Diversified Ag in West Mass

As we exited the Red Roof Inn to start another big day exploring ag in Western Massachusetts, we were greeted by a crisp 47 degree air temperature. We had a slight change in schedule and the 9:15 am late start was delightful. We mosied up to Sugarloaf Mountain which provided some epic views overlooking the Connecticut River, maple trees, fields of potatoes, sprouts, flowers, and strawberries to name a few. At one point in history, all the fields would have been tobacco crops.

The SUV caravan made a quick stop at Atkins Market where we found a mind-blowing diversity of all the local cucurbits in season, plenty of local grown produce, and value added products. All of the above had my stomach juices flowing. Luckily, Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery was our next stop.

After an “Utterly Delicious” lunch, we walked across the street and toured Barstow’s Longview Farm with Denise. TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN YEARS! The family dairy farm has been going since 1806 and Denise is the 7th generation to take the lead.

Less than five minutes into the tour, it became clear that in order to make it as a dairy farm in the 21st century they had to DIVERSIFY. This farm was very unique to me as they grew all their own feed for the cows in order to maximize nutritional intake. They farm 450 acres of hay and corn, which they turn into silage. Denise was hip to no till practices and land stewardship and is currently doing trials working with the USDA.

Before we got to see the happy cows, we passed by the anaerobic digester, another diversified facet to the farm. Although the digester took up a lot of space, it significantly helps reduce the farm and community’s energy footprint in more ways than one. Businesses in the area contribute food waste along with cow manure and milk curds from Longview Farm to fuel the digester which prevents 1 ton of food waste from going to the landfill each week. They also create a nutrient rich compost from the digestate and sell to the public and use as fertilizer for their fields. The automated milking machine had all of is in awe. The ladies were trained to milk themselves, saving Denise 8 hours of labor each day!

Our next stop was Atlas Farms and a modest farmer dude, Gideon Forth, led the operation and the tour. This post graduate school farmer manages 90 acres of certified organic vegetables.

As we toured, again the amount of diversification blew my mind. Market gardens, wholesale, farm store, high tech greenhouses allowing for winter growing seasons, CSA program, local dinner nights, and farm tours are a few of the ways Gideon makes the economics work at Atlas Farms.

Our last stop to the marathon day was Franklin County Community Development Center (FCCDC). We toured with the executive director John Wake. It’s a non profit organization that provides a slew of assistance to local businesses and farmers.They provide over a million dollars worth of food processing infrastructure and business consulting to help get startups off the ground and into the value added market.

They have programs where farmers can bring in their ingredients and recipes and work with staff to have them pump out a product. Thus, allowing farmers to focus on farming. It’s an outstanding facility and really helps the farmers and small businesses reach new levels of success. However, a key factor not to be overlooked is branding and marketing, which the businesses are responsible for. Need to brew 300 gallons of tea? From brew to bottle to labels, FCCDC has you covered with the equipment necessary to get the value added job done.

A recurrent theme amongst all the farms we’ve visited so far was the huge amount of diversification. Another theme I’ve noticed is how much these farmers support each other. They are well recognized by the state and the government which allows them to secure additional grants, investors, and support from the community. It really has opened my eyes to what is possible and will be a key takeaway for me as I head back to Hawaii and embark on my new business, Growing Together — Fruit Tree Services.

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