Standing Her Ground

Lila Wilde Berle has farming in her genes––plus the farm's "restaurant without walls."



At age 79, Lila Berle claims that she’s slowing down. Here on her farm in Great Barrington, there’s no sign of that.

Photos by Matt Petricone

“Something died up there,” Lila Berle says suddenly, her attention caught by a flicker of motion. A group of buzzards circles just over the hill. “There’s always something going on in this ecosystem,” she reflects. “We have kestrels, eagles, coyotes, foxes, bobcats.”

And also 800 sheep, a few highland cows, and a gaggle of geese that share the 500 acres of grazing fields, woodland, hayfields, and swamp that make up Lila’s Farm in Great Barrington.  

The farm once again will transform into a “restaurant without walls” for Great Barrington’s fifth “Outstanding in the Field” dinner on September 8, part of an open-air dining experience that promotes local farms. With its three-state views, al fresco elegance, and gourmet menus, the dinner at Lila’s Farm has become so popular that this year’s tickets sold out in March—less than an hour after becoming available. 

“The farm-to-table movement has brought attention to local farmers and to the chefs who source their food locally,” Lila says, naming longtime customers Dan Smith of John Andrews Restaurant, Brian Alberg of the Red Lion Inn, and Daire Rooney, formerly of Allium in Great Barrington and now with Mezze in Williamstown, as chefs who have supported the event.

Lila’s family is six generations deep in the Berkshires, from great-grandparents who arrived sometime in the 1860s to 15 grandchildren. When she was 16, Lila and her future husband courted in a Berkshire hayfield. Two of her four children still live in the area; one is principal at Muddy Brook Elementary School, while another makes cheese and raises grass-fed beef in Hoosick, New York. As we speak, two grandchildren are lying under a tractor trying to fix some metal teeth that have been damaged by the infamous New England rocks.

It’s a life that called to her from her childhood at High Lawn Farm in Lee. But her father considered heavy-duty farm chores unsuitable for a girl. Instead, she rode her horse all over the property, becoming intimately familiar with every fold of the land. It was a natural step to study  ecology at Smith College, and in a neat twist of fate, she married her hayfield suiter—Peter Berle, who had similar interests and would become president of the National Audubon Society  from 1985 to 1995, before his death in 2007. Even while living in New York for 12 years, she kept a foothold in the Berkshires.

“Peter was saving the world, and I was local,” she says, which understates her work as  president or chairman of the board of 14 Berkshire cultural, educational, and community institutions. Two are particularly close to her heart. Her 40-year association with The Mount has familial roots—her great-grandparents attended Edith Wharton’s very first luncheon there; later, as a girl, she rode her horse all over the property. Her association with the Norman Rockwell Museum is similarly personal, beginning with an acquaintance with Molly Rockwell, Norman’s third wife, and loading stones from her farmland in Monument Valley and donated them so the museum’s stonework would be “authentically Berkshire.” 

At age 79, Lila claims that she’s slowing down, but there’s no sign of that as she describes a typical day. 

“The first thing is feeding the dogs. Nothing happens without the dogs,” she says as  Koji, an enormous Maremma, bounds over a fence. “It’s a breed from Northern Italy that has spent 2,000 years guarding sheep from wolves, so they definitely protect our sheep from the coyotes.” While their preferred strategy is a verbal threat, they can, if necessary, hold their own with brute force. Scars on Koji’s face prove his mettle.

And then it’s the daily routine of morning mowing and afternoon baling as Lila and her crew grow the hay that feeds the animals. “It used to be I’d spend 12 hours on the tractor,” she says. “I loved it. Your mind is clear, you have to focus, nothing can interrupt. You have time to think big thoughts.” Some days are interrupted by the chatty process of selling to individual buyers, including Armenians, Italians, Greeks, and Russians who come from central Massachusetts and Connecticut to buy lamb for holiday feasts. “If I had more lambs, I could sell them, butI don’t because I have to listen to my land.”

Even with her success, farming remains a difficult way to make a living. “There used to be farms all up and down the Berkshires,” Lila says. “But you can’t support a family on 15 cows anymore. Nobody farms to make money. They farm because it’s a way of life. The biggest travesty is the huge spec houses. I hate seeing productive farmland turned into homes, especially if they are unoccupied. The farmers have to be increasingly sophisticated about agricultural and farming easements—complex legal tools that can help keep land in a farming family.” 

She has put several hundred acres of her land in either conservation or agricultural easements in order to preserve them for the next generation. “I feel like just keeping the land open and using it productively, feeding a lot of people. Those are good things to be doing.”

Lila points to a hill where an ancient, storm-battered maple clings to life. “I have visions of a couple of the kids joining up and continuing to farm this place,” she says. Next to the old tree is a young one—the next generation—setting down roots. 

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January 2019

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Cost: Free

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View map »


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370 Beach Road
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View map »


Website »

More information

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More information

Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
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We invite families to drop-in and enjoy interactive pop-up activity stations, gallery games, and art projects around the KMA.  Get inspired by Outrageous Ornament: Extreme Jewelry in the 21st...

Cost: Member price: Free Non-Member price: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Katonah Museum
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
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Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555
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Calling all fans of Scottish food and Diana Galbaldon’s Outlander series. Don your tartan, make like Jamie’s clan motto and be ready! You’re invited to an amazing Outlander...

Cost: 100.00

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
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Telephone: 860-355-0300
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Friday, Jan. 25 Wilton Library Mini Golf Tourney for Adults, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. The kids had so much fun at last year’s Mini Golf fundraiser, that Wilton Library is holding one for adults only...

Cost: $50 and up

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
Website »

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Original members of the Billy Joel Band featuring Liberty DeVitto on drums, Richie Cannata on saxophone and Russell Javors on rhythm guitar. The band recorded and toured extensively with Billy Joel...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Telephone: (203) 438-5795
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Born from humble beginnings in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, CT The Alpaca Gnomes cut their teeth in the neighborhood bar scene by playing marathon shows filled with originals and a wide...

Cost: $15.00 - $20.00

Where:
Wall Street Theater
71 Wall Street
Norwalk, CT  06850
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Sponsor: Jeanne Moore
Telephone: (203) 831-5004
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
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Are you a lifelong with a passion for sharing history? Find out about becoming a Museum Docent! Docents are trained volunteer educators who present guided tours and other education programs to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Bring the baby and enjoy a lively conversation inspired by the art on view. Enjoy light snacks while socializing with newly-made friends. Crying babies welcome and activities provided for older...

Cost: Member price: Free Non-Member price with Museum admission: Free

Where:
Katonah Museum of Art
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
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Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555
Website »

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Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Blending nature and spirituality, Connecticut artist Lori Barker explores the rhythms of life in a new collection of mixed media works on display at the Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery
5 Wykeham Rd.
Washington, CT  06793
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Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey

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Winter Guided Hike @ Woodcock Nature Center Saturday January 26th, 10-11:30am, FREE ​ Join Mr. Sam for a hike where we'll investigate whats going on in nature in the winter season and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Woodcock Nature Center
56 Deer Run Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Woodcock Nature Center
Telephone: (203) 762-7280
Contact Name: Sam Nunes
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The Bruce Museum is organizing an exhibition of small artworks created entirely by the public for the public. We invite art lovers of all ages, interests, and abilities to submit a depiction of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

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Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

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Saturday, Jan. 26 Mini Golf Family Day in the Stacks at Wilton Library, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Wilton Library will hold its 2nd mini golf fundraising event. There will be food (each paid admission will...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
Website »

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  Touchon transforms verbal language into handsome geometric compilations, to reveal the beauty and musicality of language characterized by warmly colored shapes, interlocking irregular grids and...

Cost: free

Where:
Canfin Gallery
39 Main Street
Tarrytown, NY  10591
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Sponsor: Canfin Gallery
Telephone: 914-332-4554
Contact Name: Jean-Claude Canfin
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Zachary Zaitzeff is a painter living in the Hudson Valley who has incorporated his extensive world travel, including his 2011 summit of Mount Everest, into his artwork. Zachary spent 2018 studying...

Cost: free

Where:
RT Facts Gallery
8 Old Barns Rd
Kent, CT  06757
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Sponsor: RT Facts
Telephone: 860-927-1700
Contact Name: Natalie Randall
Website »

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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Saturday, January 26th from 1:00 - 2:00 PM, Ages 4+ Attend for groovy crafts, snacks, games, and more in celebration of the Pete the Cat book series. This event is free and no registration is...

Cost: Free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
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Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

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Hudson Chorale, the area’s largest mixed voice chorus, is poised to please.  The group will begin its 2019 season with two matinee concerts on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm and Sunday,...

Cost: Advance Sale-$25; Door-$30; Students-$10.

Where:
The Chapel at Maryknoll
55 Ryder Rd
Ossining, NY  10562
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Sponsor: Hudson Chorale
Telephone: 1-800-838-3006
Contact Name: Anne Norum
Website »

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Join us for a very special evening of music from these four accomplished singer songwriters: David Ray, Mike Latini, Dave Goldenberg, George Mallas.  

Cost: 20.00

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
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Telephone: 860-355-0300
Website »

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Join us for another incredible evening of music featuring four local singer songwriters performing original music! Doors open at 7pm in New Morning’s handicapped accessible Community Room on the...

Cost: Free

Where:
New Morning Market
129 Main St North
Woodbury, CT  06798
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Sponsor: New Morning Market
Telephone: 203-263-4868
Website »

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