Local Hero Profile: Small Ones Farm

Written by Natasha Cnossen, CISA Local Hero Intern

My first introduction to Small Ones Farm was small indeed and came with a name to suit it, Squeak. As I was attempting to park my bike, the cat insisted I pet her, as she apparently does with nearly every visitor to the farm stand that sits in front of the farm’s original 1850s barn. Sally Fitz, who runs the farm with her husband Bob, later informed me that the stand is new and was made possible from a grant in 2017, giving the business the chance to offer more selection to their local customers, including product requiring refrigeration. The farm is located in South Amherst, and has a large orchard and several greenhouses, making it possible for Sally and Bob to offer a wide variety of fruit and berries for sale at the farm stand.

When I got to the farm, Bob was nowhere to be seen as he was tending to the unloading of a giant high tunnel greenhouse. Since he was going to be busy for a while, Sally welcomed me out onto their back porch, and we talked about how they got into farming and the history of the farm itself. Neither she nor Bob had a background in farming and had spent a significant amount of time in cities before moving to the Amherst area in 2002. They had in fact been a couple for over 15 years before they got a start in farming. Bob had always wanted to own a farm after having spent time at a relative’s farm in Ohio as a child. This dream chased him and Sally around for years until it was literally on their lawn one day on Bob’s birthday. Sally had found an old tractor from the 1950s, a Ford 8-N, and gifted it to Bob. They lived in a city at the time; Bob gave rides to their children and drove the tractor in circles around their driveway. Fortunately, the tractor now gets to be on a real farm, and later as we walked around the property I asked if it still runs. Bob replied, “Does it run? Yes, excellently.”

Once the tractor kick started Bob and Sally’s journey into owning their own farm, it didn’t take too long before they found their current location in South Amherst off Bay Road in 2004. Before the Fitzes took over, the previous owner had planted 200-250 trees in the orchard. In the years since  they purchased the farm, Bob and Sally have diversified and expanded the scope of the farm to include about 800 apple and peach trees in the orchards, blueberries, raspberries, garlic, pumpkins, and soon, black raspberries. As I talked to them both, I got the feeling that the place had a great blend of the past and present, the old and new. The farm is from the 1850s, and the barn and part of the house are the original structures–with updates and repairs of course.

The farm consists of 63 acres, with 13 acres leased out to Brookfield, a neighboring farm. The rest of the land is taken up with the orchard, berries, two, soon to be three greenhouses, grapes, thousands of sunflowers that Bob said he might make into a maze, old hay fields, and of course the buildings. The orchard is quite impressive, and Bob gave me the story on it and the other crops as we toured the farm after talking with Sally.

One of the first stops on the tour was at the high tunnel greenhouses. The first one was full of raspberries. As Bob and I entered the greenhouse, he said “help yourself to a raspberry, or three or four or five or forty seven.” They were so delicious that I could have eaten forty seven, but I stuck to two. I asked if the berries tasted different when they were grown outdoors versus in the greenhouse. Bob replied, “No, but they taste different if you grow them organically”. The farm uses organic growing practices as certified by the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) program.

After the raspberries, we went outside to the part of the orchard that was made up of peach trees, which had over 100 trees full of small green peaches. We also stopped at Art’s Favorite, an apple variety that was named after the previous owner. In the second greenhouse, Bob approached a tiny peach tree and said, “Isn’t this something? These are my ripe peaches.” Then, to my delight, he gave me the first peach of the season.

We moved on to walk through the rows of hundreds of apple trees. Small Ones Farm grows over 50 varieties of apples on the property. We also visited three of the original apple trees that are over 100 years old and dedicated to some of Bob and Sally’s family members. Throughout all of this walking and talking Bob mentioned that it can be difficult to manage pests and disease organically, but that they had many tactics to do so, ranging from using clay and paint on trees to make the trees and fruit unappetizing to pests, to using netting to ward off bugs.

These days, the farm welcomes a variety of people to discover the joys of farming and the wonderful food that can come from a local farm. Small Ones Farm hosts many events and programs, including a concert series with The Valley Winds that starts in August, and hopefully a pumpkin festival like their inaugural event last year, and maybe even apple picking in the fall if they get a bumper crop. The farm also has grade level and university school group tours come out, interns in summer and fall, and overnight stays for groups such as girl scouts or students, giving them all a chance to get out into the country and away from the city. Small Ones Farm is also a location for research through the University of Massachusetts. Sally brought up one example in particular, stating that “we’re an organic test site for a European apple that is going to be introduced to the United States”.

People around the Valley can try out Small One’s produce, including apples, peaches, and berries by signing up for their fruit CSA or stopping by the farm stand at the farm in South Amherst. Pies are a big part of the farm’s business as well. Bob and Sally partner with Grandma Miller’s bakery in Vermont to make the pies with the farm’s fruit. They sell the pies during the holidays and offer a discounted price to help community groups raise funds.

Sally and Bob’s relative newness to farming may contrast with the age of the farm, but that won’t stop them from their plans to continue the programs and crops they currently offer. The diversity of what Small Ones Farm has for sale means that there is something for everyone and will hopefully be an amazing experience, encouraging the next generation to stay connected to their food and enjoy the countryside. Squeak will also be there to do her best to leave hair on every visitor’s pant legs and smiles on their faces.

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