Guests are asked to taste food as well as consider its source.
Deborah Christakos, the owner of Pioneer Valley Food Tours, wants to spread the word about the number, variety, and quality of restaurants in the area and the richness and freshness of the food grown in the Pioneer Valley.
"We don't know how lucky we are to live here," she said. "There are fantastic restaurants all over the Valley." Deborah's most popular tour is the Northampton Food Tour. The tour introduces customers to local food producers, restaurants, and gourmet shops. "Guests taste a selection of specialties that include award-winning cheeses, pasture-raised meats, artisanal bread, frozen yogurt, hand-made pastries, heirloom ciders, and craft beers.
"Before Covid, chefs and proprietors would come out to meet the guests, have a nice chat and a laugh. I look forward to that happening again."
There's also the Northampton Vegetarian Tour. Northampton is known for eateries that offer inspired vegetarian dishes. The wide variety of local produce available year-round has made Northampton a mecca for vegetarians and lovers of fresh farm produce. In town -- as well as in the Pioneer Valley in general-- there are many natural food stores and artisanal food producers
Deborah wants the guests on her tours to know about and understand the importance of local farms. "I want people to notice and consider the source of the food. We see the food on our plate and eat it happily, but we don't always consider what it took to get that food on that plate." On the tour, the guides discuss at length the rich history of small farms in the region.
She explained, "We've been so fortunate, here in Western Massachusetts, to have maintained the small farm system. Unlike many states, Massachusetts has a land trust program that protects and fosters small farms.'
Farm land trusts are non-profit organizations whose mission is to maintain local farmland for generations; they protect the land from being bought by developers. When farmland becomes available -- perhaps the farmer has passed away or wants to downsize their acreage -- the land trust buys the land to then be sold to small farmers at affordable prices. Developers and their big commercial farms are cut out of the equation.
"In states where there are no land trusts, developers take over," she added.
Deborah concluded, "The farms and producers of the Pioneer Valley have been central to creating a culinary landscape. Maybe it's time to discover it!"