Good Bunch Farm: What it takes to become a farmer

Pat Leuchtman, The Recorder, September 7, 2019

Like many new students entering the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Daniel Greene of Charlemont did not know what he really wanted to do.

College was a new environment, filled with new people, new freedoms and new ideas.Initaily, he did know he was concerned about climate change and other environmental issues.

Academics and learning were important but he was eager to get to work and get his hands dirty.

But his ultimate goal was not clear.

As he began his studies, he realized he was surrounded by farms and a university with agricultural programs. In 2008, he graduated with a degree in sustainable agriculture.

After graduation, he began his years of peripatetic farming. He moved to Shelburne Falls and worked on a Conway farm as manager and planted his first field of vegetables.

There were a few years of moving and farming in Colrain, Shelburne Center and Ashfield. Four years ago, he was renting fields in Conway again. Last fall, Greene decided it was time to move to his own land permanently.

He bought an old house in need of a lot of work in Charlemont that came with eight acres. By this time he had a partner, Teri Rutherford. They met while they were both working at Gloriosa and Co. in Ashfield. One of the strings in Greene’s bow is carpentry.

He was working on the old barn, which was used for special events like weddings. With Gloria Pacosa’s help, Rutherford was learning how to be a wedding organizer. I thought it was very romantic that they met where they were surrounded by beautiful plants — and love.

Greene and Rutherford spent a lot of time last fall working on the house. At the same time, Greene was also working on the yearend harvests and field work on his rented two acres in Conway. Rutherford was working at Valley View Farm in Haydenville, coordinating and pre-planning weddings.

By the time the holidays were in sight, the couple had finished enough electrical and plumbing renovations to make the house livable. They moved in.

Greene has now had a full season of planting and harvesting in back of his house, as well as finishing up in Conway. He and Teri gave me the tour of plantings and necessary work spaces. Early in the spring, he had planted a quick buckwheat cover crop before planting, very aware of how important soil improvement is on a new property.

The long hoop house was mostly filled with all kinds of tomatoes climbing up wires to supports. Another long hoop house will join it next spring.

Right now, another long bed filled with tomatoes, ground cherries and tomatillos is being harvested. One section was filled with Goldenberry (Physalis peruviana). I had never seen much less heard of goldenberry before. “I’m growing it more for fun than anything, but this is a trial plot for Rutgers University. Rutgers is testing this crop for small farms with CSA programs because many small farms don’t grow fruit,” Green said.

Goldenberries are a small, cherry-sized fruit that tastes like a mix of pineapple, strawberry, and sour cherry. These little fruits can be eaten raw, dried or made into jam. They can be harvested over six weeks and be a financial benefit to a small farm.

Greene has other experiments. He showed me a section devoted to Mexican Cucamelon, also known as Sour Gherkin Cucumber (Melothria scabra). This fruit, shaped like a tiny watermelon, ripens in 75 days. I tasted one and it did taste a bit like a cucumber.

They give a big harvest and look pretty on the vines.

There are fields that cannot be seen from the house because of an intervening woodland, but we walked up the hill and Greene pointed to plots planted with sorghum-sudangrass hybrids in preparation for planting next year. This hybrid is a soil builder, weed suppressor and subsoil loosener..

“I’ll cut down the sorghum-sudangrass early in the spring, and chop it up and into the soil. I won’t be able to plant small vegetables in that plot, but squashes should be able to thrive,” he said.

Planting, growing and harvesting vegetables aren’t the end of a farmer’s work. Greene showed me a small production house where produce is washed and the leafy crops even get spin-dried in an old washing machine.

Then produce is stored in a chilled concrete room ready to be brought to the Friday Shelburne Falls Farmers Market and the Saturday, Ashfield Farmers Market. Greene also delivers vegetables to several restaurants including the Blue Rock Restaurant and Bar, Hearty Eats, Ashfield Lake House, and others.

Rutherford is responsible for keeping the Farm Stand supplied. The milkhouse part of the old dairy barn has been renovated to house a cooler, a table with a variety of vegetables — and honor system payment.

After the tour, we walked back to the house and sat on the porch. I felt the serenity of the spot, looking across the lawn at the magnificent old trees. We chatted about all the work that had been done, and work that waited.

There was a silence then Greene smiled a small smile. “I think I have pretty much accomplished my 10 year plan.”

I smiled. I think he is ready for the next 10 years to begin.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. She now lives in Greenfield.

Readers can leave comments at her website: c o m m o n w e e d e r.c o m