Author Archive | Austin Banach

GROWING HEALTHIER HABITS: Garden Program Plants Seeds for Change


Photos by Austin Banach

The first time I learned about where food came from was around first or second grade.

It was a marvel to a 6-year-old’s eyes when we were instructed to place seeds between damp paper towels and discovered a plant “hatching” (germinating) from them in a mere three days. After the seeds sprouted we planted them into tiny pots with soil, watered them daily and watched them grow, inch by inch. I don’t recall if those small plants ever made it outdoors, or if I saw the edible outcome after that plant fully matured, but years later I now appreciate being exposed at a young age to how everything comes from just a tiny seed. A relationship with food is what my teacher perhaps wanted me to learn, a healthier relationship beyond the cereal I ate for breakfast, the pizza I ate for lunch or the spaghetti I ate for dinner.

Today more communities and schools are taking action to not only improve children’s food sources but to teach and empower children to make healthier decisions of their own. One such program is Growing Healthy Garden Program of northern Berkshire County founded by Jennifer Munoz.

Jennifer started Growing Healthy Garden Program in 2007.… Read the rest

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Hoppy Days Are Here Again

Glass Bottom Brewery: See the Farm in Every Bottle


Left to right: Ezra Bloom and Evan Williams

You would not be the only one perplexed over the 25-foot-tall logs supported by cables sticking from the ground on Route 41 in between Great Barrington and Housatonic. When I first drove past, I thought it could be an art installation, a frame for a building or even a model of an ancient calendar.

The last thing I would have suspected was the growing of hops, an ingredient for beer. The hop yard is at an early stage for Evan Williams and Ezra Bloom, who started Glass Bottom Brewery with a mission to grow and work with local ingredients to inspire their traditional and creative beers.

Evan and Ezra started Glass Bottom Brewery around 2008, fueled by their mutual admiration for craft beer. In the early days, Ezra experimented with brewing his own beer using a meager aluminum pot and a few gadgets over his kitchen stove while Evan passionately pursued learning about sustainable agriculture. Starting their own business perfectly suited Evan’s desire to create a value-added product from an agricultural product and Ezra’s desire to craft a beer using locally grown ingredients. Humulus lupulus, better known as hops, is a plant in the cannabis family.… Read the rest

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Chocolate Springs Eternal in the Berkshires

Reflections of a Berkshire Bonbon

Photo courtesy of Chocolate Springs café.

Becoming more conscientious regarding the effort it takes for products to get from their place of origin to the form we see on the shelves, I adapt an age-old adage—“There’s more than meets the eye”—to “There’s more than meets the mouth.” Such is true for Joshua Needleman’s chocolate cornucopia in the Berkshires: Chocolate Springs Café.

On a recent visit, I was filled with euphoria as I examined all the different chocolates inside glass cases and then sat down to enjoy a few in the calm and relaxing atmosphere of the café. It’s sort of a European chocolate shop crossed with an Asian-influenced spa.

I was pleased to learn that the name Chocolate Springs is homage to Joshua Needleman’s hometown, Lebanon Springs, a mere two miles over the Berkshire County/New York line. Lebanon Springs is home to natural thermal springs, hidden gems through various regions of the world known for cleansing properties. Here, in between Lenox and Pittsfield, is Chocolate Springs Café, another gem and, likewise, a suitable retreat for relaxation and cleansing.

Chocolate, besides being a decadent and addictive treat, has several health benefits as well. Some include antioxidants, aiding in cardiovascular health, skin health and even properties that trigger brain endorphins to cause that happy feeling.… Read the rest

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Designer Mushrooms

It’s best to learn their mysteries from an expert

Austin Banach and Erhard Wendt at the Williamsville Inn
Austin Banach and Erhard Wendt at the Williamsville Inn

My knowledge of mushrooms early on consisted of the common everyday white button mushroom or an occasional portabella making its appearance from the sauté pan to top an omelet or burger. Shiitakes were the exotic mushrooms of my repertoire but still had sparse appearances. In the fall of 2009 I met chef Erhard Wendt, who leads classes and foraging walks to explore wild food in our area. The world of edible (and non-edible) fungi was unveiled to me along with their array of culinary applications. I will share with you a few of them—but not their remote locations.

Erhard grew up in Germany, where from an early age he foraged for mushrooms, berries and other wild edibles of the forest as they had significant importance to the cuisine of his region. After traveling and working through parts of the United States, Erhard and his wife, Kandy, found that the Berkshires reminded them most of their European background—especially the lush woods that Erhard loved. In 2002, they purchased and renovated the historic Williamsville Inn in West Stockbridge to share their passion for outstanding food and hospitality.… Read the rest

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Young farmer sees oxen as key to greener farming ox (noun): A castrated bull trained as a work animal. Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t know this definition a week ago. I always assumed an ox was a specific breed of animal similar to a buffalo, spending its days roaming the prairie or something. I never gave much thought (apparently) to how things were in the times before cars or machinery. I recently sat down with Rich Ciotola to hear his story. Farmer Rich (as he goes by around here), age 34, is among the rapidly growing new generation of farmers concerned by where today’s food comes. They are driven to take action and create their own sustainable and self-sufficient practices, along with spreading the ideas throughout the community and beyond. Rich’s passion is reviving the use of oxen for heavy-duty farm work to replace expensive, fuel-guzzling, polluting tractors.
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