Jeffrey Peterson: Determined to shape ‘happy trails’ in Northampton

Last modified: Thursday, August 20, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — People who visit the Smith Vocational and Agricultural Farm Fields on Burts Pit Road in Northampton will soon be greeted by an important message.

A sign will note that people who use the property — 282 acres of state-owned land designated for agricultural use and under the school’s direction — need to follow a few rules.

To wit:

• Please stay on the paths at all times. No recreational use of the fields are permitted.

• Please control and clean up after your pets.

• Please respect the rights of others to peacefully and safely enjoy our land.

• Please remember that the primary and intended use of this property is strictly for agricultural purposes. You are our guests; please act accordingly.

As many already know, the school’s lease with the state must be renewed every 25 years. We are in the process of formulating a land use plan for the area formerly referred to as the “dog park” that must be submitted to and accepted by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

I will be presenting the official plan to the Board of Trustees on Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. This is a public meeting and all are welcome to attend.

In the spring, I convened a working group of 15 residents, all with different interests, to provide input on how we can use this land and continue to serve the community, while supporting our primary mission which is to bring every acre of this parcel online for agricultural use.

I must say, the pleasure of working with these amazing people has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my four years as superintendent.

This group is a microcosm of the city of Northampton and is proof positive why this is such a special community. In our discussions, I have voiced my concerns regarding activities at the property that have serious detrimental effects to our animals. We have found tennis balls, Frisbees and feces in the hay we use to feed our horses and cows. Our equipment has been damaged because of sticks in the fields.

Since we have been meeting, Judith Fine of Northampton has formed a group of responsible dog owners and they have addressed these issues head-on. We are working together to install signs and waste receptacles. More importantly there is a grassroots effort to raise awareness among casual users of the property that Smith uses this land for farming and that must be respected.

In a short time, there has been a visible improvement at the Smith Farm Fields.

Right now, our land manager, Tim Smith, and his crew are busy preparing this land to grow new crops such as rye, wheat and corn on fields which have sat fallow. We hope to also work with local farmers and businesses to provide land for livestock, specialty crops and other exciting endeavors. You may have noticed this work being done if you have visited our property this summer.

Our crew has been widening the trails to allow equipment easier access to the land. We are also communicating with the historical commission with the goal of building a new and appropriate memorial for the deceased residents of the former Northampton State Hospital. This will include freshly planted trees, a new bench and signs.

And let’s not forget the work being done to upgrade our composting equipment which will again be running in the fall.

I am aware that much of the work being done at the Smith Farm Fields has been unsettling for some. I hope I have answered some questions people have. As always, any member of this community is welcome to come see me at the school at any time.

Jeffrey Peterson is superintendent of the Smith Vocational and Agricultural School District.


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