Western Massachusetts’ Fall Classics Inspire Community-Based Learning
Another glorious New England autumn is here, bringing with it shorter days, cooler nights, and a cornucopia of seasonal and cultural darlings to celebrate! Families in western Massachusetts can celebrate fall by visiting local farms, enjoying fall-harvested foods, leaf-peeping, and engaging in cultural celebrations honoring the season.
APPLES, PUMPKINS & EVERGREENS
Apples, one of the earliest (and most delicious) signs of fall, have been an important part of New England agriculture for centuries. McIntosh apples are undeniably the most iconic of New England’s apples, and make up over two thirds of the regions apple crop! Macs and countless other delicious and fascinating varieties of apples are grown at orchards across western Massachusetts, and families can enjoy this year’s fantastic apple crop by visiting an orchard to pick or purchase a bushel. Find an orchard to pick your own by taking advice from our readers or perusing our list of local PYO orchards.
Learning how to pick apples can be an excellent mini lesson in botany. In this short video, from the New England Apple Growers Association, not only do they share the etiquette of PYO orchards, but the how to properly pick:
Harvested later than apples, pumpkins are yet another sure sign of fall that somehow make their way onto our front steps and into our food just as the chilly air of fall arrives. Called “pompions” by the first European colonists, pumpkins were a food essential to winter survival – and they were grown in many more varieties than they typically are today. Keep the history of pumpkins in mind this fall while eating, picking, and decorating with the squash cultivars, and be sure to visit a local farm for pick-your-own pumpkins. After Halloween, leave your family’s jack-o-lanterns around and watch them rot – it makes a cheap, easy, and disgusting (yet fascinating) science project!
In the late fall, just after Thanksgiving, tree farms open, giving families an opportunity to pick the perfect locally grown evergreen tree for their holiday celebration as fall departs and winter arrives.
VISTAS FOR LEAF PEEPING
In addition to bountiful harvests, autumn brings with a dramatic change in the color scheme of the local landscape. Leaf peeping is a favorite activity of folks from out of state – and for good reason! Make time to get outside as a family this fall and explore the brilliant red, orange, and yellow that the woods have to offer. The best leaf peeping excursions are ones that include not only woods walking but a view from a high place. We recommend…
- Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke
- Mt. Holyoke in Hadley’s Skinner State Park
- Mt. Sugarloaf State Reservation in Deerfield
- Historic Poet’s Seat Tower in Greenfield
- Shelburne’s High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary or Fire Tower Trail (which give very different views from two separate points on the same ridge)
- Pony Mountain in Ashfield.
- Berkshire Natural Resource Council’s Hoosac Range Trail in North Adams
- Stockbridge’s Laura’s Tower Trail (home to an observation tower)
After apple-picking, pumpkin carving, and leaf peeping have all been crossed off of autumn bucket lists, there are still numerous fall festivals to enjoy! Local festivals held during the autumn months celebrate not only to bounty of the season, but the local cultural traditions associated with it.
The first of such festivals is the annual North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival held in Orange on September 26th and 27th. Self-described as, “two days of peace, love, and garlic,” the festival draws crowds to celebrate local art and agricultural, and showcases the best that the region has to offer within these realms.
Following the Garlic & Arts Festival is Conway’s Festival of the Hills, the highlight of which is a skillet toss competition. Held on Sunday, October 5th, the Festival of the Hills also features a log-splitting contest (with both men’s and women’s divisions), a 10k road race, and children’s activities.
During Columbus Day weekend, families can head into the northern hilltowns for the beloved Ashfield Fall Festival, which fills downtown Ashfield with delicious fall food, local vendors, and – best of all – a midway filled with kid-made and kid-run games! This year’s Ashfield Fall Festival will be held on October 11th and 12th, and will feature a special PumkinGames event (think musical pumpkins, pumpkin bowling, etc.) at 12noon on the 11th. Further fall frolicking and pumpkin-rolling can be done at the Westhampton Fall Festival, a late-October event which features the Great Pumpkin Roll – an annual tradition that sends scores of pumpkins rolling down a very steep hill.
Western Massachusetts’ fall festival season concludes with the 21st annual Franklin County CiderDays, held on November 7th and 8th. A weekend jam-packed with educational opportunities, tastings, tours, and more, CiderDays spotlights the tradition of cider-making in Franklin County by honoring the history of the art in local communities and bringing cider-makers together to share the tips, tricks, and taste of the trade. While some CiderDays events require tickets to be purchased in advance, many tastings, tours, and other events are free and open to all ages – and all require a visit to the beautiful hills of the northeastern corner of our region.