Valley Bounty: Song Sparrow Farm
When the impact of COVID-19 started to be felt in the U.S. in March, many businesses throughout the Valley had to learn to adapt their business models to survive. For farmers, the closures of schools, restaurants, and farmers’ markets required huge shifts in their planning for this year’s growing season. Thankfully, western Mass has many talented and adaptable farmers in our region.
Diego Irizarry-Gerould, the owner/operator of Song Sparrow Farm, is just one example of the entrepreneurial spirit so many of our farmers embody. Song Sparrow Farm is a small-scale vegetable farm in Northampton. Prior to this season, all his vegetables were sold wholesale to restaurants and retailers. Unsure of how COVID-19 would affect restaurants this summer, Irizarry-Gerould moved quickly to start a 25 person CSA – a sales model where customers sign up directly with a farm to receive a “subscription” of the farm’s products.
Irizarry-Gerould’s CSA runs month to month and offers the wide variety of seasonal vegetables grown at Song Sparrow Farm: kale, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers, scallions, zucchini, radishes, and winter squash. In addition to the vegetables, Irizarry-Gerould is partnering with Martin Anderton of Homestead Habitats to provide eggs and chicken as add-ons to the CSA. Irizarry- Gould said that the opportunity to connect with CSA customers has been the highlight of this season, “It’s a good source of income, but also a great source of community.”
While COVID-19 caused a shift in Irizarry-Gerould’s wholesale operation, retail and restaurant relationships continue to be the backbone of Song Sparrow Farm. You can find their produce at Freckled Fox Cafe in Florence, Bread Euphoria Bakery and Cafe in Haydenville, and State Street Fruit Market, Coopers Corner, and River Valley Coop, all in Northampton.
Irizarry-Gerould first decided to focus solely on wholesale because he wanted to grow a few crops that he knew he could do well. This production method lends itself well to wholesale, rather than to other sales methods such as CSAs where customers expect a greater variety of products to be available. “Once I found a few good, reliable wholesale customers, that’s really all I needed to start my business and pursue my love of farming,” Irizarry-Gerould explains.
Irizarry-Gerould studied Environmental Science and Policy in college, where he took a course in permaculture design which initially piqued his interest in growing. After graduation, he knew that he wanted to work outside and with his hands. He worked on a variety of farms in the region including Red Fire Farm, Bug Hill Farm, and for one AmeriCorps term with Grow Food Northampton managing their ⅓ acre Giving Garden. Irizarry-Gould started Song Sparrow Farm shortly after, first on land leased in Haydenville and now on Grow Food Northampton land.
Song Sparrow Farm is no-till, a growing method oriented towards preserving soil health. While most farms till in between plantings to quickly prep the soil, Irizarry-Gerould utilizes other methods such as hand weeding or using a black tarp to suppress weed growth. When compared to conventionally tilled fields, fields managed using no-till for multiple years generally are more resistant to droughts (because of increased water holding capacity), less prone to soil erosion, and have increased biological activity and organic matter in the soil. “Tilling might make it easier to plant in the short term, but you are also destroying a lot of the long-term fertility,” Irizarry-Gerould explains.
In their second season on Grow Food Northampton land, Song Sparrow Farm is still in the early stages of reaping the benefits of no-till. Irizarry-Gould’s five-year plan, he explains, is to continue what he is doing for the most part. Excited to start seeing the benefits of his no-till practices and refine some aspects of his CSA for next year, he aims to maintain the farm at its current manageable ½ acre size.
Irizarry-Gould, and farmers across western Mass, rely on community support to continue to thrive during COVID-19. To find local farms, markets, and food near you, check out CISA’s online searchable guide at buylocalfood.org/farmguide.
Emma Gwyther is the Development Associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.