The Road to Bountiful
Home-grown Fiona deRis rolls out her food-truck enterprise
Fiona deRis sources her food within a 20-mile radius of where she is at any given point. Daughter Mareika worked with her over the summer.
Fiona deRis values resourcefulness. For as long as she can remember, the bounty of apples on her family’s property became a year’s supply of cider, applesauce, and apple leather. The best specimens were cored, sliced in rings, and strung on wooden dowels mounted above the woodstove to dry in winter.
The Berkshires provided deRis with the building blocks of her most fundamental beliefs, which she cites as responsible for drawing her back, over and over again, to the place she calls home.
And now, those beliefs have become the foundation for deRis’s newest venture, Sol Gypsy Food Truck. Her vision, making high-quality food a cornerstone of local economics, allows her to keep business small and beautiful while sharing the wealth of the region’s abundance.
German-born deRis was raised on 200 acres of land abutting Jug End Mountain, a locale she wistfully recalls as her playground. She was seven when Susan Witt and the late Bob Swann came to South Egremont as co-founders of the Schumacher Center, and she watched as the nation’s first community land-use model and Community Supported Agriculture farm took shape, all on the gently sloping land where she roamed. Witt, whose theory on new economics had been shaped by social and ecological principles, took a clear and simple stance when she declared: “Economics is nothing more than human ingenuity organizing labor to transform natural resources into products for one another.” As talk of local food and its connection to the economy unfolded, mirroring a way of life in which deRis was fully immersed, Witt’s philosophy seemed to settle in her gut.
DeRis sources her food within a 20-mile radius of where she is at any given point. She needs at least one other person with her at all events, and this summer, that person is her daughter, Mareika.
“Farmers markets are the first resource in understanding a community and those who live there,” explains deRis, who is slowing down and connecting with the land, the locals, and seasonal produce. This past spring, the Monterey resident hand-crafted a gypsy wagon fashioned out of cedar beadboard, siding, and corrugated steel. She and a friend built the food truck on a trailer frame, fully outfitted it with a three-bay sink, a stove-top for pots, a flat-top griddle, an espresso machine for local coffee roasters, an oven, and an outside deck that holds a smoker for meats and vegetables.
“I bought a 10,000-pound–rated flat-steel lowboy trailer from Tiny Houses of Maine and had the frame and axles custom made at seven feet wide so that I could slant the walls out to the final 8’4” width. I had the general design in my mind and on paper but the details fell into place as I was building,” she says.
Most food trucks are made with modified box trailers or Grumman delivery trucks. The equipment for a particular menu is built-in and the outside gets vinyl wrapped with the name, logo, colors, etc. DeRis estimates that, at most, 15 food trucks originate in the Berkshires, although she expects more like hers to emerge.
She worked with those at the Tri-town Board of Health, in addition to studying concession-trailer code, so that she is properly equipped to travel to any state and get proper permits upon arrival.
This decision to take her passion on the road gets to the very root of deRis and what makes her tick: using food as a means of connecting. She arrived at Sol Gypsy—a moniker that stands for seasonal, organic, and local—as a concise way of making her mission clear. This, coupled with the decision to set up shop at local farmers markets in Monterey, Pittsfield, and Sheffield was a conscious choice, one made in hopes of keeping local farmers supported while educating consumers in the process.
“Look how much bounty we have in the Berkshires,” says deRis, who is clear in differentiating herself from a conventional food truck, a trend she sees as revolving around fast-paced consumption. Instead, she is slowing down and connecting through a series of carefully chosen queries: What are you growing? Why do you like it? What can I make with that? In short, she is simultaneously serving up sustenance and knowledge through the simple demonstration of what one can do with fresh produce. Her plan, loose at present, is to hit the road once the growing season here ends and bring her model to areas where there is not the same attention to local bounty.
“I’ve always had the ability to feel at home in many different places,” says deRis, whose career began as a social therapist in a Camphill Community, which emphasizes developing potential through community, arts, and working on the land. She went on to cultivate her love of food as owner of Sol Kitchen Catering, before connecting these seemingly disparate backgrounds as manager at Gould Farm’s Roadside Cafe.
Looking back on her series of ventures, deRis prepares for another new one and says of the Berkshires: “I’ve chosen to come back here, over and over again.”