Valley Bounty: Bare Roots Farm
Published May 7th, 2022 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
By Lisa Goodrich
Each spring like clockwork, Eastern bluebirds magically return to nesting boxes alongside valley fields. These sightings and other signs of the changing seasons coax many local gardeners out of their winter burrows with visions of prolific flower beds or fresh, fragrant produce. Given variability in weather, soil, and growing conditions across our region, it helps for plants to have a strong start.
Anna Maunz and Chris Reid, co-owners at Bare Roots Farm, raise “useful, organic plants,” including food, medicinal plants, and pollinating flowers. “As we started this business, we kept returning to the question, ‘what is a useful plant?’ We went back to the idea of Victory Gardens in World War II,” says Reid. With a background in production agriculture, Reid weighed environmental impacts alongside a desire to maximize his positive contribution to the local food system. Their plant nursery in Chesterfield has grown over the last ten years, setting strong roots in the community, while growing their family at the same time.
Inspiration for the farm came to Reid in the form of a question, “What if I could grow lots and lots of plants, so everyone else can grow their own food? I feel like we’re finally at a scale that has accomplished this.” Reid continued, “It feels lovely—and useful.” Maunz explains, “Our dream is to grow plants that are good enough, that when you put them into your garden, the plants thrive. We can give you a good, strong start, so you’ll have better success as your plants grow.”
Reid relates that the farm stand “feels like part of our community. In the Hilltowns, everyone is scattered. Here, the plants are seasonal, and bring everyone together.” Strong community is one of the social benefits for all who visit this family farm stand. Maunz reflects, “There isn’t a greater joy than seeing the life that comes to people through the plants in their gardens.” Whether visitors talk about the meals they make from their vegetables or express amazement at watching pollinators at work on their flowers, shared stories bind neighbors and visitors to the Maunz-Reid family, to the soil, and to the seasons.
Community support is integral to successful farming. While soil, integrated pest management, and organic fertilizers may come naturally to farmers, not all farm work is a sunny afternoon watering flowers. When Bare Roots Farm was just starting, other farms like Crabapple Farm reached out to the couple. Support between farmers remains a foundational piece of the Bare Roots Farm community.
During the pandemic, the definition of safety both for family and community shifted. Reid recounts, “we wanted people to know they could still get our plants.” Coordination to bring plants to market became ever-changing, and the couple decided it was time to act on a longstanding goal of creating an online store. Reid took a winter class in website design through the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) technical assistance program. Reid ran with it, built the online marketplace, and made their long-term goal a reality. Selling online with pickup at their farm stand felt safer, both for customers and their own family.
The online store “exceeded our wildest imaginings, and that’s continued,” Maunz shared “People really enjoy being able to sit down on their computers during winter when it’s snowy out, to plan their gardens and order. We have everything ready for them in May.” They open the farm stand first (this year the stand opened on May 1st), and they begin picking online orders May 15th. Online ordering is ongoing until June.
Throughout the pandemic, Bare Roots experienced a spike in interest from customers wanting to start or expand their gardens. During the pandemic, the couple was surprised that their farm flourished in uncertain times with community support. Maunz shares, “To be a grower and receive that kind of support has been a beautiful thing.” As wholesale orders increased, Bare Roots Farm started selling plants to River Valley Co-op and Gardener’s Supply at Hadley Garden Center, where local gardeners can find their plant starts this season.
Farm work for Maunz and Reid mirrors the choices they make for their family. This means they use inputs that are as environmentally friendly as possible. Their soil is a compost-based growing mixture, they use Neptune’s Harvest fish fertilizer, and rarely need to address pests. They use a simple, spray of Dr. Bronner’s soap and water if pests strike. The couple’s two young children join them in the greenhouse, emphasizing how their choices for sustainability tie directly to their personal values system and the health of their family.
Farming is a commitment to the long game, in all kinds of weather, economies, and social challenges, like COVID. Sharing the labor and exhaustion farmers face, Maunz references poet/essayist/farmer Wendell Berry. “Part of the reason I’m doing this work is because of him.” She continues, “We do this work for a better world. We do it for the lifestyle. It’s not a job—it’s a way of life.”
“Farming is hard,” Maunz continues. “There isn’t a lot of support. It’s rare to have organizations like CISA who support people. There’s more support here than anywhere. That’s one of the reasons why we chose to live here. I feel lucky that we are able to be here, be able to do the work, and the way our community has supported us.”
Bare Roots operates their farm stand at the site of Ireland Street Orchards at 330 Ireland Street, Chesterfield, MA 01084. The farm stand will remain open seven days per week through July. On weekdays, the stand is self-serve; they accept cash, checks, and Venmo. On weekends, they accept credit cards when Maunz and Reid are there to staff the stand.
Lisa Goodrich is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To learn more about local farms, what’s in season, and where to find it, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.