Local Hero Profile: Intervale Farm
By Brian Snell, Program Associate
Published in CISA’s May 2016 Enews – Sign Up Here!
The farm Rick Tracy’s grandfather bought in 1936 didn’t bear much resemblance to what Intervale Farm is today, despite being on much of the same land. It was a wholesale dairy farm which is how it stayed through two generations of Tracy farmers. In 1981, Rick came home from Penn State to join the family business with his wife and business partner Maureen Dempsey. The dairy herd had been sold and Rick decided to refocus the farm as a mixed vegetable operation.
Rick made money during college by growing and selling vegetables from the family garden at the Northampton Saturday farmers’ market. Maureen grew up mostly in the suburbs and had little experience with farming. Rick continued with farmers’ markets and in the mid 80’s branched out into the wholesale business with the Pioneer Valley Growers’ Association. By the early 90’s, they felt that they would not be able to grow vegetables on the scale that would make wholesale farming profitable, so they switched to selling directly to the consumer. Today, Intervale sells through farmers’ markets in Florence and Northampton, their farm stand, a 50-member CSA program, and 30 mini-CSA shares distributed to low-income seniors in Huntington and Chesterfield through CISA’s Senior FarmShare program.
Maureen and Rick have played an important role in building farmers’ markets in Northampton: Intervale Farm was an early vendor at the Northampton Saturday Market, which recently celebrated its 40th year, and Rick serves as President of the volunteer steering committee. Maureen was instrumental in helping the market accept SNAP benefits and serves as an advisor to CISA’s SNAP & Save program, which matches SNAP spending at farmers’ markets.
“People’s tastes have changed a lot since we started farming. They’re more interested in food and in having access to a variety of kinds of food,” Maureen comments. She and Rick have expanded their offerings to keep pace, adding specialty greens like arugula and broccoli rabe, eggs, and lamb, as well as nursery plants and cut flowers.
Rick and Maureen grow their vegetables without chemical herbicides or pesticides, despite it meaning quite a bit of extra labor for them. They’ve chosen to communicate directly with their customers about their growing practices rather than to go through the organic certification process.
Rick and Maureen first heard about CISA through UMass Extension. They started coming to CISA’s workshops and joined the Local Hero program in 2004. After a CISA workshop on web marketing and websites, CISA offered one-on-one consulting, which Intervale used to build a new website. “CISA’s efforts to market locally grown farm products on behalf of the farmers that grow them has been an enormous help”, Maureen says. “They’ve been wonderful as a marketing agency and a way of getting people interested in buying local,” she says. “That’s such a big thing now, and CISA had a big hand in having that happen.”
With none of their three children planning to work in farming, Intervale’s long-term future is uncertain, but for now, Maureen says, “We’re at a good point. Rick’s been going to the Saturday market for over 35 years, and I’ve been going to Florence for 25, so we’ve got a really good customer base. Many of them have been with us since the beginning”