Valley Bounty: Brookfield Farm
Published April 28, 2023 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
Pioneering Amherst CSA farm is a produce powerhouse
By Jacob Nelson
This week at Brookfield Farm, a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm in Amherst, spring crops continue to take root in freshly tilled fields, gratefully soaking up last week’s rain. Just as they grow — slowly at first, then exploding with life as the weather warms — so too will social activity on the farm. It’s the case every year for a farm that puts as much emphasis on the “community” as it does the “agriculture.”
With the CSA business model, community members typically pay upfront for shares of the farm’s harvest, which is then distributed in regular allotments throughout the season. Now it’s a common strategy for farms looking to sell directly to their customers, but back in 1986, Brookfield Farm was one of the few local farms trying it.
Today, the farm feeds over 700 families in western Massachusetts and the Boston area through their CSA program and through donations. They do so while caring attentively for their land — using certified organic growing practices inspired by a biodynamic philosophy — and their longstanding community of CSA shareholders.
For farms like them, the CSA model is proving fruitful. It wasn’t always this way, remembers Kerry Taylor, who co-manages Brookfield Farm alongside her husband, Max.
“When I first farmed in New England in 1994, things were different,” she says. “The CSA model hadn’t taken off yet, and the buy local sentiment was just starting to take hold. Farming wasn’t cool. It didn’t seem like a feasible career.”
Taylor left to work elsewhere — first in a municipal job in Washington, D.C., then a term in the Peace Corps. Yet as she returned to the Valley to visit family, she saw the local food movement gaining steam. Having already sworn off desk jobs, when she saw Brookfield Farm offering an apprenticeship, she decided to give farming another shot.
She ended up staying at Brookfield Farm for six years, three as an apprentice and three more as assistant manager. During that time she met Max Taylor, who was then working at Riverland Farm in Sunderland. The couple got married — at Brookfield Farm — before departing for Connecticut in 2011 to follow their own small farm dream.
Until, yet again, the Valley drew them back. In 2021 they landed once more at Brookfield Farm, this time managing the whole thing. At that point the farm fit like a familiar glove, which was welcome amid all the other newness in their lives.
Besides uprooting and moving, they would soon welcome a son into the world prematurely — a beautiful story with a happy ending, but more nerve-wracking than any parents would hope for. Taylor will share that story of trying to mother both a farm and a tiny new baby at Field Notes, a live storytelling event happening Sunday April 30th from 2-4 p.m. at the Academy of Music in Northampton. Tickets are available at buylocalfood.org/fieldnotes2023.
The biggest constant remained the farm’s focus on its CSA program. Today, their summer CSA provides weekly distributions of fresh produce from June all the way through Thanksgiving, while their winter CSA provides monthly allotments for the remainder of the year. A standard share feeds two adults (or one who eats a lot of veggies) and any children in their household. Two households can also split a standard share, and they offer smaller senior shares to aging households eating less.
CSA shareholders who live in the Valley can pick up from the farm during one of three time slots each week. Upon arrival they can choose from the in-season produce laid out in the CSA barn up to their allotted amount. There’s also an option to purchase local eggs, meat, cheese, breads and other staples from nearby businesses as share add-ons.
Brookfield Farm also delivers around 125 shares weekly to six locations in the Boston area. These are pre-packed with all the same fresh produce.
All shareholders have access to pick-your-own berries, veggies, herbs, and flowers any day from dawn to dusk. Other perks include the chance to buy Brookfield Farm’s own beef and pork when available, as well as bulk produce at lower cost. They also receive the farm’s weekly newsletter updates, events and recipes.
In an economy where both farmers and eaters are struggling to make ends meet, Brookfield Farm does what they can to make their food accessible to everyone. Customers can pay for their CSA shares with SNAP and HIP benefits, and the farm itself also subsidizes costs for a handful of low-income shareholders.
“We also recognize that the CSA model doesn’t work for everyone,” Taylor says. “So last year we piloted a donor-funded program to seed, grow, harvest and distribute produce to people that need it, mostly to the Amherst Survival Center. That’s something we’d love to expand.”
Brookfield Farm has lofty goals for creating ripples of change in their community. Their nonprofit governance structure is one reason they’re able to aim so high. Since 1987, the farm and its assets have been held by the Biodynamic Farmland Conservation Trust. Farm managers like the Taylors oversee day-to-day operations, but big decisions are made by a board of directors.
This management system is more complex to navigate than a for-profit business model, but it creates pathways for enthusiastic community members to invest more than they otherwise could. Supporters can help by organizing events, donating, or volunteering their time and expertise on the farm or with big projects — like the recent fundraising campaign to purchase 100% of the farm’s land base, much of which had been rented.
All these community-driven efforts raise the bar for what Brookfield Farm can accomplish. And for many, the social and community benefits of engaging with a farm like this are just as much a reward as the fresh food. CSA pickups are always social affairs, and pick-your-own excursions have that potential.
They also host several shareholder events each season, this year’s first being a seedling sale in May, where dozens of varieties of organically grown herb, flower, and veggie seedlings will be available.
“I love that we’re a really open, welcoming, and intergenerational meeting place,” Taylor says. “It’s always been the case, but COVID really proved that the farm is a haven for people. We can fulfill that overwhelming desire for local food and connection. We hope people don’t forget that!”
Brookfield Farm is still accepting sign-ups for their 2023 CSA at brookfieldfarm.org.
To learn more about CSA farms and other local farms near you, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.