Valley Bounty: Flourish Farm
Daily Hampshire Gazette, September 25, 2021
By Jacob Nelson
For the Gazette
Flourish Farm, a one-woman operation owned by Linda Fuchs, is a small farm with an oversized impact. Fuchs grows specialized crops on “half an acre of sunlight” in Brimfield, while working hard to keep access and knowledge about healthy food flowing.
Like many local farmers, Fuchs’ ties to agriculture run deep.
“My grandfather immigrated from Lithuania, moving to what became the family farm in Spencer, Massachusetts. I grew up in that same farmhouse,” she says, surrounded by her father’s large vegetable garden, her mother’s flowers and food preservation projects, and other relatives who continued to manage the family dairy farm for decades.
Before starting Flourish Farm, Fuchs studied at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst and had a varied career in landscaping, greenhouse and nursery management, school garden development, and teaching gardening and nature classes, among other things.
For Fuchs, these experiences surfaced a passion for “educating people about plants and their connection to human health.” In the ensuing years, she’s brought this enthusiasm to two projects that go hand in hand: Flourish Farm, which she founded in 2004, and the Brimfield Farmers Market, which she led the creation of in 2007.
Fuchs’ goal since then has been to “teach people how food grows, help them grow it, and highlight how food is a catalyst for our health,” she says.
That starts with what she grows at Flourish Farm, and guides how she connects the farm to the broader community. From the beginning, Fuchs has tapped her nursery growing expertise to raise vegetable starts, and these remain a key offering.
“I grow mostly things that are hard to start yourself,” she says, “and sell many varieties, all as individual plants.”
Fuchs’ analogy is that where others sell full trays of starts (“candy bars”) she’s selling by the plant (“penny candy”), letting customers try multiple varieties while buying exactly as much as they need. This caters well to newer gardeners and those planting in small spaces, both audiences that she hopes to help grow more of their own food.
Where some farms only sell starts in spring, “I sell from April all the way through October,” Fuchs says. “Many people think you plant a garden in June and you’re done.”
But many varieties can be planted again and again, especially quick-growing crops such as greens. Flourish Farm offers different varieties tailored to each season’s weather conditions, including lettuce starts for sale even now.
The rest of Flourish Farm’s main crops — ginger, turmeric, garlic, figs and now microgreens — are a nod toward maximizing yield in small spaces, supporting a healthier community, and growing things that aren’t widely available in the area.
“The reason I started growing ginger in 2010 and then turmeric is because of their health benefits,” says Fuchs, noting their anti-inflammatory properties and ginger’s particular power in fighting a winter cold. “Garlic,” she adds, “is both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, especially when eaten raw,” perhaps minced in a salad dressing or incorporated in salsa or pesto. Microgreens are highly nutrient dense, while a single fig tree adds a touch of sweetness with its late summer bounty.
Fuchs sees Flourish as an educational farm, not in a traditional course-based sense, but rather in how she approaches connecting her community to what she’s doing. And by selling mostly at farmers markets, she can talk to customers about what she’s growing and how it might fit into their lives.
That’s how the Brimfield Farmers Market enters the story. Fuchs initiated it in 2007 with its host site, the Hitchcock Free Academy, and continues to manage it today. Farmers markets come in all different stripes, but from the beginning Fuchs has been clear about her market’s priority.
“We’re here to supply food for our town,” she says. “We have no grocery store in Brimfield, and six surrounding towns don’t either. Our situation is why farmers markets should exist. Not as a luxury, but as a common resource.”
The market is now cemented as a key food access point in the region, especially as a place for those with food assistance benefits like SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program), HIP (the state’s Healthy Incentives Program which stretches SNAP dollars further if spent on local produce), and farmers market coupons for seniors and women, infants, and children (WIC).
But last year Fuchs witnessed the fragility of this access point, as COVID threatened the normal functions of many local farmers markets. This encouraged her to look for other ways to market her crops, and she ended up securing a Food Security Infrastructure Grant from the state. Among other things, this funded key equipment for an on-site farm stand.
“Now I have a refrigerator at the farm, on my porch, and people can purchase things self-serve with cash or card, Tuesday through Sunday, even if I’m not here,” she says. “But I’m always here Fridays from 10:30 to 6 to accept SNAP, HIP, WIC and senior coupons.”
Flourish Farm continues to sell at the Brimfield Farmers Market every Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through October, and at the West Brookfield Farmers Market every Wednesday, 3-6 p.m., through mid-October. Check their Facebook page for hours and updates.
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To see what’s in season and learn more about local farms and farmers markets near you, visit buylocalfood.org.