Local Hero Profile: Dave’s Natural Garden
On a gray morning in February, I drove down Amherst Street, passing by twice in order to get into the parking lot at Dave’s Natural Garden. The farm’s driveway and parking lot was full of cars, waiting to pick up fresh eggs. Meghan Hastings, the farm’s manager directed me through the busy lot and into the farm’s main greenhouse. The greenhouse was a warm refuge from the February chill, and filled with life. Inside, tables were covered with plants and baskets lined to the ceiling—a hint of the two thousand hanging flower baskets the farm grows for the spring season. I sat down with Meghan and Dave to talk among the flowers.
Dave Kaskeski, the farm’s owner/operator, grew up in western Massachusetts. His family milked cows, and he eventually went to college for Dairy Management and worked in dairy farming in Massachusetts and Vermont. Seventeen years ago, though, Dave made the switch to flowers and vegetables, growing on the land the farm sits on now, in Granby, Massachusetts
Once he got going, Dave said, “People just kept stopping.” They used a farm viability grant to continue growing the farm, adding the farm store, more greenhouses, expanding the chicken operation, and adding a sustainable corn heating system. The farm also received an NRCS grant, one of the first high tunnel grants, allowing them to construct a high tunnel greenhouse to produce salad greens year-round.
One of Dave’s main focuses on the farm is flowers. “I like the challenge,” he told me. Dave’s Natural Garden grows around 95% of its plants—flowers and produce—from seed. This is rare, Meghan tells me. Most places that sell flowers and other plants grow them from pre-grown plugs. In the greenhouse, where the flowers are grown from seed, the main challenges faced are insects and disease—and Dave has spent years learning and perfecting a pesticide- and herbicide-free solution. “We use 100% beneficial control,” Dave tells me. Beneficial control is the practice of strategically introducing insects that target pest insects. At Dave’s, the process looks like this: A type of aphid called cherry-oat aphids, which feed only on grasses, are brought into the greenhouse on grass plants. Two weeks later, a type of parasitic wasp is introduced, which injects its eggs into the cherry-oat aphids and any other aphids that come into the greenhouse, killing them. There are several other intricate processes like this in place to target other types of pests.
The pesticide- and herbicide-free practices extend beyond the greenhouses. This practice, Meghan tells me, makes the farm safe for pollinators, and means that the plants sold at the farm are safe for pets and kids, and that edible plants are extra safe for eating. The farm has grown to twenty-five acres of produce, including several greenhouses. In one of these, the high tunnel, grows some delicious, unique greens that are sold at the farm store individually and in salad mixes. One of these greens is claytonia, a crisp and delicious native green. Another is mache, which is nutty and floral. The farm has recently started growing micro-greens as well.
Care and attention to detail proliferate here, and, as Meghan assures me, “We want people to succeed!” One way the farm assists with this is by selling plants only when it is seasonally appropriate. This sets Dave’s Natural Garden apart from other, larger plant sellers—at Dave’s, you will find plants for sale only when they can grow in western Massachusetts, ensuring you can be successful growing them in your own garden. This is unique because, as Meghan tells me, some larger stores use growth regulators to keep plants small for shipping and display purposes, and so that the plants can be grown at any point in the season. Dave’s doesn’t do this. Dave h
as 17 years of “composition-book science” on hand at all times—books filled with information about planting times and numbers over the years. When you get plants from Dave’s, they will be timed so that the ground is warm enough and it is warm enough outside for the plants to grow, and they will not have been sprayed with growth regulators that prevent them from growing larger than they are. That’s why you might not see plants at Dave’s farm store as early as at other big box stores. Dave and Meghan are also happy to help people find what works for them—to suit either your particular talents or not-so talents or the environmental conditions of the place you are planting.
And now is the time of year to visit the farm store. There you can find flower, vegetable, and herb starts to plant in your garden, as well as the farm’s pride and joy—hanging baskets. “They’re absolutely beautiful,” Meghan tell me, and Dave adds modestly, “They’re very nice.” Along with flowers and produce, Dave’s keeps one-thousand chickens for egg production. Eggs can be purchased at the farm store. The farm store also stocks cheeses, meat, maple syrup, and honey from local farms—it’s a “one-stop-shop,” as Meghan says. Amid current uncertainty, the farm store at Dave’s Natural Garden is open as planned, with physical distancing precautions. You can visit the farm store at 35 Amherst Street in Granby, Monday-Saturday from 9am-6pm, and Saturday from 9am-5pm. Online pre-ordering is also available at bit.ly/OrderFromDave. Check the farm’s Instagram and Facebook pages for the latest updates on availability, as well as beautiful pictures of flowers and information about plants!
Keep your eyes open; starting in July they will have sweet corn, including a variety of white corn called Silver Queen Corn. The perfect addition to your summer barbecues … loyal customers drive all the way up from Connecticut just to get their hands on this delicious variety. They have a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables available as well, from heirloom tomatoes to hot peppers to berries. Also available are perennial flowers (including day lilies, echinacea, and succulents) and hanging baskets perfect for Father’s Day. See for yourself at Dave’s Natural Garden on Amherst Street.