Farming ‘Very Rewarding’ for the Cranston Family

The Recorder, March 7, 2017, by Tinky Weisblat

Tom Cranston had a thriving veterinary practice in 1975 when he purchased his father’s dairy farm on Baptist Corner Road in Ashfield. Tom told me in a recent interview that giving up his first career was a “tough choice.”

“But I decided I’d like to try farming before I left the earth,” he said. “I wanted to do it for the children, too.”

With help from those children, he and his wife, Cynthia, continued to produce milk until 1989, when they realized that small-scale dairy farming was becoming less and less profitable.

Cynthia added, “We could see the writing on the wall. In 1980, we started planting Christmas trees. We had no idea whether we’d like (tree farming) or not.”

In 1976, the family had also begun tapping trees and boiling maple syrup — a springtime side business Tom had tried on a small scale in high school. Little by little, the Cranstons’ new farm enterprise took shape. Today they concentrate on three agricultural products: Christmas trees, maple syrup, and hay.

The Christmas-tree side of the business is the biggest. The Cranstons began by planting 300 to 400 trees in 1980 and now have about 31,000 evergreens growing on their property.

“It’s a lot of trees,” said Cynthia. “It has been very rewarding.”

They estimate that theirs is the third or fourth largest Christmas tree farm in Massachusetts. They are proud that in 2007, their farm was selected to send a tree to the vice president’s home in Washington, D.C.

Cynthia admitted that she didn’t agree with all of the politics of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Nevertheless, she said, the experience of providing the tree was “very rewarding.”

She recalled that Cheney’s rural background gave him an interest in agriculture; he knew enough to ask how many acres they farmed.

The Cranstons’ maple business is smaller than their tree enterprise. Nevertheless, it is viable for the pair.

Their investment in technology, including reverse-osmosis and vacuum systems, has helped them save on labor costs and maximize syrup production, even in recent years when the weather has shortened the season for tapping trees.

Figuring out how to market the syrup has posed a challenge, but the Cranstons sell quite a bit of syrup via mail order, thanks to their website.

They also sell maple syrup, maple cream, and maple candy to customers who come to the farm to buy Christmas trees.

Cynthia has increased their visibility by posting weekly on the farm’s Facebook page. “It has really helped sales,” she says of Facebook. “And it has helped my photography … So here we are, and we’re still going.”

Instead of the day-to-day busyness of the dairy farm with which they started, the Cranstons now face several busy seasons: syrup season, planting season, haying season, and tree-selling season.

The last of those is the craziest. “You’ve only got essentially three weekends,” explained Cynthia. “They all come usually from 10:30 to 3. By the end of the day we are dead!”

The two are helped in the busiest times by their sons, Jon and Seth, and also by their daughters-in-law. Their daughter Betsy feeds her exhausted parents during Christmas-tree season.

The Cranstons hope that one or both of their sons will eventually take over management of the farm. The husband and wife are in no rush to cede control, however.

“We need to keep moving,” Cynthia told me. “I think one thing that both of us have learned is that while sometimes (farming) is overwhelming, it keeps us going and keeps us active.

“We are busy except for January and the first part of February. And then we get itchy!”

I asked the Cranstons for a maple recipe, and they explained that their daughter-in-law Carrie is the primary experimenter with maple in the family.

Happily, Carrie Cranston agreed to share two maple recipes with readers of The Recorder this March for Massachusetts Maple Month.

Carrie Cranston’s Maple Caramel Corn


1 cup raw popcorn

½ cup butter or coconut oil

1 cup maple syrup (Grade B is best)

sea salt to taste


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Pop the corn according to your favorite method and place it in two large bowls.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter or oil, the syrup, and the salt until small bubbles form. Cook, whisking occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes until the mixture is thick and foamy.

Quickly pour the hot liquid over the popcorn. Toss the result with large spoons, spread it over several cookie sheets, and bake for 5 minutes. Stir and then bake for an additional 5 minutes. Cool the caramel corn; then seal it tightly. Makes about 8 quarts.

Maple Cider Salmon


1 single serving packet of hot-apple-cider mix (such as Alpine)

cup water

2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 to 1-½ pounds skinless salmon fillet, cut into 4-to-6-ounce pieces


In a large bowl combine the cider mix, the water, the vinegar and the syrup. Place the fish in this liquid. Flip. Poke holes all over the fish with a fork. Allow the salmon to marinate at for least 5 minutes but not more than 20. Be sure to coat both sides. Remove the fish, but reserve the marinade.

Broil the fish on a high setting, 8 to 10 inches from the heat source, for 20 to 30 minutes, or until fully cooked. Turn the fish and coat it with marinade every 5 minutes.

Simmer the remaining marinade for 5 to 10 minutes or until it thickens. Brush the fish with the thickened sauce before serving. Serves 4.

Food writer Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” For more information about Tinky visit her website,