Horses power equipment, operations at Amherst farm


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Monty and Rose, two dark-brown Percheron draft horses, provide the muscle at Amethyst Farm on North East Street.

They do the work tractors used to do: preparing cut hay in the fields, hauling manure to fertilize crops, even plowing the farm’s driveway during the winter.

“I love being able to hear and not have the noise and pollution while I’m going in the field,” said Bernard Brennan, the co-owner of Amethyst Farm, which boards and trains horses. “Any time I’m taking the horses out I’m not burning fossil fuels.”

Brennan, 42, a former professor of evolutionary biology at Yale University, is one of a small Continue reading

After Graduating From College, It’s Time to Plow, Plant and Harvest

The New York Times


September 24, 2012

RED HOOK, N.Y. — It was harvest time, and several farm hands were hunched over a bed of sweet potatoes under the midday sun, elbow deep in soil for $10 an hour. But they were not typical laborers.

Jeff Arnold, 28, who has learned how to expertly maneuver a tractor, graduated from Colorado State University. Abe Bobman, 24, who studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, was clearing vines alongside Nate Krauss-Malett, 25, who went to Continue reading

Update on Sustainable Food and Farming Grad – Mike Gula

The following story was originally posted in the Simple Gifts Newsletter.


Meet the Crew: Mike Gula

It may have been a trick of the light, but Mike Gula thinks that he may have found paradise at Simple Gifts Farm one evening last year when a hazy yellow sky illuminated the strawberry fields in June. I have seen that light too, from the Festival Hill after a long day, and think I know what he means.

Most moments at the farm are mundane, but Mike finds the everyday work and community here satisfying. Mike grew up in New Bedford and Wareham. Although not a farm kid, his dad kept a garden and they spent a lot of time outdoors exploring the pine barrens and beaches of southeastern Massachusetts. His experiences in nature lead to his major in Plant and Soil Science at the University of Massachusetts. While at UMass, Mike was part of the Student Farming Enterprise, and this gave him a good basis to dive into the work here. However, our scale and degree of mechanization, and the Continue reading

NYT – Celebrate the Farmer

August 21, 2012, 8:30 pm

Celebrate the Farmer!


I was at a farm dinner in Maine the other night, a long table of 60 people eating corn, chicken, salad, a spectacular herb sorbet and other goodies. When one of the hosts arose to ask someone to describe the first course on the table – huge marrow bones from the farm’s cattle- she introduced not the chef but the farmers. Similarly, at a fund-raiser on Cape Cod a week or so earlier, the talk was all about the provenance of the produce and meat rather than the cooking technique. The most popular guy was the oyster grower.

This is a fine trend. With all due respect to my chef friends (many of whom will agree with this statement), most cooking is dead-easy and pretty quick: it takes 20 minutes to roast a marrow bone, and an ambitious fifth-grader can get it right on the first try. A more complicated dish, like the seared corn with chorizo that was served a bit later, might consume an hour and require a bit of skill.

But raising and butchering the cows and pigs that produced the marrow bones and meat for the chorizo? Growing the corn? These are tasks that take weeks, if not months, of daily activity and maintenance. Like anything else, you can get good at it, but the challenges that nature (ask the corn farmers of Kansas) and the market (ask Tyson Foods, whose profits just fell 61 percent) throw at you are never even close to being under control in the same way that a cook controls the kitchen.

What a cook doesn’t control is ingredients, and that’s where the debt to farmers comes in. In the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve seen the best New York chefs scouring the Greenmarket weekly and setting up exclusive relationships with farmers throughout the Northeast; that kind of behavior is nationwide. And even before that, Alice Waters hired people full-time to make sure the ingredients her people cooked with were the best.

Since late summer brings more real food to more people than other times, right now the rest of us can eat as well as if we had our own chef. Whether it’s a salad of raw tomatoes, peaches and basil, a dish of roasted eggplant with nothing more than soy sauce, a real chicken smeared with a paste of fresh herbs, it’s all right out there. In much of the country, even some conventional supermarkets purchase from nearby farms. On my recent trip through New England, I saw a bin of corn being filled from burlap sacks by a guy (a farmer, I presume) who’d driven up in a pickup; there was a similar scene involving cucumbers. Big deal, but it shows it can be done.

The cry will ring out: Not everyone can afford fresh fruits and vegetables, especially from farm stands! And, sadly, it’s true. But this is precisely why we need to support a herd of actions that will make it possible for more people to have access to real food:

  • We need to reduce unemployment and increase the minimum wage (including that for farm and restaurant workers). This (obviously) goes beyond the realm of food, but it’s key to improving the quality of life for many if not most Americans. (Here’s a strong argument for that.)
  • We need to not cut but raise the amount of support we give to recipients of food stamps. A good example is New York City’s Health Bucks program, where food stamps are worth more at farmers’ markets (which don’t, as a rule, sell sugar-sweetened beverages!).
  • We need not only to attack the nonsensical and wasteful system that pays for corn and soybeans to be grown to create junk food and ethanol, but to support local and national legislation that encourages the birth of new small-and-medium farms. We need to encourage both new and established farms to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, to raise animals in sensible ways and, using a combination of modern and time-tested techniques, treat those animals well and use their products sensibly.

In short, we need more real farmers, not businessmen riding on half-million-dollar combines. And if you haven’t seen a real farmer, go visit a one- or two-acre intensive garden; it’s a mind-blowing thing, how much can be grown in a relatively small space. Then imagine thousands of 10-, 20- and 100-acre farms planted similarly: the vegetables sold regionally, the pigs fed from scraps, the compost fertilizing the soil, the cattle at pasture, the milk making cheese .

The naysayers will yell, “this mode of farming will not produce enough corn and soy to feed our junk food and cheeseburger habit,” and that’s exactly the point. It would produce enough food so that we can all eat well. It’d produce enough food so we can slow the hysteria about our inability to feed the expected 9 billion earthlings. After all, we’re not doing such a great job of feeding the current 7 billion. Why? Largely because too many resources go into producing junk food and animal products.

The Northeast, where everything but dairy farming was left for dead a decade ago, and where many dairy farmers hold on for dear life, was once its own breadbasket; sometimes it feels as if it can become that again. Local food grown by local farmers is a wonderful thing; more food grown by farmers who sell regionally brings a level of practicality to the system. Boats and trains from all over the Northeast once supplied New York City (obviously incapable of producing much in the way of truly “local” food, unless you envision re-converting Westchester, Nassau, Bergen and Fairfield counties to farmland) with food that was picked during the day, shipped at night, and sold the next day. By comparison, the parsley sitting in your supermarket right now is at least a week old and probably older, barring some incredible good fortune.

Real farmers, like gardeners, take pride in every tomato. And while agribusiness continues to try to find a way to produce a decent-tasting tomato (there’s a new scheme now; it won’t work), anyone who wants to can buy tomatoes and other fantastic produce until Thanksgiving, and – in much of the country and without much effort – well into the early winter. The thrill of seasonality – not only real tomatoes but firm eggplants and cucumbers with super flavor and minimal seeds, arugula that demonstrates why it was once called rocket, peaches with loads of fuzz and so on – reminds me why I don’t often buy those things out of season.

But to get these beautiful veggies, we need real farmers who grow real food, and the will to reform a broken food system. And for that, we need not only to celebrate farmers, but also to advocate for them.


Please share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now or check out my web page Just Food Now.   And go here for my posts.

Willie Crosby – Intern at Simple Gifts Farm

This may come as a surprise, but when Willie Crosby was in high school, he had a pretty clear idea that he wanted to work as a greenskeeper at a golf course. Growing up in Boxborough, Massachusetts, he played golf with his family, and worked mowing lawns every summer. The neat lines and fresh smell of a just-mowed lawn were really pleasing to him. So, it actually was no surprise that he enrolled at University of Massachusetts as a Turfgrass major and spent two summers tending the turf at a golf course.
However, as he continued his studies and work, he became less sure about his path. Keeping up turf takes a huge effort and heavy inputs, and Willie wanted to put that effort into work that he felt had a deeper value. At the same time, he began to keep a small garden, and became friends with some of the Sustainable Food and Farming students studying in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture Program. Growing food pulled him in. Soon he was involved in the UMass Student Farm, a two-acre student-run farm that offers a fall CSA. He also spent some time volunteering at Simple Gifts Farm, and joined the crew as an apprentice this season.
Willie loves digging in the soil and appreciating the amazing food that comes from the good earth. Eating the produce is his very favorite part of working at the farm – especially all the melons right now. He also likes working with the animals. In fact, he and a friend started their own small flock of laying hens and ducks, and he has enjoyed raising them up from little chicks. Although some farm tasks are difficult – moving wet Remay (floating row cover fabric that protects crops from frost and insects) comes to mind – he mindfully takes the challenges in stride.

In any spare time, you can often find Willie outdoors. Swimming is a favorite way to relax and burn off any extra energy, and he also likes experimenting with growing culinary mushrooms and gathering herbs. When I asked Willie if he still had secret plans for a manicured lawn in his future, he exclaimed, “No way!” – he envisions an overgrown meadow, forests and gardens. Growing and sharing food will definitely be part of his future, although not necessarily his profession. He plans to study to become a yoga teacher next year at Karuna Yoga in Northampton. We’re glad he’ll still be in the neighborhood, and greatly appreciate his calm, positive presence on the crew.

Reprinted from the Simple Gifts Farm Newsletter – August 7, 2012

Alissa Martin’s Small Farm stand taking root in Deerfield

By Daily Hampshire Gazette
Created 07/24/2012 – 5:00am

DEERFIELD – On a half-acre plot at 477 Greenfield Road, Alissa Martin has opened her first farm stand, called, appropriately enough, The Small Farm. Yet despite its name and size, The Small Farm grows and sells over 80 varieties of vegetables.

The vegetable farm springs from unexpected roots.

Martin had studied documentary film production at Emerson College in Boston when she landed her dream job working for the public broadcasting station WGBH in Boston.

But as she began her new job, she found herself wishing she could work outside. In 2008, Martin volunteered at a friend’s farm in Dover in exchange for vegetables. She fell in love.

Finding her new calling in the farming industry, Martin enrolled in the University of Massachusetts Amherst to receive her second bachelor’s degree in sustainable food and farming.

After reading about maple sugaring, Martin visited the Williams Farm Sugarhouse on Routes 5 and 10, where she met her fiancé, Chip Williams.

Martin then began growing vegetables in preparation for their September wedding.

“I worked on farms for the past four summers,” Martin said. “I couldn’t bear the thought of buying vegetables when that’s what I love to do. I got carried away and Chip encouraged me to have this little stand.”

Martin set up her stand beside the former Old Deerfield Landscaping and Garden Center in what used to be a bird seed shed.

Wanting to reflect simplicity, she chose the name The Small Farm, and feels it fit perfectly.

“Things keep falling into place,” Martin said.

It has been one month since Martin began her farming venture, but the Small Farm is already attracting new and repeat customers.

“Each week it’s getting better and better. It’s amazing,” Martin said. “Being out here, people will come by and chat. I’ve met a ton of new people in Deerfield.”

Part of the appeal, Martin said, is she grows the produce right beside the farm stand. If a customer wants an herb, berry or flower not yet on the stand, Martin can walk over and pick it.

The Small Farm grows many different types of vegetables, including Walla Walla sweet onions, Derby Day cabbage, Bright Lights Swiss chard, Red Ace beets and Super Red 80 cabbage. The farm offers three varieties of onions, two of carrots, three types of kale, five of peppers, 18 kinds of heirloom tomatoes and much more.

Martin follows organic practices, but the farm is not certified organic. Whether she will apply for the certification in the future, she said, depends on how this season fares.

“I’ll see how this summer goes. I’m taking it day by day,” Martin said.

The Small Farm is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 2 to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit [1].

Daily Hampshire Gazette © 2011 All rights reserved


While at UMass, Alissa studied sustainable farming by taking the Student Farming Enterprise  class, which plans, plants, grows and sells organic vegetables.  Students can earn up to 10 college credit and gain summer employment in this innovative course.

See Sustainable Food and Farming for more information on the UMass major.

A young farmer from Columbia in the Pioneer Valley

This is my friend Juan Mendez from Enterprise Farms in Whately Massachusetts.  Juan was born in Columbia in a farming village.  He made his way to America to continue farming here and pursue education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  Juan is a friend of mine, and a wonderful person.  He LOVES farming.  Always coming home with a bag of freshly grown vegetables for all of us to enjoy.  Juan has a background in permaculture and soil building, and he applies his knowledge every day at Enterprise Farm.


It’s awesome to hear someone who’s traveled far to take up farming in the Pioneer Valley which he thinks is the best place for farming in America.  Special thanks to Juan for letting me interview him.

Gregory Connor

An interview with Adam, a young farmer in the Pioneer Valley

Adam Dole is a hard working farmer here in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.  I had the pleasure of taking classes with Adam as we were both working towards our B.S. degrees in the Sustainable Food and Farming program at UMass Amherst.  Adam’s interview, tells us a little bit about himself, his path and how he started his projects at “Solid Ground farm” located at the New England Small Farms Institute in Belchertown, MA.  He has a background in sustainable agriculture, and follows permaculture principles coupled with Japanese farming techniques.  Adam is growing local grain through his business known as White Oak Grains.  He is working towards getting more and more vegetable CSA shares sold and often distributes products at local farmers markets.


Adam is a great young man and a hardworking local farmer and I wish him the best in his endeavors.

Gregory Connor

Joe Swartz on “why he farms”

Joe Swartz is the owner of the Swartz Family Farm and along with Sarah Swartz manages the Meadow Street Market (the big blue barn) in North Amherst, MA.

The market is a year round outlet for fresh vegetables, local food products and crafts.  A great place to visit on Tuesday and Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.

Joe spoke at a community “fireside chat” about his experience growing up in North Amherst and farming today.  This event was sponsored by the North Amherst Community Farm community organization.  Please see this 5-minute clip and share it with friends who want to understand what motivates farmers.


Be sure to stop by the Meadow Street Market and say hello to Joe and Sarah:

Tuesday 3:30pm –  7:30pm

Friday 3:00pm – 7:30pm

Saturday 9:00am – 2:00pm




According to SFF grad “farming is cool now”

Farming is growing in popularity among recent college graduates, fed by concerns over nutrition and a weak job market.

The 24-year-old new owner of Full Heart Farm in Ledyard is one of them.

Allyson Angelini, who graduated from the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming program, last week took over the 6.25-acre property at 193 Iron St. She plans to get married on the farm in about a year.

“It doesn’t take much to fall in love with farming,” said Angelini, who gave up a desire to be a magazine journalist and instead got an agricultural education degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009. “And farming is really cool now, and that feeling is growing.”

Erin Pirro, who supervises the Outstanding Young Farmer program in Connecticut, agreed.

“Farming is becoming sexy again,” she said. “Americans have become out of touch with their food supplies. There’s a lot of passion for locally grown food.”

Farming still has a predominately older demographic, according to the U.S. Agriculture Census. For every farmer under 35, there are six over 65, the latest census said.

Angelini’s age enabled her to be considered “disadvantaged” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, making her eligible for the agency’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers loan program.

Angelini has traveled in 5.5 years of researching farming, including working at a Stonington educational facility known as Terra Firma Farm and on a pork farm in Italy. She left her job at Jones Family Farms in Shelton in September to try to secure a farm in New London County.

Encouragement and assistance from elders is encouraging more 20-somethings to go into farming, Angelini said. Bob Burns, owner of Aiki Farms in Ledyard, was recently at Full Heart Farm, using his John Deere tractor to plow and harrow a portion of the land.

“(Angelini) is a delightful person, and Aiki Farms will support them as neighbors and fellow farmers,” said Burns, who is manager of the Ledyard Farmers Market, where Angelini plans to sell some her crops including beans, carrots, potatoes, squash and tomatoes.

Her parents, Greg and Sally Angelini, have been coming to Full Heart to help. Brother Ryan Angelini, who works at Electric Boat Corp., has also been assisting with repair projects. Keith Padin, Allyson Angelini’s fiancé, is a full partner in Full Heart, and his parents recently made their first visit to the farm.

“It’s hard to start a family farm without family around,” Allyson said.

Allyson and Keith are promoting that family feeling by giving names to each of their chickens and pigs.

Locally raised meat and produce strengthens family ties, Angelini said. And — on pure taste alone — local farming competes strongly, she said.

“Once you have farm-fresh eggs and homemade bacon, you never go back,” Angelini said.
Love of animals and land is not enough for a farmer these days, Angelini said.

“Young farmers need a wide skill set,” Angelini said. “There is so much diversity in the farm habitat.”