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HomeLife In the BerkshiresMargaret Moulton takes...

Margaret Moulton takes the helm at Berkshire Grown

And at the center of this work is connecting people who are already interested in local food and farm-to-table ideas but don’t have on the ground experience; getting folks on the farms and in the field.

Great Barrington — This year, the first of October is a particularly auspicious moment for Berkshire Grown: Summer is over, the fall equinox has occurred and the organization’s 20th annual Harvest Supper is in the rearview mirror. In a season rife with transitions, the nonprofit aimed at “keeping farmers farming” is ushering in a new phase of leadership as Margaret Moulton officially takes the helm as executive director today.

“Barbara [Zheutlin] and I have worked side by side, hand in hand, for the last month,” said Moulton in a recent interview. “[September] set the scene for me as to how much I have to grow into — taking on the mantle of someone beloved who has done amazing work,” she said of her predecessor’s dozen years with the nonprofit.

Moulton’s pitch when applying for the job was “really thinking about how agriculture and farms in the Berkshires are a visual backdrop for those who come to visit but, in the economy of the region, they are an economic backbone.”

Berkshire Grown’s annual Harvest Supper, held this year on Sept. 24 at Butternut. Photo: David Scribnrer

That said, her most immediate task is simple: “To get to know the farmers, the players, in that landscape,” she said, gesticulating wildly. And at the center of this work is connecting people who are already interested in local food and farm-to-table ideas but don’t have on-the-ground experience; getting folks on the farms and in the field. Moulton is excited about the journey ahead.

“The part that is super interesting to me is all I have to learn about the economics, the politics, that affect our local farming economy,” she said, recognizing that the romantic vision of farming is fleeting, at best. Step one? “[It is] really important for me to understand how state funding affects our region, how the new farmers make their businesses strong and viable, [and how] longtime farmers stay in the game,” she explained. “That’s an economic question, [and] I have a sense that’s going to be at the top of the list in the coming years,” she added.

For Moulton, a native of California, connecting to the land is deep in her bones. Growing up in Pasadena, her father had “a year-round vegetable garden, an orchard, a giant compost heap — it was a big part of our life,” she said, noting that her parents grew up during the Depression, hence her mother’s inclination to preserve much of the food they grew. Upon her graduation from Colorado College, Moulton had dreams, namely the “idealist, romantic notion” of owning her own farm and becoming a farmer, desires cultivated in particular by two books: “Small is Beautiful,” Oxford-trained economist E. F. Schumacher’s classic call for the end of excessive consumption; and “Living the Good Life,” Helen and Scott Nearing’s guide on how to live sanely and simply in a troubled world.

Goats grazing at Rawson Brook Farm in Monterey, a farm that inspired Moulton to settle in the Berkshires.

With no land and no money to buy land, Moulton — who is not a “single road person” — took a different path, one that allowed her to explore myriad interests ranging from farming and gardening to photography, reading and spending time with her family. She and her husband, Rob Shaeffer, moved to the Berkshires in 2015 from Hastings-on-Hudson. “The Berkshires were not on our radar,” she explains, but seeking out community and farmers’ markets were. As to Moulton’s introduction to the area? “I met a friend at the goat farm in Monterey, Rawson Brook,” she recalls. After spending the morning walking around, seeing the gardens and watching the milking of the goats, Moulton remembers thinking, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we live here!” Max Morningstar (of MX Morningstar Farms) was the couples’ very favorite farmer at the Hastings market, and they were pleasantly surprised to stumble upon him at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market during the year Elizabeth Keen (of Indian Line Farm) was taking her sabbatical from farming. “It was like having old friends move to town,” she said of being connected to the community through the farms and the farmers.

“Different models abound [and there is] so much for me to learn about the models of farming,” said Moulton who sees community-building, in particular connecting people to farmers and knowing where their food comes from, as integral to what she calls the “big mosaic” of farming in the Berkshires. “This connection makes [community members] more committed to supporting farmers by continuing to buy [their] goods,” she said, adding, “I’m super excited about it!” For the moment, Moulton is basking, not in having all the answers, but in asking the important questions, the most burning of which is for the famers: “One of the things I want to know is how has Berkshire Grown helped you in the past, what is the difference we’ve made and how can we help you going forward?” And her commitment to the process is clear: “No matter what they say, I want to hear their answers. I need to know their answers.”

“We feel really lucky to live here and I feel amazingly lucky that, after all my years of interest in farming, I get to do this,” she said of her landing at Berkshire Grown. Moulton’s work with the Trustees of Reservations as an engagement site manager and her longtime interest in sustainable agriculture as a volunteer educator at Stone Barns Center for Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, have uniquely prepared her to shepherd Berkshire Grown into its next stage of development. “We are thrilled to have Margaret at the helm of the organization. She is uniquely suited to engage growers and eaters alike in the discussion on the importance of local food,” said Allison Rachele Bayles, president of the board of trustees. “More importantly, Margaret has the background in both programming and fundraising that Berkshire Grown needs. She understands the importance of developing creative fundraising strategies and long-lasting relationships with donors and community members.” Berkshire Grown supports and promotes local agriculture as a vital part of the Berkshire community, economy, and landscape.

One of Berkshire Grown’s winter farmers’ markets in the gym of Monument Valley Regional Middle School in Great Barrington, Mass. Photo: David Scribner

For Moulton, this conversation does not end with the work day. Shaeffer edited “Letters to a Young Farmer,” a compelling history and a vital road map— a reckoning of how we eat and farm; how the two can come together to build a more sustainable future; and why now, more than ever before, we need farmers. It is the first book from Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, featuring wisdom and insight from the likes of Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben and Michael Pollan. “When [my husband and I] met, we were interested in art and architecture,” said Moulton, “but farming has become a big part of our family conversation,” she added, noting that the couple’s two daughters have followed suit: One was an intern at the National Young Farmers Coalition in Hudson while the other works in farming in upstate New York. “It’s fun to sit down with my family and talk about this subject,” said Moulton. “It’s part of the conversation we are having all the time.”

Nonetheless, Moulton has her eye on the proverbial prize: putting money in the farmers’ pockets — through farmers markets, winter farmers markets, Share the Bounty and generally connecting the dots. “I am lucky to have this opportunity,” said Moulton of her new chapter with Berkshire Grown. “I am in a moment where this is a gift, to have this job,” she added, stating: “All the things I love, and am passionate about, [as well as] skills I possess have landed together.”


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