Valley Bounty: Couples keeping historic Gill farm in agriculture

  • Tom Donahue, a co-owner of the farm, mows a field. BASCOM HOLLOW FARM

  • The Gill farm raises 10 cattle a year for beef. BASCOM HOLLOW FARM

  • Tom Chalmers, one of the owners of the farm. BASCOM HOLLOW FARM

  • Brian Donahue, one of the farm’s owners, loads up a carton of butternut squash. BASCOM HOLLOW FARM

For the Gazette
Published: 10/30/2020 4:12:49 PM

At Bascom Hollow Farm in Gill, the owners are working the land with an eye to sustainability, as well as a keen sense of environmental responsibility.

“Our biggest hayfield, about 20 acres, actually doesn’t get cut until mid-July, which is pretty late in the season for most farms. After the first cutting of hay, we use it to pasture our cattle,” explains Brian Donahue, a co-owner of the historic spread.

The reason for the late cutting? To protect the bobolink population that has been nesting on the land for the past decade. Bobolinks are a ground-nesting bird that were once common in hayfields throughout the Northeast, but have been in decline since the 1900s, partially due to an intensification in farming practices making it harder for them to find places to nest.

Bascom Hollow Farm is on Agricultural Preservation Restriction land, meaning the property cannot be developed in ways that may negatively impact its future agricultural viability. Since buying the farm in 2007, two couples, Donahue and his wife, Faith, along with Tom and Joan Chalmers, have been trying to return it to more agriculturally active land.

Bascom Hollow Farm was started by the Bascom Family during the late 18th century, right around the time the town of Gill was founded. The Bascoms owned the farm until the late 19th century, when it passed to the Peters family. The Peterses ran a dairy farm until the 1960s, when they went out of business in one of the many waves of dairy consolidation that we have seen across New England over the last century. It was then held by a variety of owners who did not farm the land very intensely, until the Donahues and the Chalmerses bought it.

Currently, Bascom Hollow raises nine Devon cows per year, a beef breed originating from southwestern England known for their reddish color.

Bascom Hollow Farm uses rotational grazing methods during the summer. This means moving the animals to new pasture or a new paddock area as needed, allowing previously grazed land to recover. There are many benefits to rotational grazing, including increased grass and forage production, increased soil fertility, and increased drought resistance.

Donahue explains that they typically try to keep the cattle on pasture into the first week of November. This year, the drought meant that they were only able to make it into October and are now starting to feed the cows the hay that they grew this summer.

In addition to beef, Bascom Hollow also raises pork. They used to have a sow but have recently gone back to buying about 10 pigs per year to raise. The pigs are raised outside on pasture, on a diet primarily of grain, supplemented by pumpkins and squash that they grow on-farm.

The pandemic this year has caused both new benefits and challenges to farming, Donahue explains.

“On one hand, the work is the same, and when the world is in such disarray, it’s nice to be able to go out and just do what you know how to do. The demand for local products has been sky-high and we’ve actually been able to sell all of our meat quicker than ever before,” he says.

Donahue explains that the main challenge they’ve faced is being able to get appointments to have their animals slaughtered. “We’re scrambling a bit to try to figure out what to do after getting bumped from appointments we set up before the pandemic even really hit,” he says.

You can find Bascom Hollow Products, as they are available, at Green Fields Market and the Gill Tavern. To find more local purchasing options near you, visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.

Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.




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