by Laura Rodley
When farming is one’s occupation, one doesn’t have to belong to a gym. One keeps fit and gets enough exercise lifting heavy weights of crops and bending down to plant or pick them. Ray Young, owner of Next Barn Over Farm in Hadley, MA, grows enough certified organic vegetables to fill 500 CSA orders a week, plus supply produce to Northampton’s River Valley Market and Hadley’s Whole Foods as well as other stores or food hubs.
“We grow 40 vegetables, mixed salad greens, cabbage, zucchini, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, watermelon – you name it. Pretty much anything that grows in the Northeast, we grow it,” said Young, on 50 acres of rich lake-bed land near the confluence of the Connecticut and Fort rivers, assisted by a crew of 10.
Young also offers a U-pick part of the CSA, featuring strawberries, herbs, flowers and sugar snap peas. Flowers are also available as a U-pick option from an array that includes 20 to 30 different annuals including cosmos, statice, verbena, zinnia and sunflowers for people to make a bouquet to take home every week.
For the CSA pickup, the vegetables and flowers are laid out in a farmers market-style for customers to pick and choose. Customers are given a bag they can fill with a range of approximately 12 pounds of vegetables. “If they really love peppers, onions, tomatoes and beets, they can fill the bag with them. It gives them free choice,” said Young. “We encourage people to take only what they can eat. The rest we take to the Survival Center and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.” The farm is a regular supplier for these two centers.
“We tell people that they are getting a retail product for a wholesale price” when customers sign up for the CSA and make a financial pledge for the produce in the spring, they said. “Even if they took half the produce that we are offering, they are still getting a super deal.”
It was while working as a manager at the Food Bank Farm that Young felt gratified. “For the first time in my life, I was doing honest work that I felt proud of, and decided I want to keep on doing it,” they explained.
Searching for a while, Young discovered it wasn’t hard to find land in Hadley which had been farmed for scores of generations. The land was once the bed of Lake Hitchcock, formed by glaciers 15,000 years ago. Evidence of dinosaurs that left their footprints have been discovered along the lake bed. According to www.nashdinosaur.com, the first recorded dinosaur footprints were found in South Hadley in the 1800s by a 12-year-old farmer’s son, Pliny Moody.
Now, someone else has a chance to find their own dinosaur footprint, as most of the Next Barn Over’s farmland has been preserved under Agricultural Preservation Restrictions to keep it as farmland. In business for a decade, Young keeps 10 to 15 acres under a cover crop.
As with all farmers, Young found that “there’s always tractors breaking down, weather, pests – there’s a lot of unknowns in the natural world that we don’t have control over. I am constantly problem solving.”
The farm’s stable of 10 tractors includes John Deere, Farmall, National Harvester and Allis-Chalmers models. Young found that the vintage tractors from the 1940s and ‘50s are easier to fix due to their simpler mechanics versus later models. They do most of the upkeep and fixing themselves.
Young uses a lot of row covers and keeps to a crop rotation cycle, rotating brassicas and nightshades every three years.
Young uses organic fertilizer, and also uses kaolin clay that is sprinkled on cucurbits and brassicas. “It acts as a barrier,” they explained. The small mouths of insects have trouble biting into plants.” Clay is also put on seedlings when they are planted, since that is when they are very susceptible to pests. It also has properties as a heat barrier to alleviate plants’ heat stress.
In addition to field planting, the farm grows produce inside a Gothic-style 30-by-100-foot hoop house.
“I love being outside. I love to provide healthy food for the community. I love my crew – they’re fantastic,” Young said. “You get to wear a lot of hats being a farmer.”