Exploring the Fertile Berkshires


As a kid, I occasionally binged on Super Mario Brothers and played pastry chef with an Easy Baked Oven, but rolling in the grass was always the main stage. I grew up steps from a flowing river park dotted with pecan trees. Under those enormous branches, plenty of tails were pinned on donkeys and many meals sowed and reaped.

The lush park of my youth was once lined with shotgun houses, and home to a tight knit community that lived off the land and cherished family. On a recent trip to the Berkshires, an collection of 32 hamlets in western Massachusetts, I contemplated my relationship with nature and solidified my commitment to annual tree hugging trips. Of course, Great Barrington’s mid-20th century Briarcliff Motel had all the modern amenities (including wifi) but the raised bed herb garden and communal fire pit connected me to a stillness. Some would call me an outdoor afro. I’d say that eating good, celebrating African-American culture and adventures are in my DNA.

Suiting up for a beekeeping demo at Mill River Farm/Berkshire Wildflower Honey, I was overcome with the same giddy feeling of jumping off the diving board at my first swim lesson. The thoughtful dishes, top-notch service and picturesque property at John Andrews: A Farmhouse Restaurant, blew my socks off. The old ice house in the forest–enchanting.

While scoping out the veggies at Farm Girl Farm, I recalled running through backyard gardens and getting fussed out for trampling over a neighbor’s Sunday plate, not yet understanding the importance of a bounty. An impromptu, magical stroll around the Wild and Cultivated Flower Farm and made me appreciate the bright red rose bushes that complemented the front porch of my youth.

Umpachene Falls — a beauty. The rocks, mist and laughter of children frolicking put me in a thankful state. Too bad I didn’t have gear for a proper dip.

The most inspiring stops on my woodsy trek: the W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site and the Norman Rockwell Museum. Dr. William Edward Burghardt, known for his seminal book The Souls of Black Folk, is honored at the W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site with a pine tree cathedral path that includes nuggets about the Berkshire native’s early life and career. The Problem We All Live With, Mr. Rockwell’s iconic image of Ruby Bridges being escorted by United States marshals as she desegregated a New Orleans school, hangs in the Rockwell Museum. It’s a timely piece that reminds everyone that our journeys are never done.

Thinking about a trip to the Berkshires? Start your excursion in Pittsfield, Mass., along the Lake Shore Limited. Head to The Meat Market for house-made charcuterie and SoCo Creamery or Chez Nous for dessert. Have a nightcap at Allium Restaurant and Bar made with herbs and such from food producers all over the region.

About the Author: Nicole A. Taylor is a Brooklyn-based writer and host of Hot Grease, a food culture podcast.