funding for last year’s pilot season came from a Blue Cross/Blue Shield grant, and the market was a great success. More than 400 people accessed more than 5,000 local produce items at affordable prices. This year, the market is relying on many small donations. To learn more and donate, visit

The Mobile Market runs from June 8-Oct. 30 on the following schedule:

■Tuesdays, Olympia Oaks, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

■Wednesdays, East Street Common, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

■Fridays, Butternut Farms, 4-6 p.m.

■Saturdays, Valley Bike Station on East Hadley Road, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

Francie Lin is the food access coordinator for Grow Food Northampton. She can be reached at

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