Resilience and respect: Farmer Appreciation Party salutes extraordinary efforts in trying times

Julia Coffey of Mycoterra Farm speaks during the annual Farmer Appreciation Party held by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation on Wednesday evening at the Smith College Campus Center in Northampton.

Julia Coffey of Mycoterra Farm speaks during the annual Farmer Appreciation Party held by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation on Wednesday evening at the Smith College Campus Center in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Karl Prahl of Underline Farm speaks during the annual Farmer Appreciation Party held by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation on Wednesday evening at the Smith College Campus Center in Northampton.

Karl Prahl of Underline Farm speaks during the annual Farmer Appreciation Party held by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation on Wednesday evening at the Smith College Campus Center in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture Ashley Randle speaks during Wednesday’s celebration.

Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture Ashley Randle speaks during Wednesday’s celebration. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture Ashley Randle applauds with the audience during Wednesday’s celebration.

Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture Ashley Randle applauds with the audience during Wednesday’s celebration. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Elijah Lagreze of Boulder Top Farm speaks during the annual Farmer Appreciation Party held by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation on Wednesday evening at the Smith College Campus Center in Northampton.

Elijah Lagreze of Boulder Top Farm speaks during the annual Farmer Appreciation Party held by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation on Wednesday evening at the Smith College Campus Center in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Elijah Lagreze of Boulder Top Farm speaks during the annual Farmer Appreciation Party held by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation on Wednesday evening at the Smith College Campus Center in Northampton.

Elijah Lagreze of Boulder Top Farm speaks during the annual Farmer Appreciation Party held by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation on Wednesday evening at the Smith College Campus Center in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 11-30-2023 6:22 PM

NORTHAMPTON — This year was a tough run for Massachusetts farmers, with over $42 million and 13,000 acres of crop losses reported due to extreme weather events during the spring and summer.

Despite the Feb. 4 freeze, May 18 frost and July 10 flooding that was followed by heavy rains throughout the summer, local farmers demonstrated their resilience, continuing to grow fruits, vegetables and livestock for their communities.

That’s according to Ashley Randle, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, who spoke at a Farmer Appreciation Party at Smith College on Wednesday evening.

“In the hard times you really see people’s true colors, and this year was a great example of how everyone from the Legislature, the administration, private organizations and philanthropy all came together to support our farmers and really set a model for the country,” Randle said.

Over 150 farmers, funders and other stakeholders came together at Smith to exchange stories and celebrate the dedication of farmers over local cheeses and appetizers.

“I tell you, my fellow farmers, we may not be related by blood, but we’re related by the earth, and the care and respect we take towards our trees, fields and animals, we can take towards our fellow family members on other farms,” said Elijah Lagreze, a farmer at Boulder Top Farm in Montague.

The ninth annual party, held by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, recognized the work of all applicants and awardees of the Local Farmer Awards, which was established in 2015 to support farmers with funds for farm infrastructure, improvements and other projects that have been on hold.

At the event, 10 farmers in attendance were selected at random to share 90-second “stories from the farm” and receive $200.

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Farmers shared laughs and smiles over stories of funny mishaps — including an unfortunate incident where a wedding ring ended up inside of a cow — along with encounters with deer and wildlife and an overall deep love and appreciation for agricultural work.

“I raise chickens, and everything about it is pretty fowl,” said Karl Prahl of Underline Farm. “Seeing how everyone just seemed to turn out after the rains, after the frost, and I am constantly humbled … by how close this community is.

“That’s my favorite part of this,” he said.

Ricky Baruc, a farmer from Seeds of Solidarity, said, “For the young farmers out there, if you’re gonna make it for the long haul, you gotta find what brings you joy in this world.”

Denise Barstow Manz spoke about climate change and how it has impacted Barstow’s Longview Farm, a dairy in Hadley.

“One of the reasons that I came back to the farm is because of climate change,” Barstow Manz said. “Cows get a bad rap because of climate change, and that isn’t completely unwarranted.”

She added that Barstow’s keeps 450 acres of farmland open, which is beneficial for wildlife, the air and water and food security. The farm also uses no-till planting practices and has an anaerobic digester that makes renewable energy from cow manure.

“Climate change is the driver in our decisions to invest in sustainable practices, lessen our carbon footprint on the earth, be good community members and adapt to the changing climate. But the volatility sure makes it hard to plan,” Barstow Manz said, adding that this year acres of the farm’s cropland were underwater and animals were under heat stress.

Local Farmer Awards

Over the past nine years, $1.28 million in awards have helped 266 local farms and funded 572 infrastructure projects, including greenhouse improvements, irrigation upgrades, new fences, improved wash stations, livestock structures and many other projects, according to Cari Carpenter, director of the Grinspoon Charitable Foundation.

The awards program, she said, “represents the hard work and dedication of our local farmers who, regardless of the dilemma they face … continue to grow for us a variety of fruits and vegetables, flowers and maple products, to raise livestock and so much more and to picture valuable stewardship of the land,” Carpenter said.

In 2023 alone, 97 farmers received awards totaling $225,000 to help with farm improvement projects, including barn ventilation upgrades, cold storage expansion and more, most of which began in April.

Partners to the foundation include Big Y and the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture, along with donors Ann and Steve David, Charles and Elizabeth D’Amour, Audrey and Chick Taylor, PeoplesBank, DeNucci Group at Merrill Lynch, Farm Credit East, HP Hood, Eastern States Exposition, Baystate Health, Country Bank, Franklin First Federal Credit Union and bankESB.

“Growing up, we lived on farms,” said Audrey Taylor, a funder of the awards alongside her husband. “It’s part of what we are. … We’re just here because we appreciate farmers.”

Applications for the 2024 Local Farmer Awards will open in January. Information can be found at www.farmerawards.org.

“It is a great honor to celebrate farmers who do so much for our communities,” philanthropist Harold Grinspoon said in a statement. “We are thrilled to begin our 10th year of helping fund farm capital improvements through the annual Local Farmer Awards.”

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.