Read about more farms below!
- Sweet Brook Farm
- Square Roots Farm
- Justamere Tree Farm
- Elmartin Farm
- Hawk Dance Farm
- When Pigs Fly Farm
- Moon in the Pond Farm
- East Mountain Farm
- Mighty Food Farm
SWEET BROOK FARM
by Anthony Raduazo
Driving up the gravel road to Sweet Brook Farm, in Williamstown, one is immediately struck by its beauty. Directly to the east looms Mount Greylock; small groves of sugar maple and paper birch dot a landscape of rolling pasture. The dense forest that encloses the farm gives the place a comforting sense of seclusion. If not for the hum of a diesel tractor in the distance, it would be easy to feel wonderfully alone here.
At first glance, Sweet Brook Farm epitomizes the very ideal of traditional New England pastoral life. That is, until you notice the odd-looking animals grazing in the distance. With their long, elegant necks, slender legs, and shaggy bodies, the creatures look different from the standard bovine in Berkshire County. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that they are not cattle at all – they are alpaca.
Beth Phelps and her husband, Pete, have been raising alpaca since 2006. After being laid off from her managerial position at AT&T, Beth felt that a drastic change was in order. Sweet Brook Farm initially began as a small-scale vegetable operation, selling primarily at the Williamstown Farmers’ Market. Beth, however, was not content “just watching the grass grow.” Interested in fiber animals, Beth began researching alpaca after seeing a television ad on the alpaca industry. She arranged for a visit to an alpaca farm in Salem, Massachusetts where she “fell in love with the animals immediately.”
Sweet Brook Farm is now selling alpaca yarn that is nationally renowned for its consistency and texture. Mimi, the Phelpses’ most prized animal, has won multiple championships at the prestigious North American Alpaca Show. Mimi is just one of nearly a dozen award-winning alpacas in the Phelps’ possession. Beth and Pete sell the alpaca yarn and clothing at local farmers’ markets and at their recently-opened farm store.
The success that the Phelpses have had with alpaca has not dissuaded them from entering other markets. In 2010, Pete Phelps decided to use his training as a chemist to start maple-syrup production. “It was sort of a midlife crisis for my husband,” Beth explains, laughing. Pete’s father, Norris, had run an old sugarhouse on the farm while he was alive. She continues, “It was really a childhood dream of Pete’s.”
The state-of-the-art sugaring facility that Beth shows off looks nothing like the traditional sugarhouse that Norris used. Beth patiently describes the functions of the numerous tubes and apparatuses that lead to a series of enormous silver cauldrons where the maple syrup is finally stored. In their first year, the Phelpses produced 1,300 gallons of maple syrup; in the second, 1,600 gallons.
In those first years, Sweet Brook did not sell all the maple that it produced, but Beth and Pete remained optimistic that there was a demand for products like maple candies and maple-glazed nuts as corporate or seasonal gifts. They also ventured into agrotourism, exploring the market for horse-drawn wagon rides as well as sugarhouse tours to visitors. Such a move reflected a broader trend among Berkshire County farmers toward highly specialized, niche markets.
The Phelps family is now in its ninth generation of farming in Williamstown. Sweet Brook Farm probably looks a lot different than when Cassius Phelps, Pete’s great-grandfather, first purchased the land. There were certainly no alpacas roaming the property. Yet, its very existence is a story of persistence. Farmers from all periods of history were forced to adapt to changing economic and social climates to survive. In the 21st century, the Phelpses are doing just that.
by Anthony Raduazo
photo by Gina Iannitelli
When asked why he had decided to start farming, Michael Gallagher’s face turns quizzical. He appears to be at a loss for words. His partner, Ashley Amsden, replies, smiling, “You know someone really loves doing something when they can’t explain why they do it.”
The love that Gallagher and Amsden share for farming is immediately apparent. Despite a long day of hard labor, the faces of the two brim with optimism and hope. “It is meaningful work that is emotionally, physically, and intellectually challenging,” Gallagher finally responds.
Gallagher, a native of Cheshire, first got a taste of farm life in high school when he used to bail hay for local farms in Lanesborough. But, as he puts it, “I got away from it. I didn’t think I could make any money at it.” After graduating with degrees in Russian and Biology at Williams College, Gallagher spent a few years teaching high school math with the Mississippi Teacher Corps. Dissatisfied with the profession, Gallagher’s experience ultimately made him reconsider farming as a career.
In 2009, Gallagher and Amsden met as apprentices on the same farm in Vermont. The two began Square Roots Farm, a small sustainable farm in Clarksburg, a year later. They are not only the owners of one of Berkshire County’s youngest farms – they are also two of Berkshire County’s youngest farmers.
If the couple’s age and experience has put them at any disadvantage, it has not shown. Their CSA shares have grown dramatically since their first season and they have expanded their livestock production as well, which includes pastured broiler chickens, turkeys, ducks, beef, pork and lamb. They’ve also done business with high-end restaurants in the North Adams area such as Gramercy Bistro and The Elf Parlor.
The CSA model has proven essential to the farm’s success. The 20 shares sold in their first growing season provided Gallagher and Amsden with the necessary cash to lease the piece of land on which Square Roots Farm originally sat [Gallagher and Amsden have since bought their own farmland in Lanesborough]. It has also benefitted the local community. Hoosac Harvest subsidizes some of the farm’s shares in an effort to make locally grown food more accessible to underprivileged consumers in North Adams and Clarksburg. “We wanted to include as much of the community as possible,” Gallagher notes.
Despite their success, the couple has continually wanted to do more. Over the span of a few years they built a poultry-processing facility, began producing eggs and explored the market for winter salad greens. In 2011, Gallagher and Amsden received a state grant to build a greenhouse on the southern end of their property with the hope that its completion would bring in additional revenue in the slow winter months.
“We want modest growth,” Amsden says. They intend to cap the number of CSA shares they’ll sell in future seasons and hope to be able to sustain their farm without having to hire additional labor.
As Gallagher leads his guests through neat rows of potatoes, the couple’s resolve to remain small-scale becomes immediately comprehensible – the two are committed to producing high quality food in a conscientious and humane manner. He spots a cluster of potato beetles and stoops to brush them off the plants’ delicate leaves. Gallagher continues walking for a moment then stops short, noticing another batch of the pesky critters. Forgetting that he is not alone, he becomes totally absorbed with his work. Ashley, still aware of her guests’ presence, softly chides, “We’ll get back to this later Michael.” “All right,” Gallagher grumbles. He tries to maintain a smile throughout the rest of the visit, but it’s obvious – he has potatoes on his mind.
by Nichole Calero
Farms don’t exist only in the low-lying floodplains, they can be found all over. What is farmed depends on location; but what kind of farming can be done in the densely forested hill town of Worthington, MA? J.P. and Marian Welch found a way to farm there; for the past 30 years they have made a home, and a livelihood, as the owners of Justamere Tree Farm.
What does tree farming entail? For the Welches it involves more than 50 acres of land, maintenance of a healthy forest, and a drive to be as independent as possible. “We saw a window where we could possibly live off the land,” says Marian. The work that the Welches do is varied, but each aspect uses trees sustainably; this means no chemical fertilizers, planting new trees each year, and keeping the forest intact to preserve the health of the land. So if you imagined tree farming to mean Christmas trees you’d be right; if you pictured tapping maples and sugaring you’d also be correct. These are two of the three types of production that make up the Welches’ livelihood. The third aspect is handmade brooms, for which they wild-harvest sassafras for the handles. With such a varied yet sustainable lifestyle, it’s easy to see that the Welches put a lot of thought into their farm.
“We didn’t have a master plan” says J.P. “We still don’t. Everything we did just kind of evolved.” The Welches’ evolution began in 1982 when they purchased their property on Patterson Road. Shortly afterward, the Christmas-tree farm became the first part of their venture. It was during the wait for their first saplings to grow that the second part emerged. “We had to keep from getting bored,” says J.P. The purchase of a handmade broom, combined with the gift of some broom-corn seed, inspired the Welches to learn the craft of broom making. In a book of old-time crafts from the Foxfire series, they found one style of broom. After mastering that, they took a workshop at Hancock Shaker Village, learning the Shaker style. Over the years they kept studying and today they produce seven distinct types of brooms. Their mastering of this artisanal craft has won recognition from Martha Stewart, who featured J.P. and their brooms on her show. But long before Martha made them nationally known, the Welches had incorporated another old-timey craft into their production: maple sugaring.
This part of their production began when they helped a neighbor tap trees one year. Today it is the largest area of their production, and uses the majority of the land. Keeping true to their desire to live sustainably, the Welches have developed a highly efficient and eco-friendly method for tapping and sugaring. Thousands of feet of tubing run from maples throughout their own 25 acre property and adjoining acres that belong to neighbors. This tubing is part of their collection system and is completely airtight, allowing sap to flow directly into a holding tank. From there the sap is filtered twice, removing water and allowing sugar to remain, which cuts down on boil time. Finally the Welches have installed a wood fired smokeless boiler, designed to ignite all gasses released during burning and direct the heat straight to the boiling pans. This increases the energy efficiency of their boiler while at the same time reducing CO2 emissions from smoke, making their system overall more energy efficient and eco-savvy.
The Welches are busy each season of the year: during the winter they sell cut Christmas trees and offer cut-your-own trees at their farm; during the spring they sugar; during the summer and fall they have booths at farmers’ markets and fairs throughout New England; all year round they make brooms, maintain the land, and ship orders for maple products and brooms placed on their website. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s so important,” says Marian.
By Anthony Raduazo
Everett “Gus” Martin, at age 80, is not new to agriculture. When asked when he had first started farming, Gus looks bewildered. It’s as if someone had asked him when he had taken his first breath. “Well, I grew up on this farm,” he says, “My family has always farmed.” The statement was not meant to be hyperbolic. The Martins have been farming in Cheshire, Massachusetts ever since Edward Martin first moved to the town in 1790. Gus, the current owner and operator of Elmartin Farm, is of the seventh generation of Martin farmers in Cheshire.
At one point, the farm was one of eighteen dairies in Cheshire, Massachusetts with its own retail milk route. “We used to milk eighty cows,” says Gus. In the 1980’s, the price of milk plummeted with the emergence of national dairy producers such as Garelick and Cumberland Farms. With falling dairy prices came a parallel decline in the livelihoods of New England dairy farmers. The “overbearing workload” required to make ends meet under such economic conditions forced the Martins to reconsider the direction of the farm. Now, only one farm continues to produce dairy in Cheshire; Elmartin is one of the many New England farms that have been forced to give up the trade.
The transition to other areas of agriculture has not been easy. “The farm has just slid along for twenty-something years,” says Gus. During that time, Elmartin primarily produced hay. With 418 acres of workable land, Elmartin farm certainly has the acreage to turn out a lot of hay. Gus and his two sons, Kim and Everett, however, want to work with livestock again.
Elmartin farm is already producing a small quantity of beef and pork that is sold wholesale or directly from their barn. With the installation of a new industrial freezer, though, the Martins are hoping to greatly expand their meat production. “We already have two or three real good markets lined up with the beef,” says Gus. Ultimately, the Martins are hoping to be in a position where they are able to supply 100 lbs. of beef per week to local restaurants. Such an increase in production will require additional labor at the farm. “I want my sons to work the farm full-time with a little extra help,” says Gus.
With new investments being made in machinery and labor, the Martins are hoping to restore Elmartin Farm to the condition that it once was. “We’re really at a hobby stage right now,” says Steph, Gus’s daughter-in-law. Outside, behind the farmhouse, Steph’s children run around an old swing set. The two children are members of the ninth generation of Martins reared in Cheshire. Gus hopes that they will continue the farming tradition on Elmartin Farm after he dies. “I don’t know how to put it into words,” Gus says of what it means to him that the farm remains in the family. He looks upon his grandchildren who prance around the yard before running off into the old dairy barn to visit the pigs, “I’m just thankful to be able to keep it going.”
[Posted in 2011. In 2012 the Martins opened a farm store and have substantially increased their beef and pork production.]
HAWK DANCE FARM
by Anthony Raduazo
“Listen,” Damon Clift says as he holds a hand to the back of his ear, “You can’t hear a thing out here.” He pauses for a moment, basking in the silence. “That’s why we decided to leave the city.” For much of their lives, Damon Clift and Diane Creed were living in Queens, New York, before they gave it all up – the sirens, the horns, the roar of traffic – to begin an entirely new life. Hawk Dance Farm is, in almost every aspect, the polar opposite of New York City. Situated in the rural countryside of Hillsdale, New York, the silence that pervades the place is not the only indicator of its seclusion – the miles of dirt road that lead to the farm almost demand a four- wheel drive vehicle, even in good weather.
It is difficult to imagine these two living in the city now. Despite having been reared in New York City, Damon and Diane both appear remarkably at home amidst the solitude. Before they chose to come to the country, Damon was a house painter, while Diane worked as a veterinary technician and dog-sitter.
“We planned this for 15 years in Queens,” says Damon of the decision to leave the city life behind. Inspired by the literature of counter-culture figures like Helen and Scott Nearing and Elliot Coleman, farming began as an idealistic dream for Damon and Diane. “We always wanted to be in the country,” Diane says. While they gradually set aside money, they attended Northeast Organic Farming Association events in Queens and continued to study sustainable farming literature.
Finally, in 2007, Damon and Diane found themselves in an ideal financial situation to make their dream a reality. Damon spent the next two years apprenticing at a number of New York farms, including Common Ground Farm in Wappingers Falls and Oak Grove Farm in Clinton Corners before he and Diane purchased the picturesque piece of property in Hillsdale. Escaping the city, however, would prove to be just the first of many difficulties that they would face.
The tomato blight of 2009 rendered months of hard labor worthless for many farms in the northeast and Hawk Dance Farm proved to be no exception. The loss of their tomato crop was a warning of additional challenges to come. Damon and Diane found it incredibly difficult in their first year to break into already established markets with local restaurants and food distributors. “We had everything – everything – against us,” says Damon.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for Hawk Dance Farm, however, has stemmed from a lack of local awareness and support. As Damon notes, “At farmers’ markets people don’t realize how much labor and time is put into each of our products. The American public has demanded that food be cheap.”
Despite many obstacles, Damon and Diane have stuck to their principles. They established Hawk Dance Farm in 2008 with a commitment to producing high-quality flowers, herbs, and vegetables in a sustainable and conscientious manner. As a Certified Naturally Grown farm they continue to fulfill this promise. “We use the vegan-organic approach as we believe that it is more humane and natural,” says Damon. In an era dominated by agribusinesses and factory farms, such a commitment seems like a novel concept.
by Nichole Y. Calero
Sandisfield is a place best described as off the beaten track. As the long, winding road that is route 57 takes you past the center of New Marlborough, you begin to feel as though you are truly entering the heart of the Berkshires. But before the route brings you to the center of Sandisfield, your eye is caught by a statue of a wooden, winged pig poised for flight in the center of a garden. The next thing you spot is the small farm stand with an American flag mounted to its side above a sign that reads “When Pigs Fly Farm: a family farm with family values.”
When Pigs Fly is owned and operated by Andy and Sandra Snyder. Coming from very different backgrounds, both were drawn to farming. For Sandra, her love of growing things came from her family, who grew a large portion of their own food each year. “I’ll never get tired of watching seeds germinate, ever,” she says, laughing. Andy’s interest was piqued during a research project on using methane to power farms when he was a biology major, leaving him thinking: “Someday, I’ve gotta be a farmer.” Their drive became action when they discovered property for sale in Sandisfield, a former farm that hadn’t been worked in 40 years. “It was the wild blueberry bushes that sold us,” Sandra remembers. Their goal was to provide organically grown food for their family (they have two daughters) and “to be able to feed the locals,” at a reasonable price. Starting with a little garden, their first farm stand was a table with an umbrella, set up by the side of the road.
Today their farm and the farm stand are a little more sophisticated. They now grow on 4.5 acres of their 16-acre property. Their veggies are everywhere: in a greenhouse, in their own beds, mingled in with the flowers, and even in the neighbor’s garden plot. The wild blueberry bushes provide shade for the ducks while their sturdy blackberries are right by the side of the house. They raise three different types of poultry and pigs, all of whom eat a combination of organic feed and also forage on the property. The farm stand is housed in a shed, and signs on the front let you know what type of produce is available at the moment. In addition to their own vegetables, fruits, and meats, there are products from other local farms that follow the same sustainable practices as the Snyders. Everything is labeled with not only the name and price, but also its place of origin. Two refrigerators are packed with greens, other perishable veggies, Monterey chevre and eggs from their own “happy hens.” In the fall their own Muscovy duck is available, along with their own pork, and heritage-breed Narragansett turkeys for Thanksgiving, which require an early entry on the sign-up sheet. Berries may have been cultivated or foraged, but were picked that day; tree fruits from nearby farms vary with the season. Jars of honey and jugs of maple syrup line the dry storage shelves, and coolers hold additional bounty. During the harvest season quarts of soup can be found, and over the winter they offer wreaths and baked goods. Though their growth means both a bigger farm stand and a spot at the Otis farmers market, the Snyders are proud that they’ve not raised their prices once in the past decade, prompting signs like the one that reads “Share the health – purchase only one dozen eggs at a time.”
So if you find yourself on route 57, about 4 miles east of the center of New Marlborough, keep an eye out for the pig that’s poised to fly and the flag that already is, and pull over. The inventory may change with the season, but the food is always farm fresh.
By Nichole Y. Calero
Dominic Palumbo is a passionate man, and a busy one. During the three hours I spent at Moon in the Pond Farm, neither his hands nor his mouth stopped. While sweeping the floor he delivered a lecture on the unsustainable nature of our consumer-driven society, at one point holding up two brooms to compare. “This is a work of art,” he said, brandishing a handmade corn broom. He demonstrated the function of the form on his kitchen floor, speaking all the while of the broom’s other virtues of durability and sustainable building materials, as well as its future beyond functionality as either kindling or compost. He holds up a store bought, plastic handled and bristled broom. “This is the opposite of pretty” he declared “and it’s going to end up in a landfill.”
His passion for sustainability goes beyond his kitchen to the 150 acres that is Moon in the Pond farm. Located on Barnum Road in Sheffield, with additional acres on Foley Road, the farm is run without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Although just a few acres are dedicated to vegetables, all of it is dedicated to food production. Either through grazing or growing hay, the majority of the property supports the backbone of his operation: meat. Moon in the Pond raises cattle, pigs, goats, chickens, geese, turkeys, and ducks. A visit to the farm brings one up close and personal with the livestock, many of whom roam freely throughout the property; you can see the calves kicking up their heels as they chase each other, follow piglets as they roam in a pack, or watch the tom turkeys fan out their feathers for the hens. Dominic encourages visitors to the farm. “I want people to know…that they’re welcome here to visit – keeping in mind that we’re a working farm – and see what a farm looks like and how it works.” He believes in a food culture of awareness and respect, where the perception of value is based on the work that went into the final product instead of low cost and ease of preparation.
The majority of the sales is direct to consumer through a unique CSA system, for which he’s created “bacon bucks”. Acknowledging that most people are used to buying cuts of meat at the store, and not everyone has a large chest freezer, his CSA operates on a “buy as you will” principle. Members receive bacon bucks when they purchase a share, then use the bucks to get meat as needed. For this, people visit the farm year round to pick up from the farm stand located in the front of the barn. If you can’t make it to make it down to Moon in the Pond, you can still purchase their meat at the Millerton Farmers’ Market and Rubiner’s Farm Stands, (where you can also get some of their veggies or eggs) or find it on the menu of local restaurants.
By Gina Iannitelli
Kim Wells adores his livestock and is a farmer remarkably in tune with his animals. In mid-July he gave a pair of visitors to his domain, East Mountain Farm, a thorough tour of not only the chickens and cattle, which were on the central portion of the farm, but also of the pig breeds up in the woods. The pigs saw that they had human visitors and sprinted down the hill, coming to a sudden stop before the electric fence. Wells laughed as he fondly told stories of his difficulty moving the pigs from one pen to the next—they are wary of the edge of the pen even when the fence is not there.
Wells works alone on East Mountain Farm in Williamstown, MA, save for one person who helps him with the hay. Wells attended Williams College and gained three years of farming experience in Kentucky in the mid-1970s. Since buying the farm in 1982 Wells has increased his stock from just veal and beef to chicken, beef, pork, hay, and firewood. The farm expanded in the year 2000, Wells explains, after his children were fully grown and he had more time. He currently produces annually 8 beefers, between 650 and 900 chickens, and 60 pigs —all of whom he describes as “healthy and happy.”
“I like the way it’s evolved into beef, pigs, and chickens…it’s a good combo,” he says.
Supporting such a large family of animals, however, does not come without its difficulties. Wells acknowledges a couple: “Poultry is the real killer,” he begins, explaining that there is a severe shortage of local poultry processors. Currently he must make a trip into Connecticut to get his chickens processed and inspected, but he says that it is worth the trouble to ensure quality. Furthermore, the chicken is nicely packaged. Another problem is the transport of water—the current system would need to be improved to support more livestock.
Wells’ restaurant customers include Mezze Bistro + Bar in Williamstown and Gramercy Bistro in North Adams. He sends out a newsletter in late spring which allows members of the public to claim their shares of meat. Additionally, Wells has started selling his products at Mighty Food Farm in Pownal, VT.
Since the early 1980s, Kim Wells has worked on providing his local customers with quality meat, firewood, and hay, and he has not wavered on his mission: as he completes a tour of the inside of his meat freezer, he says with a smile, “I’m proud of the stuff that I sell.”
[Posted in 2011.]
by Gina Iannitelli
At Mighty Food Farm in Pownal, VT family dogs run freely and playfully around the farmhands, who are laughing and joking as they load produce into a truck. The workers are led by the farm’s owner, Lisa MacDougall, an energetic woman in her late twenties. “I really, really love my farm crew,” she says. “They are like my family.”
MacDougall has been the head of Mighty Food Farm, which is certified organic, from the beginning. She came to the farm after apprenticing on two farms in central Massachusetts. When asked if it is difficult to keep her produce, which ranges from “artichokes to zucchini,” completely organic, she replies adamantly, “this is the only type of farming that I know of…and quality is one of the biggest issues.” The local community clearly supports her mission, as Mighty Food has a thriving CSA and Farmers Markets in both Bennington and Dorset, VT.
She points out that the quality of life, however, “is a main issue.” Even for someone so young, farming strains her body. Furthermore, she says that it is difficult to get to nearby networking events, never mind social events, since she has to tend to the farm as well as do housework.
Lisa’s hard work is paying off. In addition to the large variety of CSA produce, Mighty Food also strives to provide the community with almost year-round availability in storage crops, winter greens, and greenhouse produce. They also support nearby farms in Vermont and New York by selling their cheeses, yogurt, and breads in the CSA room. They grow and sell “pretty much the gamut,” says MacDougall. Despite the cornucopia of choice, MacDougall’s heart undoubtedly belongs to the fruits and veggies of the farm: “I love produce!”she says. The land currently holds about 17 acres of crops, with 25 acres in cultivation. There is not much waste as the leftover crops are either composted or donated to local food banks. MacDougall has an open mind about expansion goals: “I want to become more diverse with animals,” she says, pointing out that the purchase of pigs would help resolve the issue of leftover produce.
Mighty Food Farm is the product of a handful of individuals, led by MacDougall, who believe strongly in the quality and accessibility of locally grown food. “I farm for myself and I farm for my community,” MacDougall says, looking out at the farm’s expanse of land and crops.