Ten Minutes With Berkshire Grown’s Outgoing Executive Director
Barbara Zheutlin moving on
Photo by Christina Rahr Lane
Barbara Zheutlin arrived at Berkshire Grown in February 2007. Two weeks on, Time’s cover read “Forget Organic. Eat Local.” Over the past dozen years, Zheutlin has been cultivating a rich conversation that hinges on the connection between local farms and food and the health and well-being of our region. Her legacy not only supports farmers but also educates “eaters.” Following this month’s 20th Annual Harvest Festival, Zheutlin is passing over the leadership to Margaret Moulton, who comes from The Trustees of Reservations, and Zheutlin will take time to reflect, to read—and to turn her attention to growing our children.
What is your earliest memory of food, farming, connecting to the land?
I’m six years old, we’ve just moved to southern California, and we go to Cherry Valley and pick cherries. There are pictures of me and my two sisters covered in cherry juice because we’ve been picking and eating cherries. So, my connection to growing and picking food is linked to how delicious it tastes.
What pulled you to the local-food movement?
I fell in love with the Berkshires, having landed here after traveling from Los Angeles across the country with my husband, Jonathan Hankin. It was the rolling hills and the small farms that drew me to becoming involved.
How has Berkshire Grown worked to increase access to local food?
I want to highlight the Healthy Incentive Program [HIP], which supports local farmers and helps people with lower incomes afford to buy food directly from farmers. We also encourage farmers to take SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], and we have helped farmers sign up for HIP. And there’s Share the Bounty. All of these projects are ways to make locally grown food more accessible. That’s part one. Part two is trying to explain to people the real cost of food and health—and to do comparison shopping.
Why local vs. organic?
Many farmers who grow sustainably, and would be considered organic, are not because they don’t have the paperwork to be “certified” organic. It’s super-complicated. Our goal at Berkshire Grown is to support our local agriculture and that includes organic farmers, because some farmers prefer to farm that way, but it also includes conventional-growing farmers because we need all agriculture in the region to thrive.
How is Berkshire Grown still growing?
The average age of farmers in the country is about 57 to 58. In the last dozen years, we have seen more beginning farmers in this region. Our workshops help them learn how to farm, and we link them with experienced farmers for mentoring. To become a farmer is often a romantic impulse; to stay a farmer you’ve got to be a good business person.
What are your plans?
At age 68, I need to start slowing down and thinking and reflecting more in my life. I am going to do research into the history of childcare in this country because we need a more effective and affordable system to take care of young people. When I took the step into promoting farmers and creating community in the Berkshires, it was an attempt to improve the world by creating healthier, more delicious ways to nourish ourselves. The next step is to explore how we could improve the raising of human beings and the lives of all the adults who are involved in that partnership.