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We started the Farm Values project two years ago with a grant from Mass Humanities, and this month we’re proud to present a locally-published book based on the research and photography that were generated by the project.
This isn’t an official part of the Farm Values project, but I’ve posted a new piece here that relates very closely to the kinds of questions about scale, methods, economic survival, and civic debate in north-central Massachusetts that Farm Values was designed to explore.
Julie Rawson grew up on a western Illinois farm with parents who mixed agriculture, medicine (her father was a large-animal veterinarian), and activism (her mother was deeply engaged in civil rights issues). When she was pregnant with her first child, she said to her husband, Jack Kittredge, “I’m really sorry, but I think I have to raise these children on a farm.” Jack’s background was far more suburban. “I wasn’t a farmer and didn’t intend to be a farmer,” he recalls, “but I fully supported homesteading, raising your own food, having the kids have access to all the principles and lessons that nature teaches you.” Continue reading Back to the land again: Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre
On a humid July day, the barn at the first of Kate Stillman’s two farmsteads in Hardwick is filled with cheeping. Dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of young turkeys occupy one side of the nineteenth-century structure, their pink faces wearing the perplexed look that young turkeys always seem to have. Their short lives will end a few months later at a second farm in the southern part of town, where Kate has recently added a poultry abatoir that gives her greater control over the growing meat business she started ten years ago.
There were five local slaughterhouses in Athol when Beverly and Lewis Adams began to sell packaged meat as part of a transition away from the increasingly unprofitable business of dairying. Lewis slaughtered the cows and pigs they raised on their Bearsden Road farm, an Italian butcher from Donelan’s market in Orange did the cutting, and Beverly packaged the meat for her husband to sell around town. The business grew, and after Lewis died suddenly in 1973, Beverly kept it going as a way to support her five children.
John and Laura Moore met 50 years ago at a 4H gathering in Washington, DC. Both were teenagers from farm families, hers in Michigan, his in Orange, Massachusetts, and they were sent to Washington in recognition of their prize-winning farm products. They fell in love, carried on a long-distance romance, then married and settled down two miles north of the center of Orange on the Cross Road farm where John was raised. They have lived and farmed there ever since, raising four children who still live close by. Their grandchildren are the ninth generation of Moores to live in this part of town.
It is as rural and as pastoral a story as can be imagined. It seems—and the farm feels—very far removed from the center of Orange, in either its industrial heyday or its struggling present. And yet Moore’s Maple Grove Farm has reflected the changes not only in Orange but in the area’s larger industrial economy for well over a century, and the linkages between them challenge us to see the farm and the town as two sides of the same story. Continue reading Farming at the edge of industry: Moore’s Maple Grove Farm, Orange
On a cold Sunday morning in February 1787, several thousand soldiers at the end of a brutal march through a blizzard surprised a sleeping army encamped in the center of Petersham and routed them quickly, all but ending an armed uprising by farmers in the central and western parts of the state. Just to the south was the farm of Benjamin Chandler, who had come to Petersham from Westford. We don’t know exactly when Chandler moved to town or where he stood on the politics of the “Regulation,” as Shays’s Rebellion was known to many. But we do know something of the subsequent history of his farm, including its recent purchase by young farmers who were able to leverage support from emerging models of land stewardship designed to keep farmland in production.
The two events are distant in time, but there’s a thread connecting the 18th century fight with the 21st century sale. At bottom, both were responses to a fundamental problem in American farming: having a farm doesn’t necessarily equate to having enough capital for a farmer to stay afloat in a market-oriented economy. Continue reading The big picture: The King farm in Petersham
Chase Hill Farm in Warwick feels like one of the most peaceful places on earth. It’s on one of those roads where you look twice when a car happens to drive by. There’s a view of Mount Monadnock across the fields to the northeast. Brown and white cows are usually to be seen grazing on one of the hillsides. A mysterious little doorway—the entrance to the cheese cave, it turns out—leads into the side of a hill. The only disruption is from the sheepdog who comes to meet you, but when Mark Fellows appears in response to her barking, he simply advises, “The best way to get her to stop is just to ignore her.”
The calm is partly a reflection of the farm’s location. But it’s also something that has been achieved gradually over the three decades since Mark and his wife Jeannette took over his parents’ business. Slowly and thoughtfully, they’ve been disentangling what was once a conventional commercial dairy from the surprisingly complex processes that have made cow’s milk one of the most fully industrialized of food products. At the same time, they’re part of a new partnership between farmers and land conservationists, a relationship that was by no means always amicable. Continue reading Deindustrial dairy: Chase Hill Farm, Warwick