People often say the only bad question is the one not asked, I can’t agree more. In late winter or early spring of this year I talked briefly on the phone with Deborah Christakos of Pioneer Valley Farm Tours to ask about partnering up for a food and bike tour. I was, and still am, new to leading client tours of the Pioneer Valley and Western Massachusetts. Deborah on the other hand has been leading food tours in the Valley for years. We discussed partnering up for a bike/farm food tour and what that might look like. Flash forward a few months. After busy lives and schedules got in the way, the Covid-19 hit and the shutdown ensued, we finally met to have a coffee and to start planning a tour.
Late June or early August rolled around and the ideas started flowing. Deborah, being a long time resident of the valley and seasoned tour operator, knew just where to start looking. After all, her specialty is connecting people with the many diverse and flavorful products that are made or grown in the area. I could hardly keep up! I admit that I love good food, and fresh flavorful ingredients. But my knowledge of who is making what does not compare to what Deb knows.
We finally agreed upon running a tour in the Western part of the mid-Pioneer Valley, in the town of Westhampton. I for one did not know a lot about that particular area and was keen to learn about it. First, we started discussing the products we wanted to highlight and the farms that produce them. If you have not been to Western Massachusetts before, then you should know that this region in particular abounds in small family run farms. That is due to our preservation of farmland and passion for locally made products. Then, after we had selected the area and farms on the tour, the only thing left was to plan the route and link it all together via bike. Hence, the West Valley Farm Tour was born!
Our stops and stories
This past weekend on September 26, Deborah and I were extremely happy to host two nice, outgoing and lively young ladies, Hannah and Charlotte. It was a beautiful fall day that did not disappoint us with its rusty golds, yellows and reds. Our two intrepid new friends sure did put some pressure on myself and Peter, my co-guide and husband of Deborah, to keep the pace up. Hannah and Charlotte both have ties to the region through family or school, but had not
biked extensively in the area. They were energetic and excited to learn more and we were eager to show them! Our stops included a visit to Mayval farms, a family run dairy farm in operation since 1777. They make a variety of products, including the delicious and creamy cheese that can give camembert a run for its money, camem-mère. We chatted with Maggi the owner, and learned about what it is like to run a farm and market its products. She also made us homemade cookies!
After another 30 minutes of riding through the multi-colored trees and quiet side roads, and shared stories with Charlotte and Hannah, we arrived at Park Hill Orchard. We arrived just in time for a small picnic of apples, cheese and crackers, cider slushies( YUMMY!!) and a lovely conversation with Russel, one of the owners. Park Hill is a celebrated fruit orchard in the valley with 90 varieties of fruits which also runs an Art in The Orchard installation that encourages visitors to walk through the acreage and truly take it all in. Russel also explained to us the scientific approach they take to ensure their trees and plants are sustainably cared for in the most efficient and productive manner.
The potential highlight of the tour was our stop and second picnic at Glendale
Ridge Winery, yes that is correct a second picnic. Glendale Ridge winery is a family owned and run vineyard set on roughly 5 stunning acres facing the Mount Tom range. They produce estate wines as well as import grapes from other vineyards to make excellent wines. With this as the backdrop we were presented with a full spread of local pears, apples, cheese, and of course wine! Doing what she does best, Deborah introduced us to the two styles of wine we sampled, to stories of food lore in the valley and a who’s who of food production.
If only this stop could have lasted longer. We were all getting pretty comfortable in our chairs by this point. However, there were just a few miles left to get back to Outlook farm, our starting and ending point. So we put the shoes back on, clipped in and took off to enjoy the final 4 miles.
This tour was about so much more than putting in miles. The West Valley farm Tour was more about connecting people and products with the landscapes they inhabit. We live in a region that is proud of what we produce. Much of what our farmers grow and produce is on a small scale void of large scale farms and chains. We like it that way and would not change a thing. While I admit it is fun to go for a 50 mile ride, it is just as much fun to slow down, stop and sample what is around. Come for a ride, stay for the food and the scenery. It’s The Pioneer Valley.