Neighbors step up to help family after Amherst dairy farm fire

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-05-2023 5:54 PM

AMHERST — A cattle trailer departing from J&J Farms in North Amherst on Monday morning brought four cows to Allard’s Farm in Hadley, ensuring the last of the 50 cows from the town’s only remaining dairy farm will have a temporary place to stay.

Their journey to another area farm follows the late Friday afternoon fire that destroyed three buildings, including the stable for the milking cows and their milk house and associated equipment, and also caused significant damage to the home where Joseph Waskiewicz, the family patriarch, has continued to live.

None of the cows were injured during the large blaze that Amherst firefighters blamed on a lightning strike, which quickly spread on the 324 Meadow St. property due to radiant heat.

“It was a blessing all were safe and sound,” said son Mike Waskiewicz, who with siblings Joseph “Butch” Waskiewicz and Jane Supernant coordinated getting the cows safe and keeping farm operations, and the crops that need be tended to, going throughout the weekend.

In the days since the fire, the family has seen what he called a tremendous outpouring of help from neighbors and friends, as well as from those who just want to lend a hand.

“There’s been support from a lot of people,” Mike Waskiewicz said. “They haven’t forgotten about us.”

For instance, Boyden & Perron in downtown Amherst donated a sweeper and other people have been dropping by to volunteer their time or equipment when the time is right.

What insurance will cover is still uncertain. The family can’t begin the cleanup of the debris from the fire until an insurance inspection is done.

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But the Waskiewicz family knows that it has lost equipment, including planters, forklifts and potato grading equipment, along with the season’s hay, though the big trucks and other heavy equipment were not damaged.

Two silos, while still standing, were both heavily damaged and charred. Waskiewicz observes that people often comment on the landmark structures. “J&J Farms’ silos are an iconic landmark,” Waskiewicz said.

There has been an online response, as well. Joe Swartz, another Meadow Street farmer, posted on the online Next Door group encouraging the community to help.

“There are no harder working, generous, and kind people out there — our families have farmed together for three generations,” he wrote. “I spent part of Saturday with a bunch of other local farmers and friends, helping Butch, Mike and Jane sift through what can only be described as a horror show. The family is gutted, but unbroken.”

A GoFundMe fundraiser was organized by Robert Rowell, who grew up near the Waskiewicz family when they were living on East Pleasant Street. Its goal of $50,000 had been nearly doubled by midday Monday.

“Over many years, our family and many others in the valley have enjoyed their fine produce, from asparagus to their delicious sweet corn in the fall months,” Rowell wrote. “A legendary name in the Valley, their farm has been around for many years and I’m hoping the funds raised will help them recover and continue to farm the lands surrounding.”

“Thank you for everything everyone has done for us. It’s overwhelming,” Waskiewicz said.

In addition to Allard’s Farm, the other farms that are caring for the cows are Mapleline Farm and Devine Farm, both in Hadley, and Brian Belder Farm in Whately.

“They’re being babysat very nicely,” Suprenant said.

The farmstand has been a fixture of the Meadow Street location for the past 25 years, Suprenant said, when her parents moved from East Pleasant Street to the homestead where J&J Farms has operated since 1909.

While no people or animals were injured, the home is uninhabitable, though the family has found a place for her father to stay. Workers from Board-Up Kingz of Revere were putting plywood over windows, with an evaluation of the home’s damage still to take place.

As farmworkers were in the fields tending to crops already planted for the season, including potatoes and onions, the plan is to get the farmstand reopened within a month so one of the area’s summer and early fall favorites will be ready on its usual schedule.

“We hope to have sweet corn by the Fourth of July,” Suprenant said.

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