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 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