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