Sawyer Farm: a modern farm with traditional, horse-powered farming methods

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, July 23, 2018, by Luis Fieldman

On a typical summer morning at Sawyer Farm, the loud banging of pots lets horses Trixie and Paulie know that it is time for breakfast. They run up from grazing in the pasture to the gate, where farm owner Lincoln Fishman waits to lead them down to the barn.

As the horses eat their oats, Fishman begins tending to different chores around the 45-acre farm at 19 Sawyer Road that he and his wife, Hillary Costa, purchased when they moved to Worthington in 2010. When the horses are done eating, it is time for work.

Many vegetables can be found on Sawyer Farm, including tomatillos, red and green peppers, salad greens, potatoes, onions, garlic, squash, turnips, beets and carrots.

What you won’t find are motor-powered tractors or plows. That is because Trixie and Paulie are the ones pulling mowers, harrows, and other early 1900s farming equipment.

“It’s a huge part of why I do farm,” Fishman said Saturday at a demonstration on the farm. The Hilltown Land Trust partnered with Sawyer Farm to host a public event where people were invited to learn about traditional farming practices inspired by the golden age of agriculture, from 1860 to 1930.

The Hilltown Land Trust is a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect land and promote ecological diversity in the Hilltowns. Sally Loomis, executive director of the land trust, said they wanted to put on the event as an educational opportunity to highlight Sawyer Farm’s commitment to sustainable farming practices.

“The horses and I are work colleagues, and they have a job to do here and we work together to get the farmwork done,” Fishman said. “We have to figure out how to work together to get stuff done so there is a constant back and forth between us. It’s a deeper, richer relationship than I’ve had with any other animal in my life.”

It is his job to recognize when they get tired, he said, and it is their job to keep the pace he sets. They have worked together for the past three years, and often he does not have to say much for the roughly 10 tasks that have become routine, such as mowing tall grass and harrowing soil beds for weeds.

“They don’t ‘kind of get it’ — they totally understand what to do,” Fishman said.

Around 25 people turned out for the demonstration, where Fishman showed them raised soil beds he is preparing for next year. Costa took care of their 3-year-old son, Leo, who will one day lead the horses himself, as they are only 7 and 8 and will work until their 20s, Fishman said.

About half the work Fishman does on the farm is for this year’s crops, and the other half is prepping for next year’s using techniques such as cover-cropping. This is the practice of growing a crop in the vegetable fields with the intention of plowing it back into the field instead of harvesting it.

The root systems of those crops hold the soil in place, adding lots of nutrients to the soil, making the soil fertile for next year’s crops.

It is part of the farm’s goal of having sustainable, organic farming that never uses chemicals.

Cover-cropping “eliminates erosion, because the roots are holding the soil,” Fishman said. “It provides competition for any weeds, and it improves the soil.

“It sends down roots that mellow the soil and gives micro-organisms a places to live and things to eat. And when you disk it into the soil, all the nutrients that were in the cover crop are now in your soil.”

One of the busiest times of the year just ended at Sawyer Farms with the seeding season for carrots recently ending. From June 21 to July 7 they seed about a dozen variety of carrots, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of the farm’s income. Now, Fishman said, it is more of a “relaxed” time as the farm has planted pretty much everything for the fall harvest, which is from mid-September to mid-October.

The farm stand at Sawyer Farm is open year-round and it offers locally grown food, including meat, vegetables, eggs, and corn meal from the farm. The farm also supports other farms and artisans by offering their products, such as maple syrup, honey, coffee, ice cream, cheese and artwork.