History of Small-Scale Farming in No. Quabbin Topic of Thursday Event in Athol

The Recorder, December 6, 2015.

ATHOL — Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust is joining with Quabbin Harvest food co-op to present an evening focused on the past, present, and future of farming in north-central Massachusetts.

“Telling Our Food Story: What’s Next?” will be held at the Athol Public Library, at 568 Main St., on Thursday with a gallery opening at 6 p.m. for “Quabbin Harvest Farmers,” photographs by Oliver Scott Snure, followed at 7 p.m. by a presentation by local humanities scholar Cathy Stanton and a panel discussion with audience participation. The event is free and open to all.

The event caps off a summer and fall project called “Farm Values: Civic Agriculture at the Crossroads,” a collaboration between the land trust and Stanton. The project has been devoted to reexamining the histories of small-scale farming in the area and engaging audiences at festivals and other venues in conversation about how farmers have adapted to changing markets for over two centuries.

“There’s a common perception that farming in this part of New England declined early on because the soil isn’t very good and farmers couldn’t stay competitive,” says Stanton, who teaches anthropology at Tufts University. “We wanted to push back against that over-simple story and show how farmers have continually reinvented their approaches and found new markets, right up to — and even after — the point in the 1960s and ’70s where large-scale supermarkets started to take over.”

“Farm Values” focused on six farms from a six-town area in the center of the land trust’s 23-town service area: Chase Hill Farm in Warwick, Moore’s Maple Grove Farm in Orange, Adams Farm in Athol, the former King Farm in Petersham, Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, and Stillman Quality Meats in Hardwick.
Today’s revival of interest in local food, Stanton noted, has brought opportunities for new and established food producers in the area. Mount Grace Trust has been active in working with farmers and other landowners to protect and add to the base of working farmland, while new food businesses like Quabbin Harvest — a storefront in a former downtown Orange bank now owned by the land trust — help bridge the gaps between producers and consumers.

But in a part of the state where incomes are lower and land less rich than in the nearby Pioneer Valley, the local food scene faces real challenges. Thursday’s event will address some of those, drawing on a brief presentation about the findings from the “Farm Values” project and ideas from a panel of people from around the area’s food economy. Panelists will include Julie Davis of Quabbin Harvest Coop, Deb Habib of Seeds of Solidarity Farm and Education Center, John Moore of Moore’s Maple Grove Farm, and Jamie Pottern of Mount Grace.

Gallery exhibit and talk

“Quabbin Harvest Farmers,” an exhibit commissioned by the co-op, features photographs of farmers at four area farms by Oliver Scott Snure of Northampton. The exhibit runs through the end of December in the library’s gallery.

Oliver Scott Snure will give a brief gallery talk at 6:30 p.m. Short videos produced as part of the “Farm Values” project will also premiere during the 6-to-7 p.m. hour. Refreshments will be served.

“Farm Values” is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. More information about the project can be found at