Local Hero Profile: The Atherton Farm
Local Hero Profile by Talia Brown, CISA Intern
Published in CISA’s December 2020 enewsletter
The Atherton Farm got its start in 2003, selling produce from the farm’s garden on a picnic table. In the seventeen years that followed, owner Sue Atherton has been constantly fine-tuning the farm’s workings—just a little bit at a time.
When Sue was growing up, the farm, located in Buckland, was a dairy farm. Her family had a garden where they grew food for themselves, with a little bit left over to sell. She always loved the farm, and when she took over, she brought with her the appreciation she had for it growing up.
Since then, the farm has expanded slightly from the picnic table model, with a farm stand in the old dairy barn and two new greenhouses. Sue says her approach to growing and improving the farm has been conservative – a “dip your toe in the water” approach. Every year she works toward perfecting efficiency by trying a little bit of something new. Some of these new things have come from other farmers who have been perfecting their methods to deal with the constant hurdles in farming, especially one constant: change. Recently, Sue has been working with other farmers to try out irrigation techniques to deal with worsening droughts.
From the beginning, Sue has benefitted from the assistance of other farmers, and from the community that is built around local food. As the farm became established, Sue has followed in the footsteps of the farmers who helped her out. Currently, The Atherton Farm is leasing land to Lyonsville Farm, where farmer Maria Topitzer is further developing her farming practice. In the process of simplifying her farm as she gets older, Sue has collaborated with a neighboring farm, selling their eggs instead of raising her own laying flock. As well as drawing from the past, Sue is thinking about the future. She is making plans to pass the farm on to others who will continue the legacy of young farmers learning through doing.
As I talked to Sue about challenges faced by The Atherton Farm, our conversation turned to the ways that relationships to food and local food have been changed by the pandemic, and how the constraints and new rhythms of the pandemic have been shaped by local food and the community it creates. During the pandemic, Sue has noticed that attention has been focused closer to home – on beautifying houses with flower gardens, becoming more self sufficient with vegetable and herb gardens, and paying more attention to where food comes from. This is an area where it’s easy, and (deserved), to focus on the positive. Sue and I talked about how one of the few places people gather and socialize now is around food – at grocery stores, farm stands, a farmers’ market, an outdoor meal. In light of this, Sue has been glad to share not only products, but knowledge as well to help people get started with their own gardens, no matter what size. “If we’re here,” Sue says, “we’ll help!”
In summer, The Atherton Farm sells flower and vegetable plants, grown in their greenhouses, as well as vegetables and herbs. Now, as the holidays get closer, you can find a wide variety of custom-made fir decorations and a limited amount of Christmas trees at their stand. The wreaths and roping (available in multiple sizes), kissing balls, and planters that you can find at the farm are all made from Fraser fir, which holds needles well, and is fragrant.
The farm, located at 147 Ashfield Road in Buckland, is generally open Monday-Friday from 11am-4pm. When the weather is good, there will be wreaths outside. To order ahead, you can call (413) 625-2659 or email Sue at Sueatherton@comcast.net.