Valley Bounty: At Intervale Farm, making the turn from starts to crops

  • Maureen Dempsey and Rick Tracy with some of their plant starts in one of Interval Farm’s greenhouses. CISA/Elizabeth Solaka

  • Maureen Dempsey poses in March 2019 at Interval Farm in Westhampton, which she owns with her husband, Rick Tracy. CISA/Elizabeth Solaka

  • Maureen Dempsey of Interval Farm in Westhampton takes care of some plant starts in one of the farm’s greenhouses. CISA/Elizabeth Solaka

For the Gazette
Published: 6/9/2020 11:33:56 AM

As the weather continues to warm, field crop season is beginning to hit full stride across the Valley, and Maureen Dempsey is battling to keep up.

“We’re very behind this year on growing veggies because we’ve been so busy with plant sales,” Dempsey explained recently.

Dempsey runs Intervale Farm in Westhampton with her husband, Rick Tracy. The couple produce a wide variety of vegetables and cut flowers, raise laying hens, have a flock of sheep, and grow plant starts.

The pair began selling plant starts at their farm stand the third week of April. The plants have been flying off the shelf at a breakneck pace ever since.

“I’ve never seen a year like this with people who want to buy plants for gardening,” Dempsey said. “People are thinking they want to garden because they’re not going to be able to travel this summer.”

Early June has marked a shift of focus away from starts on Intervale Farm.

“Now we’re transitioning into making sure we are getting stuff into the fields so that we can have produce for our CSA,” Dempsey said.

CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a model where customers pay for a share of a farm’s harvest up front, and then receive regular distributions of fresh food throughout the season.

This will be Dempsey’s 19th season running a CSA on her farm. She says the model has worked well for their business.

“It improves the cash flow on the farm during a time in early March when we’re not making much money,” she explained. “It’s an upfront payment when you’re putting money out for your seed and supplies.”

With that upfront community investment also comes a responsibility to deliver for the CSA shareholders. It’s always a race to get as much as possible harvested for the first early season pickup.

Intervale Farm’s first CSA pickup will be next week. They’re hoping to have radishes, rhubarb, lettuce, storage potatoes, sorrel, scallions and flower bunches ready in time. But in farming, there are never any guarantees.

So far this spring, the weather hasn’t been cooperating. April was wet, which made it challenging to get crops started out in the fields. Then May hit and suddenly it was too dry. Plus, the weather remained predominantly cool throughout the month. On Intervale Farm, they had two recent nights that dipped below 40 degrees, cold enough to set some of those early season crops back.

“That’s pretty cold for the end of May,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey is grateful that many of her longtime CSA customers support the farm through thick and thin.

“We have a lot of customers who have been with us for the whole 19 years we’ve been doing the CSA. They understand being a part of a CSA, you take the risk too.”

As if the brisk traffic at the farm stand and the uncooperative weather weren’t enough to put Dempsey behind on her field work, the pandemic has significantly increased the amount of energy that she and Tracy have needed to spend helping organize the farmers markets they attend. In a good year, farmers must be experts in botany, mechanics, employee management, food safety and everything else it takes to run a farm. This year, they’ve had to add public health management to their long list of skills.

As longtime vendors at the Florence Farmers Market and the Saturday Northampton Farmers’ Market, the pair has taken on significant responsibility for getting the markets up and running this spring. They had to spend the time wading through new public health procedures for farmers markets and figuring out how to reorganize the local markets to ensure social distance.

“The markets require a lot of infrastructure now that we never had to do before,” Dempsey said. “Getting all of that took a lot of time, and Rick did not buy things — he manufactured them so we wouldn’t have to lay out as much money.”

Their plexiglass barrier is an old window that Tracy cut down to size. He turned music stands into exit signs and chairs into sanitation stations. He cobbled together sheep fencing for the market’s perimeter and repurposed roofing shingles for 6-foot distance markers.

“Putting all of that stuff together, and then having to lug all of it to market every week, that has really affected the amount of time we have to work on the farm,” Dempsey said.

But despite the additional work, Dempsey is glad to have the farmers markets during the pandemic.

“I feel more comfortable going to the farmers market to buy produce than going into a grocery store. At least you’re outdoors and there’s air movement,” she said.

Throughout June, CSAs will be kicking off and farmers markets will continue to open across the Valley. And if your favorite summer veggie comes a week or two late this year, remember to show some patience for our farmers. Because there’s only so many hours in the day and the fact we still have a bounty pouring out of local farm fields in the midst of a pandemic is remarkable.

Even if you have to wait a few extra days to find some Swiss chard.

To find a CSA or farm stand near you, visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.

Noah Baustin is the communications coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).




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