Valley Bounty: Next Barn Over Farm
Published May 28th, 2022 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
“It comes out to $22 a week for all these veggies,” says Ray Young, owner of Next Barn Over Farm in Hadley, describing their small CSA share sized to feed a couple. “Nowadays with inflation, I don’t know what you can buy from the grocery store for $22 a week.”
Next Barn Over is a 50-acre certified organic vegetable farm that they (Young uses they/them pronouns) founded in 2009. Shoppers can find them at the Amherst Farmers Market on Saturdays, and find their produce at the River Valley Coop, in Real Pickles products, or in other local stores. But the core of their farm is their CSA (community supported agriculture) program, which feeds locals near Hadley and Springfield and even Bostonians via delivery boxes.
“A CSA membership is like a farm subscription, like you’d subscribe to Netflix or the gym,” says Young. For their main Hadley CSA, “once a week you come to the farm, pick up your vegetables at their freshest and tastiest, get them at a really good price, and support your local farmers.” Springfield residents can also enjoy Next Barn Over produce through Gardening the Community, with information available at gardeningthe.org.
For many farmers and eaters, CSAs are a multi-dimensional great deal. Next Barn Over’s CSA has been central to the farm since its creation, a story which also explains the farm’s name. Next Barn Over from what, you ask? Young’s old job, it turns out.
The farm opened on the heels of changes at the Food Bank Farm on Bay Road in Hadley. From 1992 to 2009, Michael Docter ran Food Bank Farm on land owned by The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. It had a thriving CSA program, grew around 200,000 pounds of produce yearly for The Food Bank, and it was there that Young learned the ropes of farming as an apprentice.
After a 17-year run, Docter closed the CSA and farm store on Bay Road. Mountain View Farm of Easthampton continued farming The Food Bank’s land, and Docter soon started Winter Moon Roots, but this shift left a lot of former Food Bank Farm CSA members on the hunt for a new farm connection. Into the void stepped Young.
“We rallied some of those CSA members to join our new farm at the ‘Next Barn Over (from Food Bank Farm).'” In truth they were a little way down the road, but the name worked, and the new farm blossomed, with a bit of support from Docter and Winter Moon Roots. Those two farms remain close collaborators, sharing ideas, barns, and some staff as their growing seasons complement each other rather than overlapping.
Today in that namesake barn, Next Barn Over operates a free-choice CSA. As Young explains, “your share size represents a total volume you can take. We give you a canvas bag and you fill it up with whatever items you want. We ask folks to choose their day of the week for pick-up, and that allows us to pick produce fresh each morning for the people that are coming.”
The farm grows almost 50 varieties of veggies, so the choices are wide. “We try to offer the popular items like lettuce, hardy greens, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, for as long in the season as possible and a smattering of less common things just for fun.” Access to a pick-your-own garden of strawberries, flowers, herbs, tomatoes, and more is included. Members also get a weekly newsletter sharing farm updates, what’s ripe, and tips for how to enjoy it.
Even with free-choice, Young says they hardly ever run out of anything. “We’ve been doing this for years and have a good sense of what folks will want and how much,” they say. Surplus from the CSA is moved along quickly, either sold wholesale, or donated to the Amherst Survival Center, Northampton Survival Center, or the Food Bank while it’s still fresh.
Shares come in three sizes for different households, “and these are hardy,” says Young. “Enough vegetables to feed people for the week, and maybe more to preserve or give away.”
Lauren Bonn, who’s been a Next Barn Over CSA member for several years, agrees. A large share feeds her family of four “with abundance,” she says, and brings richness to their lives in other ways. “The farm is a beautiful place to visit on Saturday mornings, let the kids run around, and pick herbs or a bouquet of flowers,” she says. “We usually run into friends and walk around together.”
The flavor and quality of fresh veggies is a common motivator too, says Young. “It’s almost cliché at this point, but we hear time and again how someone in the family didn’t like vegetables before they joined the CSA, and now they do. That just makes my heart sing.”
The win-win proposition of a CSA is based on the idea of farmers and eaters sharing risks and enjoying rewards together. Young can give members a good deal because their payments provide what most farmers have little of – certainty.
“Many farmers take out big loans each spring to cover costs like seeds, fertilizer, and equipment,” they explain. At that point farmers don’t know what will grow and be sold. With increasing severe weather from climate change, pests, price fluctuations, and other unknowns threatening production, that’s scary.
A diversified CSA farm mitigates that risk in two ways. First, member payments reduce the farm’s borrowing needs and set a baseline income. “Ideally members sign up early in the winter or spring when we have high expenses,” Young says. “But any time is a good time.” They also plant many crops, so even if some struggle, others thrive. This also ensures members always have enough to choose from.
For Bonn, who has worked on farms before, having skin in the game as a CSA member is meaningful. “I like that you’re invested in the farm through thick and thin, because I truly want to support the farmers. Especially a local farm and a queer-owned farm,” she says.
For some, choosing a CSA is a way to support what they believe in. For others it’s a way to get the freshest food at a good price, or teach kids about food and farming, or find fun activities and new friends. Whatever the reason, CSA farms are happy to welcome new members. Next Barn Over’s 20-week summer CSA, which runs June 6th through October, is still accepting sign-ups now at nextbarnover.com.
Jacob Nelson is Communications Coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To learn more about local CSA farms near you, visit www.bit.ly/find-a-CSA