WILLIAMSTOWN -- Church Street resident Christopher Winters cleared a cluster of common Norwegian maple trees from his property for firewood roughly five years ago and replaced them with 25 dwarf fruit trees. In addition, a flock of 16 hens and two hives of honey bees now call his backyard home.
During a tour of his property Saturday, Winters described the highlights and challenges of raising livestock and growing his own food. He's at the mercy of the weather, for example, and must deal with meddlesome deer, birds and even bears, he said.
"It's amazing how people used to feed themselves when they were fighting rabbits, birds and deer," Winters said. "I don't know how they did it."
Winters' homestead was one of 16 on display during Saturday's first ever North Berkshire Homestead Tour, hosted by the all-volunteer group Hoosac Harvest. The local group aims to help connect the community with locally grown, healthy and sustainable food.
The event featured homes in Williamstown, North Adams, Adams and Stamford, Vt., where owners raised their own vegetables and livestock.
Lee Venolia, a Williamstown resident who is a core member of Hoosac Harvest, said tickets to the event helped subsidize Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares at Many Forks Farm in Clarksburg and Square Roots Farm in Lanesborough. This, along with programs encouraging farmers to donate extra crops to food pantries, helps increase access to local food, she said.
Venolia said she has been experimenting with edible landscaping in the front yard of her Stone Hill Road home for three years, using seven walled terraces that allowed her to take advantage of the hilly terrain.
"I like the idea that I'm growing not just flowers here, but edible things, too," she said.
Venolia's front yard features a wide range of edibles, from leafy greens, like arugula and rainbow chard, to radishes and garlic.
On Cherry Street in North Adams, Hoosac Harvest core member Sandra Thomas runs her homestead, called Urban Farm Organics, with her sister Janice. The backyard features a large vegetable garden, fruit trees, grape vines, rain barrels for collecting water for reuse, and two bee hives. The garden provides about 60 percent of the food needed for three adults, Thomas said.
"We have a lot of standard things like squash, cucumbers, onions, broccoli, asparagus," she said.
They even grow mint and hyssop, a licorice-flavored flower plant, to create simple syrup for sodas, she said.
Thomas said while taking care of the homestead is more work, the trade-off comes with cost-savings, and it also represents a philosophy.
"We believe in lowering our impact and being more self-sustainable," she said. "Also, it's fun."
Also on display were the North Adams Public Schools Community Garden, at 931 South Church St.; the Houghton Street Community Garden, at the corner of Houghton and Parker streets; and the North Adams Community Oven, located on River Street in the field across from the Porches Inn.
Thomas said she was pleased with the turnout for the first event and hoped future years would grow. Exact figures on attendance were not available as of press time.
"We wanted to show people what they could do themselves," she said.
For more information about Hoosac Harvest, visit hoosacharvest.org.
To reach Edward Damon, email