Community Farm in Amherst nearly full-grown
AMHERST — North Amherst Community Farm began 10 years ago by paying $1.2 million to preserve the agricultural land at 1089 North Pleasant St.
It raised that money in a variety of ways, including a loan, and a final fundraising campaign is now $100,000 from its goal. Farm supporters are hoping to close the gap soon, said Bruce Coldham, president of the farm’s board of directors.
“We are, I think, counting a chicken that hasn’t fully hatched yet,” Coldham said. “But it looks like it will.”
Grocery shoppers can do their part. On April 7, Whole Foods Market in Hadley will hold a “community giving day” during which 5 percent of that day’s net sales will go to the farm. Coldham hopes the Whole Foods event will raise between $5,000 and $6,000.
William Butcher, community liaison for Whole Foods in Hadley, said the store buys produce from the farm and that supporting farms in the Pioneer Valley is an important part of its mission. Whole Foods has four community giving days per year, benefiting charities chosen through a rolling application process.
“With the North Amherst Community Farm, we knew about their funding situation,” Butcher said. “They are trying to purchase that land outright and that means a lot to us here.”
The nonprofit purchased the 38-acre farm in 2006 after fundraising and negotiating with the owners of the farm, the Dziekanowski family, Coldham said. Of the $1.2 million sale price, the state chipped in $320,000 as an Agricultural Preservation Restriction grant and Amherst contributed $100,800. After other residents provided $114,200, the nonprofit was able to put $535,000 down to buy the farm. The rest came through a loan from the Dziekanowski family.
Since that time, the organization has been working to chip away at the remaining debt, last year raising $50,000 from a brunch fundraiser in June. The mortgage was also reduced through housing lots carved from the main farm property being sold.
One of the housing lots is occupied by Jeremy Barker Plotkin, who leases and farms the land under the business name Simple Gifts Farm. The farm sells vegetables using the Community Supported Agriculture model, meaning customers pay a lump sum — $525 to $800 — at the beginning of the growing season and get vegetables weekly throughout the season. In the winter and spring, customers can pay to buy a share of stored and greenhouse vegetables as well.
Barker Plotkin recalls driving by in 2005 when one of the early organizers was pounding a sign into the ground that said “Save this Farm.”
At the time, he was farming a smaller piece of land in Belchertown and was looking to expand. He submitted a proposal to North Amherst Community Farm and won the opportunity to work the land.
“The place was pretty run down and overgrown when we took it over,” Barker Plotkin said. “We’ve done a lot of cleaning up.”
Barker Plotkin, 44, and his farming partner Dave Tepfer grow between 17 and 18 acres of organic vegetables and raise livestock on the land. They also run a farming apprenticeship program to train the next generation of organic farmers, Barker Plotkin said.
“A lot of what they do here is work, but we make it so they take on some management of the work along with independent projects and semi-independent projects,” Barker Plotkin said.
That gives the apprentices an idea of what it is like to run a farm, and a recent one is looking into buying a farm of her own now, he said.
The apprentices live in the farmhouse on the land, which is on the portion of the property still linked to the mortgage. Without that piece of land and the associated farmhouse, the apprentice program would not be possible, Barker Plotkin said.
Coldham added that having the farmhouse as part of the preserved farm property would make the land more attractive to future farmers looking to work the property.
For now, it looks like Barker Plotkin and Tepfer are here to stay. When the mortgage is fully paid off, they plan to sign a 99-year lease with North Amherst Community Farm. They expect eventually to transfer the lease.