Grow Food Northampton names Clem Clay of Amherst new executive director

The Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 21, 2014. By Gena Mangiaratti.

NORTHAMPTON — Four years after its founding, Grow Food Northampton has named a new executive director, Clem Clay, who grew up on a farm in Vermont, managed farmers markets in California and spent a decade in land preservation work.

Clay, 44, of Amherst, who recently left his post as director of the Trust for Public Land’s Connecticut River Program, was chosen from a pool of 28 applicants for the position. He was among four finalists, said outgoing executive director Lilly Lombard, who helped found Grow Food Northampton. He assumes the new job Jan. 2.

Clay said his passion for agriculture started early. He grew up on a farm in Arlington, Vermont, where his family raised sheep and has operated a maple syrup business since 1972. He earned a bachelor’s degree in soil science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1994, and managed farmers markets in the area in the years after graduation.

Through this work, Clay said, he came to understand the value of local food in a community. Many of the same customers showed up to the markets regularly, he recalled, and got to know not only him, but their favorite farmers.

“It was more than just an affordable way to get food,” said Clay.

He briefly spent time as an organic vegetable farmer back in Vermont in 1997, then returned to the Berkeley area where he managed a different farmers market and also worked as a consultant on sustainable agriculture. He came back to the East Coast for graduate school in 2001 and earned a master’s degree in public policy and administration from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2004.

Grow Food announced Clay’s hiring Thursday. Founded in 2010, Grow Food Northampton is a nonprofit organization with a mission to advance food security through sustainable community agriculture. Grow Food leases affordable land to farmers, runs youth farm education and advocates for land preservation. The organization owns a 121-acre community farm in Florence, the site of the former 185-acre Bean and Allard Farms — land that Clay was instrumental in protecting in his former position.

Lombard said that when community members were rallying to keep the land available for farming back in 2009, Clay was the first person she called.

“He just brought a lot of calmness and wisdom and confidence because he had spent so many years working with citizen groups to help save land,” said Lombard. “I think he’s got a lot of credibility.”

Clay was director of the Connecticut River Program of the Trust for Public Land from 2004 until earlier this year.

The former Bean and Allard Farms are now home to Crimson & Clover CSA Farm, Slow Tractor Farm, Sawmill Farm, Mockingbird Farm and the Grow Food Northampton Organic Community Garden, according to the Grow Food Northampton website. The other 64 acres were sold to the city for the Florence Fields Recreation Area and Mill River Greenway, according to Lombard.

“What’s so exciting about Clem is he’s really the best person to take the reins from me,” said Lombard. “What Clem brings is the experience, skill, maturity and thoughtfulness to take this institution to the next level of development.”

Clay said his first projects in his new job will include adding 50 plots to the Grow Food Northampton Community Garden, and looking for ways to find people who will most benefit from being able to tend their own gardens.

He commended Lombard for bringing the organization to where it is today.

“I have had a great deal of respect for her since we first started talking about this project in 2009,” he said. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to follow in her footsteps.”

Clay lives with his wife, Tiffany. They have a blended family of six children, with three in college.