Monday, June 22, 2009

Pick Your Own Strawberries!

This summer pick your own sun-ripened Berkshire Grown Strawberries!

Harvest is weather dependent, call ahead for picking details.

The Berry Patch, Stephentown, NY (518) 733-1234

Ioka Valley Farm, Hancock (413) 738-5915

Mountain View Farm, Lanesboro (413) 445-7642

Noble’s at Tweenbrook Farm, Pittsfield (413) 443-2210

Thompson Finch Farm, Ancram, NY (518) 329-7578

Monday, June 1, 2009

An Interview with Erica Heinlein and Joyce Nelson from Guido's Fresh Marketplace

Have you been to Guido's? With locations in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, this fresh market offers all types of natural and gourmet foods, from fresh breads and pastries to a large produce department to dairy to prepared foods and a deli. I had the opportunity to interview Joyce Nelson, Guido's webmaster and local products contact, and Erica Heinlein, the special events manager. You can find out more about Guido’s events and special tastings by visiting their website, or call Erica at 413-442-9912 x122.

How does Guido's connect with local farmers and producers, and go about choosing which products to sell?

JN: Most of our local suppliers are farmers with whom we’ve done business for many years. We maintain our connection to these “tried and true” farmers because their product is reliable, of excellent quality, and available in the quantity our stores require. It’s very important that farmers are able to meet these base line criteria; otherwise, we are not able to offer consistent high quality product to our customers.

Occasionally, a grower will approach us about purchasing a certain fruit or vegetable. Sometimes, we receive a phone call about a just-picked crop, or a farmer simply drives up to our dock with goods in his or her truck. Our buyers do a quick assessment, which would of course include inspection of the items offered, if possible, or close questioning about quality and condition. If the product meets our standards and is something we know our customers will purchase, we will negotiate a price and pass on the season’s local bounty to our clientele.

Because we have done business with a core group of growers for so long, our produce managers/buyers know just about when product will be available. We touch base with our local suppliers as harvests are due – or hear from the farmers themselves when they anticipate the “due date” of their products. We infrequently seek out new growers unless our established farmers experience crop failure or an unusual interruption of availability.

If customers don’t see a locally sourced fruit or vegetable that does indeed thrive in our climate, it’s generally because we have had lengthy experience trying to find a reliable supplier with no success. It can be frustrating for both our produce department and customers alike to find spotty availability, large price fluctuations or quality that varies significantly from day to day.

In summary, we follow these base line requirements: we need our farmers to be able to provide a steady supply of healthy, fresh, attractive products which have proven over time to sell well. We may occasionally make exceptions for exceptional products or circumstances, though overall our connection to local growers in a well-oiled machine built of many years’ experience.

Tell me about your community events. How can I find out about them?

EH: I would group our community events into three categories: donations, participation at events, and seasonal open houses.

Guido’s has a long-standing and year-round commitment to fulfilling requests of the community. We work closely with several pantries, area charities and advocacy groups, arts and student programs, and more. Every week, we sit and process the many requests we receive for food donations, advertising donations, and gift certificate donations. We respectfully request that those seeking a donation fill out our Donation Request Form in order to process the donation as expediently as possible. Please call Dona Senecal at 413-442-9912 x102 for more information.

The special events department represents Guido’s at several area events including Cultural Pittsfield’s Third Thursdays, Truck Day and BerkShares Bash in Great Barrington, community health expos all around the county, environmental and economic development expos, and more. We have two basic setups: an information based setup and a “market” based setup that sells a few kinds of produce and a few healthy beverages. We love being in the community, seeing our favorite customers and meeting new ones too! We post our participation in community events on our website.

Guido’s hosts several open houses throughout the year. 2009 will mark our 3rd annual Harvest Open House (October 17th and 18th) our 2nd Annual Gluten Free Weekend (November 7th and 8th), and our Third Annual Holiday Event this December. For the first time, Guido’s hosted a “Meet Your Local Food Hero month” during April 2009 with great response. We see the open houses as opportunities to present a “dream trip to Guido’s” for our customers. Each open house is different, but we always sample lots of food from all departments, provide cooking demonstrations, have great discounts, raffle prizes, and more (it’s a lot of fun!)

Another type of Open House Guido’s hosts is to benefit the community. In Spring 2008 and 2009, we put on wine tastings to benefit area non-profits. Also, we have hosted Chamber of Commerce networking events in the past and look forward to hosting two more this fall in our Great Barrington store.