Valley Bounty: Falls Farm LLC
Published July 30, 2022 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
By Lisa Goodrich
Farming is not for the faint of heart, so who better to cultivate 125 acres into organic farmland than a cardiologist? Dr. James Arcoleo may be better known in the community as a doctor and practice manager of Hampden & Franklin County Cardiovascular Associates, P.C., which has offices in Northampton, Holyoke, Springfield, and in Greenfield.
“I have always been interested in growing stuff and eating good food. I’m a real stickler for that,” Arcoleo notes. The doctor wanted to model the approach to food that he told his patients to follow. “About a decade ago, one of my patients, who is my neighbor, lent me a part of his lawn to start growing vegetables and then I was hooked.”
After seven years of experimenting with growing food in his neighbor’s yard, Arcoleo bought sixty-two acres that straddle the town line between Sunderland and Montague. Falls Farm LLC was born, and two years ago, the doctor purchased the adjacent parcel in Montague, bringing the parcel to 125 acres.
In the shadow of Mount Toby, the geology of the land hails to the retreat of the last glacier lake, Lake Hitchcock, which flanked what is now the Connecticut River. Falls Farm sets roots into two feet of topsoil, formed by ancient rotten vegetation. Twenty feet beneath the soil lies beach sand that provides good drainage. The farm augments the rain cycle with drip irrigation from a well and nearby stream.
“I bought a lot of equipment to rework the land to make it usable and improve it. I did a lot of clearing of dead trees and invasive species, then added back to the land by planting an orchard and twelve acres of vegetables. It’s a huge undertaking to do this the way we did it and a lot of work. I’m still the manager of our medical practice and do that on top of the farm. I don’t regret an ounce of this effort: it’s that rewarding,” says Arcoleo.
The farm is home to 1,500 fruit trees including apricots, peaches, plums, cherries, and apples plus blueberries and black berries. They grow five and a half acres of potatoes and have almost 4,000 heirloom tomato plants from around the world. Falls Farm offers an array of gourmet and heirloom vegetables. Offerings range from horseradish and potatoes to butternut squash and tomatoes. “I plant just about everything: gourmet onions, peppers from Japan, purple cauliflower and broccolini—many items found only in high-end grocery stores.”
While the young farm is not yet USDA-certified, they are working through the lengthy process toward that certification. Falls Farm LLC uses organic practices entirely—and has since the beginning. The 125-acre farm sells primarily through community supported agriculture shares (aka CSA shares), their farm stand, and by supplying the Baystate Health System employee cafeteria.
Organic farming practices have different requirements and costs associated with it than conventional farming. Arcoleo shares, “A lot of the cost is labor in just weeding alone. I’ve learned so much about natural ways I can use to reduce my weeding. I probably spend 80% in weeding alone. I have four full-timers there. Without weeding, I would need one and a half people. I’m learning now to use a cover crop, like certain kinds of clover and peas that add nitrogen into the ground to act as “green manure.” You can plant an entire field with those kinds of plants, then just till and put your plastic down where your rows are going to be, then leave your cover crops. They get so dense that the weeds won’t grow there. You plant through the plastic to contain the weeds. That’s how a dying breed of organic farmers do it, and there’s few of them because it’s just so tough.”
Arcoleo shared a personal goal to use sustainable energy wherever possible, and eventually have as much of the farm as possible run off of solar power. “We’re putting up a net-zero, 41,000 square foot building behind the fields with solar and geothermal for energy. We’re going to use it to grow vegetables year-round.” Neighbors may observe the steel has arrived, and pouring the concrete foundation is next. This will give the farm the ability to offer some form of year-round food.
Using the right equipment for the correct application allows Dr. Arcoleo and his small staff to manage a large body of work. For instance, plowing requires a big, heavy tractor while cultivating requires a smaller tractor. “I have a good relationship with Wally Czajkowski, of Plainville Farm in Hadley. We swap off our equipment, whether tractors or excavators. It’s an effective way to get the job done with the right equipment.”
Community is at the heart of Dr. Arcoleo’s mission with Falls Farm, whether in relationship to his customers or other local farmers. “I wanted to offer CSA farm shares. I have a lot of patients living a lot longer thanks to medications and procedures. Many don’t have the income to buy good food. After looking at the prices for shares in our area, we offered income-adjusted shares. It’s very gratifying to offer income-adjusted farm shares so that older community members can afford to eat healthy food. We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback and it’s very gratifying.”
Falls Farm CSA offered farm shares for the first time in 2021, and they had ten shares; this year, they have seventy. The shares feed members through the summer, and they may offer a fall share through November.
Falls Farm CSA farm stand offers affordable, organic produce at 202 Old Sunderland Road in Montague. The hours are 7:30am – 4:30pm, seven days per week (call the farm to request special pickups). The stand accepts cash, and it is on the honor system. The farm anticipates bumper crops of potatoes and heirloom tomatoes from around the world: watch the Falls Farm Facebook page or the website for updates and offers. To purchase larger quantities, call the farm at (413) 342-5305 for bulk orders and special pricing. Bulk quantities of potatoes and butternut squash will be available this fall.
Lisa Goodrich is communications coordinator for CISA. To learn more about local farms, stores, markets, stands, and other places to buy local food near you, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.