Apple orchards buzzing with the sounds of families picking their own fruit on the last warm weekend of autumn… Steam rising from a maple sugar shack while snow melts… Vivid green corn and tobacco fields appearing like oases on hot summer days… Farms thrive in western Massachusetts no matter the season.
The Connecticut River Valley has been known as “The Breadbasket of New England” since the earliest settlers started growing flax, rye tobacco, cucumbers, turnips, radishes and more. You’ll find an especially high concentration of seasonal farm stands and markets along the Connecticut River Byway. In fact, Pioneer Valley, as the Connecticut River region is known, was once called Asparagus Valley, and the area still produces outstanding varieties. The Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture and Berkshire Grown websites can point you to farm stands across the region, by location or by what’s in season.
The Route 116 Scenic Byway rises from the fertile Connecticut River Valley through hillier and rockier terrain as you travel northwest toward Adams. Here in the higher elevations early settlers were more likely to grow only what they needed for their own families. Many acres of historic farmland have been transformed into wildlife preserves and parks, like Conway Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, Poland Brook Wildlife Management Area, Bullitt Reservation and Eugene Moran Wildlife Management Area. The Bradley Farm Self-guided Trail, an easy, interpretive 1.8-mile walk in Mount Greylock State Reservation, explains how this 19th-century farm and orchard has transformed back into native forest.
As you travel the byways, see how many of these unique details you can spot: Barns along the Connecticut River Farm Scenic Byway have been used for tobacco-drying for more than 150 years. Near Steady Lane in Ashfield, a tunnel allows safe passage for dairy cows directly under the Route 112 Scenic Byway. Nature has reclaimed many of the region’s 18th- and 19th-century farms but stone walls and foundations remain scattered throughout the forests. They’re easy to pick out along many of the region’s hiking trails and nature walks.
Maple sugaring is at its peak in March, when warmer daytime temperatures and still-freezing nights start the sap flowing. You’ll notice the crisscrossed tubing of maple sap lines standing out against bare trees along many of the byways. Look for steam rising from sugarhouses near Skyline Trail in Chester, at the North Hadley Sugar Shack, Country Maple Farms in Shelburne Falls and many others. Visit the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association website to find a sugarhouse where you can learn how syrup and sugar are made, or even farms that offer seasonal breakfasts highlighting their own syrup.
At towns throughout the byways region, seasonal fairs and festivals offer a chance to celebrate the flavors of western Massachusetts. In March, the Chester Hill Maple Fest starts with an old-fashioned country breakfast before visitors venture out to tour sugarhouses. In October, the Florida Turnip Festival honors the humble rutabaga, the town’s official root vegetable. Also in October, the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival bills itself as the festival that stinks. This eco-friendly event features live music, a bounty of artists and artisans, and even a raw garlic–eating contest for those with a hardy stomach and a forgiving family.
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