The crops may be in, but work continues on local farms

By Anne O’Connor - Correspondent
January 4, 2023

Concord boasts acres of farmland, tended by local farmers. During the growing season, stopping by the local grower for fresh food or flowers is an easy and enjoyable task.

After the farm stands close and the markets in the city scale down during the off-season, the farmers, small business owners, take the opportunity to recover from the hectic summer and fall to prepare for the next harvest.

“We don’t have much of a break,” said Liz Bemis, the fifth generation of her family to run Hutchins Farm. From ordering seeds to repairing buildings, her days are full after the Monument St. farm stand closes in late autumn.

All the things that could not get done during the growing season must be tackled such as building a greenhouse and machinery repair.

“It’s not a desk job. It’s exhausting and hard,” she said. With 40 to 45 acres in production, the three owners and two year-round employees are always busy. During the season, another 30 or so people round out the workforce.

“Farmers are always innovating, looking for a better way to do things,” Bemis said.

“There’s definitely a learning curve,” said Ricky Marshall who runs Marshall Farm in West Concord.

He credits the great network of farmers in the community for helping him learn the ropes. He also maintains a strong social media presence. “To me, everything is creative, fun and different,” Marshall said.

“In winter, we really don’t do that much,” he said.

Really? In addition to planning next year’s crops and planting the greenhouse in late February, he maintains a flock of about 700 laying hens, allowing him to sell eggs year-round at a self-serve stand. Firewood is also available.

“They definitely live the life,” he said of his flock. The birds also help him with his fields. Winter gives him time to hatch plans and perfect machinery like the tractor that allows the chickens to live safely outside the chicken house. “What can we do differently?” he asked.

Recently, he leased a new field. As part of the preparation work, the chickens spent 45 days in the field, eating bugs and weed seeds and leaving a good crop of manure behind.

The end result? A bumper crop of butternut squash.

At Barrett’s Mill Farm, business partners Melissa Maxwell and Lise Holdorf are thrilled at the opportunity Concord provided.

At Barrett’s Mill Farm, business partners Melissa Maxwell, left, and Lise Holdorf talk about next year’s crops and the best ways to prepare the fields. They planted cover crops to enrich the soil over the winter. Photo by Anne O’Connor

They wanted to run their own farm but “land is not affordable,” Holdorf said. The town put out a request for proposals to use the land and the two experienced farmers jumped on the chance.

“It’s been great,” Maxwell said. They moved onto the farm on the Assabet River in March 2014. Most farmers already have their seeds planted by then.

The other farmers in town rallied to help the newcomers. “People were really welcoming,” said Holdorf who grew up in Concord, but was not part of the farming community as a youth.

From finding their first tractor to providing help to unload supplies, the agricultural community was there for them.

Winter finds them, like the other farmers, pouring through crop options and ordering for a February greenhouse planting. “We want to have a nice selection,” Maxwell said.

Part of the town’s vision was for the farm to provide a lively place for the community. The women are happy to provide such a place on their certified organic farm. “Our dedicated clients come here all the time,” Maxwell said.

Barrett’s Mill has a seasonal produce farmstand and pick-your-own flowers. It is also the pickup spot for the Community Supported Agriculture shares the women sell.

The business model works. Retail “customers have more loyalty to you than wholesale customers,” Holdorf said.

In winter, the fields outside the house are planted with cover crops. One strawberry field is covered with cloth. High tunnels lay waiting for crops to be planted in the ground.

All is poised for spring.