Local Food Movement Going Strong In Amherst, Hadley, NoHo

By Brendan Murphy

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It’s no secret that Amherst ­– and many areas of western Massachusetts – is a farming community. Much of the local economy is driven by agriculture, and the products grown right down the street are often sold to restaurants within the town. This benefits the entire community on every level: Farmers who grow vegetables profit from it, and as a result, are able to spend more to increase the quality of their products.

The availability of local vegetables through local restaurants and retailers creates a unique experience that can only be matched within other farming towns. Additionally, the consumer gets the freshest quality of ingredients possible on his plate when he orders a calzone, gets veggies in his grinder or hits the dining commons at the University of Massachusetts. Many local eateries utilize local ingredients because they offer great flavor, an unmatched crispness, fresh texture and the highest level of nutrients available for a great value. In this sense, students from the Five College area are blessed. Anything from apples and asparagus, to tomatoes and turnips can be found on local farms. Even Big Y and Stop & Shop supermarkets recognize the demand for local fruits and veggies, and readily stock wares from the area. Smith, Mount Holyoke and Amherst Colleges, as well as UMass dining services, all utilize local foods to serve the masses, too. But they aren’t the only ones playing their part in the local economy.

Tabellas Restaurant, located just behind Bank of America in downtown Amherst, is just one of the many restaurants that utilize local ingredients. In fact, locally grown vegetables, dairy and meats constitute 80 percent of the products they serve on the menu. They boast “farm-to-table” dining and list each area on the menu where their ingredients were obtained. Needless to say, all of the dishes they serve are fresh. This makes for a refreshing and enjoyable experience when eating at Tabellas. Their goal is family-style dining – serving food at the peak of its quality when it’s freshly prepared. When eating with big groups, the food does not come out all at once. For this reason, Tabellas encourages the sharing of dishes. This method has the added benefit of avoiding the use of heat lamps, thus ensuring the highest quality of food.

Local Burger in downtown Northampton (across from Fitzwilly’s Restaurant) also incorporates fresh, western Massachusetts ingredients. As the name indicates, many of the ingredients found on the menu come from farms in the area. This place may just be the best burger joint in the area. It’s definitely worth the drive to NoHo (or day trip on the B43 bus line) to sample one of their craveable, juicy burgers, or crispy, golden, über-delicious beer-battered onion rings. The Massachusetts Daily Collegian got the chance to catch up with one of the loyal workers at Local Burger, Brandon Hurtado.

When asked about what kinds of veggies and meats they utilize, Hurtado explains, “The limitations for what we can include in terms of vegetables are seasonal ingredients. We try to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible year round. Szawlowski Potato Farms in Hatfield [Massachusetts] is our main spud supplier for our french fries.” The fresh flavor of the fries and the veggies that top their burgers makes for a winning combination.

Local Burger takes advantage of cattle farms in the area, as well. On the subject of which farms they patronize for their top-notch burgers, Hurtado answers, “The grass-fed burgers we get from Chicoine Family Farm in Easthampton [Massachusetts] and the dry-aged beef we get from River Rock Farm in Brimfield [Massachusetts] are very popular.”

Dry aging is an expensive and rare process nowadays, reserved for only the highest quality meat with evenly distributed fat content. For this reason, this burger is a bit more expensive than the rest. The grass-fed beef is free of antibiotics, hormones, steroids, pesticides and herbicides. Burgers like this simply can’t be found anywhere else, so stop in today and try one.

Another restaurant that incorporates homegrown veggies is Alpha Pizza. Whether it’s their remarkably fresh, crisp veggies or their soft, fluffy grinder rolls, Alpha knows what they’re doing with local ingredients. When we interviewed co-owner Mark Avgoustakis back in February, he told us, “We use local grinders that we buy once or twice a day, and we restock when we need to. Additionally, we’ll go down to the farmer’s markets when they’re around and get vegetables grown locally. The Squash Company here in Belchertown [Massachusetts] is one of our big suppliers.”

Their hard work pays off in the form of their insanely delicious calzones. Vegetarians and omnivores alike can rejoice when they sink their teeth into a calzone stuffed with spinach, onions, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and garlic – all from different farms within the western Massachusetts area. Try one and see what the buzz is about.

Other suppliers in the immediate area that peddle fresh local goods are Atkins Farms and Portabella Fine Foods and Catering in Amherst, and Maple Farm Foods and Whole Foods in Hadley, Massachusetts. Other eateries in Amherst that deserve to be mentioned for using farm-fresh goods on their menu include Black Sheep Deli, Chez Albert, and Earthfoods Café in UMass’ student union.

It’s safe to say that the local food movement in Amherst is going strong. Look for the green “buy local” stickers at the markets next time, or even ask an employee if in doubt. Buying local helps the entire community, and ensures the highest nutritional value and quality of ingredients.

Brendan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]