My journalism career began in the Hilltowns.
In 2011, I was interviewed for a reporter’s position at The Berkshire Beacon, a small Lenox-based paper. Because I was visiting friends in the Pioneer Valley at the time, the publisher and I met at the Old Creamery in Cummington. I got the job, less than a year after graduating from Hampshire College, and the course of my life was forever altered.
A lot has happened since that successful interview in the Hilltowns.
My career has taken me from the Berkshires, to Cooperstown, New York, to Foxboro and finally to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where I’ve worked for more than three years. I’ve covered U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s 2012 primary challenge, talked with people in line for marijuana on the first day of legal recreational sales in Northampton, reviewed a Bruce Springsteen concert at Gillette Stadium, chronicled a community coming to terms with the crimes of a monster, and had the privilege of interviewing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And I’m thrilled to be covering the Hilltowns full-time now.
As someone who grew up on a farm in rural upstate New York, I’ve always enjoyed driving into the Hilltowns and covering stories, as being in deeply rural areas is familiar and enjoyable to me. At the same time, since I was driving along Route 9 from the Berkshires to the Pioneer Valley to visit friends, I knew there was so much in the Hilltowns I wasn’t seeing.
That’s where you all come in.
I started my Hilltowns coverage at the end of December, and I’ve been very pleased with both the different kinds of stories I’ve been able to cover and the warm welcome I’ve received. But since my beat encompasses eight communities, I’m going to need your help as readers to help me find the best stories possible. And when I say I’m interested in everything, I mean everything.
If you’re about to announce your candidacy for Select Board, I want to know first. If your business is about to have a big anniversary, I want to talk to you about what has changed over time — and what’s remained the same. If you’re experiencing hard times because of a crop failure, I want to interview you about that. If you know a piece of history the Gazette hasn’t covered in a while, I’m all ears. Ditto with any activism or charity work.
And if a bear invades your house, I want you to get to safety and then give me the scoop. (Yes, I know most black bears are going to run away once they see you, but I’d never count on that.)
Some of these stories will be news stories in the Gazette, while others will run as part of this column called Hilltown Digest.
You can send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can call me at 607-644-7836. I look forward to hearing from you all, and when this pandemic is over I’d like to start holding office hours in the communities I cover so you can tip me off in-person. Possibly at the Creamery.
In light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters has reduced its hours.
The Williamsburg coffee business is now open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with customers able to pick up coffee beans or ground coffee inside the shop or have it delivered to them curbside, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Previously the shop was open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on those three days. The change went into effect on Jan. 28.
“None of the factors that would help my business … happened,” said Melissa Krueger, the shop’s owner and sole employee. “Based on what I was seeing and reading it was likely we were going to have surges.”
Krueger has also discontinued offering burritos.
This isn’t the first change for Krueger and Elbow Room. The pandemic initially caused her to close the cafe side of the business, before reopening the cafe from June to October. The pandemic also made Krueger pivot to the shop’s coffee roasting business.
Krueger said that she hopes to be able to expand hours in March or April, but noted that “I can’t make any promises.”
“It’s all uncharted territory,” she said.
The Hilltown Community Development Corp. is offering a program that provides vouchers to qualifying residents that allow them to stretch their food purchases at local establishments.
Hilltown Food Bucks are available to those who are income-eligible in the towns of Ashfield, Blandford, Chester, Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery, Plainfield, Williamsburg and Worthington. And those who are 62 or older, have a child enrolled in Free and Reduced School Meals, are a resident of low-income housing, or are eligible for LIHEAP are being highly encourage to apply.
“This is a win-win for our community,” says Kate Bavelock, director of Community Programs at Hilltown CDC, in an announcement. “We know that keeping our dollars in the community is essential for the survival of our small farms and businesses, but staying closer to home also keeps us all safer. We are fortunate to have had a low incidence of COVID transmission in the Hilltowns, and making locally grown and available food more affordable allows us to protect each other while keeping good food on our families’ tables.”
Those utilizing the program can receive $100 to $125 worth of vouchers a month for five months. The vouchers can be spent at participating establishments as a match for dollar purchases of non-taxable food items. For instance $40 and $40 of Hilltown Food Bucks can buy $80 worth of food.
Participating stores are Blandford Country Store, Chester Village Market, Corners Grocery Store, Chesterfield General Store, Old Creamery Co-op, Moltenbrey’s Market and Williamsburg Market while participating farm stands are Crabapple Farm (call ahead), Cream of the Crop Farm Stand, Four Corners Farm, Good Bunch Farm, Hart Farm, Intervale Farm and Sawyer Farm.
According to the Hilltown CDC, upwards of $50,000 in coupons have been spent at local farm stands and grocery stores since July 2020.
Those wishing to apply can fill out the application at hilltowncdc.org/foodbucks. Those with questions can contact Bavelock at email@example.com or 413-296-4536 x 116.
Bera Dunau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.