Florence Organic Community Garden a 'growing' success, more plots added

Last modified: Monday, September 24, 2012

GCo Related story: Grow Food Northampton introduces 'micro-farming' program

NORTHAMPTON GCo Less than six months after Grow Food Northampton volunteers staked out the first 100 plots to start the Florence Organic Community Garden, another 150 plots were staked this month to satisfy the overwhelming demand for growing space.

Grow Food Northampton Executive Director Lilly Lombard said the season was a great success for the garden, as it was for Crimson and Clover Farm and Slow Tractor Farm, the two operations that share the 121-acre farmland off of Spring Street that Grow Food Northampton purchased in 2011.

"It's been a huge success - the land supports incredible growth," she said in a telephone interview last week. "The pounds of vegetables people got off their 20-by-20-foot garden plots proves that."

The nonprofit is also realizing another part of its vision for the land this fall; it is now accepting applications for farmers wishing to start "micro-farms" on small plots of land in the South Field near the community garden. Lombard said that for young farmers trying to get started in the commercial farming business, the plots are a way to gain experience without investing a lot of money.

"This all goes back to our vision for the land," she said. "We saw a vibrant CSA farm, a community garden and a farm incubator program, and this is the first step in creating that program."

Community gardens

Lombard said the nonprofit saw such a demand for organic garden plots this spring, when the first 100 plots went to local residents, organizers thought it was time to add another 150 plots for next year's growing season. She said Grow Food's plan is to eventually have about 400 plots.

"We accomplished all our goals for the first year," Lombard said. She noted that gardeners banded together to build a shed and other structures for the communal use, and attended training sessions to learn about organic practices and water conservation.

Grow Food's second phase also includes plans to extend the irrigation system to all plots and plant 800 feet of protective and ornamental hedgerow along Meadow Street. The planting takes place Saturday.

Lombard said the hedgerow serves three purposes.

"It will break the fierce northwest wind that comes off the main field; it creates a visual screen, to enhance the beauty of the site; and they're almost all edible plantings, like nut trees and root-bearing shrubs," she said.

The trees and bushes were either donated by the Hadley Garden Center and Nourse Farm or purchased with a $1,100 donation from the Tree Stewards of Northampton group.

Other endeavors

Andrea and Christian Stanley, owners of Slow Tractor Farm, said their first season growing on the Florence land was a good one. The couple grow grains to supply their Hadley business, Valley Malt, which malts barley and other grains to be used in local beers.

"It went pretty well. We got good yields when we harvested in July," Andrea Stanley said.

The couple harvested nine acres of barley for beer, reaped and sold nine acres of oats to local farmers for feed, and plowed under 17 acres of buckwheat cover crop to improve the soil. Last week, they planted a winter crop of barley in its place.

Meanwhile, Nate Frigard and Jen Smith, owners of Crimson and Clover, the community-supported agriculture farm on the site of the former Bean farm, expanded their operation in its second growing season to include more produce, three beehives and a few pigs. They also increased their CSA shares from 215 to 300, Frigard said.

"It's been a great second season - everything was pretty solid," he said.

The couple also renovated their CSA farm store on Spring Street with a $10,000 matching grant from the state Department of Agricultural Resources. The historic barn now has a cement floor, better lighting and a walk-in cooler.

Frigard and Smith are eager to show off the barn, the pigs and the other new additions to the farm at the second annual Community Farm Fest to celebrate the end of the growing season.

At the event, community members can enjoy food made from the farm's produce and Wormtown Brewery beer made from barley Slow Tractor Farm grew on the property, while they take in agricultural demonstrations, live music and other entertainment.

Stanley said that people may have eaten produce on site before, but not many can say they've sipped a beer made from barley grown on the land under their feet. "I think that's pretty unique," she said.

The festival takes place Oct. 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information about the Grow Food Northampton or the event, visit www.growfoodnorthampton.com.


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