The Bars Farm

Published in CISA’s September 2009 Enewsletter.

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For the first time in a long time, Allison Landale is working only one job: managing her family’s farm in Deerfield. Like many farmers, Allison had an off-farm job for years so she and her husband Dean could earn enough to support their family.

After revising their business plan this past year, Allison left her accounting job in May of 2008 to focus her attention solely on the farm. The Bars Farm, named for the region of Deerfield where it is located, has been in Allison’s family since the 1820s. She first started working on the farm in high school when her parents Herb and Mary Marsh owned and operated the business (besides being a farmer, her father was a professor of plant and soil sciences at UMass). In 1991, Allison returned to the family business and by 1994, she and Dean formally took over management of the farm. Herb still helps with the transplanting and perennial plants and Mary lends her hand as a bookkeeper. Dean became full time as well in 2007. He was a full time welder and had been helping on the farm since 1998.

Although farm work is hard and seemingly never ending, Allison enjoys all aspects of being a farmer. “If I didn’t like doing it all, I wouldn’t be a farmer,” she quips matter-of-factly. She likes being outside in the fields and interacting with the customers in the farm stand. The job gives her a wonderful sense of fulfillment. “Watching the farm stand go from being empty to full each year is very rewarding. I love seeing the produce fill up the bins throughout the season.”

The hardest part of being a farmer, Allison concedes, is dealing with the unknown. “You run into something every season. When you’re a farmer, you don’t have to go to Vegas [to gamble],” notes Allison. The Bars Farm tries to mitigate the unknown as much as possible, using IPM (Integrated Pest Management) farming practices and growing a diversity of fruits and vegetables. Still, the farm is subjected to the vagaries of the weather, which can turn a seemingly profitable crop into ruins in an instant.

Even with all of these challenges, Allison tries to be as responsive as she can to customer requests. For example, she expanded the floral portion of her business because her customers asked for more. Now she has greenhouses devoted to flowers. She’s also looking into growing white cucumbers after a customer talked about this unusual variety. Allison likes to try new plants or varieties each year, looking for what grows best on her land and sells well. Plans for improving the farm are continuously underway: Allison and Dean are planning to expand their early tomato production and are considering hydroponic lettuce. In the meantime, she is enjoying completing her second year being a full-time farmer.

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