by Nichole Y Calero
October Mountain Farm is one of the most recent members of Berkshire Grown, and perhaps the most unusual. Located in Becket, MA, this farm is notable for both its size, and its farmer. Rafi Bildner is fresh out of high school and is farming on just a quarter acre.
Bildner’s had a love of growing food since he was young, planting his first garden on the property when he was just 8. As he grew so did his interest and he spent his junior year’s spring semester away at the Mountain School of Milton Academy, which offered him the opportunity to work on an organic farm. While there he worked closely with the farm manager, and thinking of his parent’s land the whole time, Bildner left the mountain school feeling that he had the knowledge to be able to try his hand at farming. He carefully planned his crops, ordered his seeds, and this past spring with his classes behind him and his parent’s support, he moved from New Jersey to their property in Becket in time to break sod on May 1st.
“This wasn’t considered a field, this was a backyard.” Bildner said of his micro-farm, and the view of both the neighbor’s house and pond from the rows between his crops drives home that fact. Breaking up the sod and getting the beds ready took two weeks, and the planting extended into the first week of June; Bildner decided to do as much direct seeding as possible estimating that 70 to 80 percent of his farm was started that way. He planted a diverse range of crops in his small patch: four kinds of corn; two types of eggplant; six different strains of lettuce; three types of basil and other assorted herbs; a variety of tomatoes, peppers, and squashes; cucumbers, beans, strawberries and blueberries all carefully spaced to maximize output. Working the farm mostly solo, with occasional help from friends and family, every day brought new challenges and Bildner began to realize that although he had planned carefully, there was much more to consider. “In our modern society people don’t really understand the work and struggle on a daily basis that farming is,” Bildner said. He now has a better appreciation for that struggle. Irrigation was solved with regular timed garden hoses and a week of testing. And then there was the business aspect; “I threw myself into this farming world and realized as much fun as it is to grow the food I have a commitment to make this a business as well.” This leads to making choices on a daily basis such as choosing to return phone calls over weeding, or postponing returning e-mails to harvest for market, which is two wheelbarrows full daily. He sells his produce at the Otis, Nutrition Center, and CHP farmers markets, his own farm stand, local restaurants, and the occasional home delivery.
“This has been an unbelievably fulfilling experience.” said Bildner, who plans on putting in another season’s worth of farming before starting college at Yale in the fall of 2012. After that, he’ll be planting a cover crop until he graduates and can get back to the farm. “This won’t become a lawn again.”