Valley Bounty: Stony Hill Farm
The hot and dry conditions across western Massachusetts have caused many crops to come earlier than in previous years, and that is okay with Alice Colman, co-owner of
Stony Hill Farm in Wilbraham. “We’re excited to start harvesting some of our fall vegetables, like winter squash and sweet potatoes,” Colman says. Until then, Colman and her partner Brian Cunningham will continue to harvest tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, green beans, and more.
Started in 2015, Stony Hill Farm is in the midst of their sixth season growing vegetables, cut flowers and bouquets, and honey. This year, due to COVID-19, their products are for sale exclusively through their farm stand, though Colman and Cunningham are excited to return to farmers’ markets next year.
Growing year-round, Stony Hill Farm will be harvesting fresh greens such as spinach, Swiss chard, and kale this winter, and will continue to have fall storage crops such as carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes available. “Winter is my favorite season on the farm, everything tastes sweeter and the flavors really come out,” Colman explains.
The land that Stony Hill Farm now grows on had previously been used as a garden space, but not as a commercial farm. Colman explains that in order to make things run smoothly and efficiently, they have had to install quite a bit of infrastructure — no small feat when you are also farming full time. Colman and Cunningham have built a barn this year to be used for storage, house a walk-in cooler, and so they have a warm produce washroom for the winter months. They also finished installing a well this year and installed three high tunnel hoop houses to overwinter their wide variety of flowers, including sunflowers, snap dragons, and zinnias.
Stony Hill Farm doesn’t use any pesticides on their farm. Instead, Colman explains, “we’ve brought in various beneficial insects in order to help build an ecosystem where the bugs eat bugs and keep problems with pests from getting too out of control.” Stony Hill Farm has purchased ladybugs and praying mantises. The lady bugs were brought into the greenhouse to help control an aphid problem. Aphids are small (adults are smaller than ¼ inch), soft bodied insects that suck the nutrient-rich liquids out of plants. Multiplying quickly, females often give birth to other females that are already pregnant, causing multiple generations to appear in one season. While aphids typically are wingless, most aphid species can develop wings if food sources become sparse, so that they can travel to other plants, reproduce, and start a new colony.
The praying mantises were brought into the greenhouses as a general predator, with the ability to hunt pests such as flies, aphids, moths, and mosquitoes. Some species of praying mantises have even been known to eat small rodents, frogs, snakes, and birds.
Colman explains that they also have lacewings, another common beneficial insect, living naturally on the farm. Similar to the praying mantis, lacewings are a generalist that will eat aphids, whiteflies, caterpillars, and leafhoppers. Colman remarks, “I’ve never noticed a whitefly problem in the greenhouses, though to be honest I’m not sure if it’s because the lacewings are doing their job, or if it’s just not an issue for us.”
Colman explains that their five-year plan is continue to refine what they are currently doing. “We’re hoping to hire a field crew next year to help us grow more on the land than we have, and we’d like to see a more consistent supply of our crops available year-round.” Colman and Cunningham are also looking to make Stony Hill Farm more of a place that people can visit and get the community more involved, starting with opening up their flower fields to pick-your-own customers next season.
“The greatest reward for us has been getting to build relationships with our customers, and actually see who it is we are growing food for,” Colman remarks. Their love for their community in Wilbraham, and for the local food scene, is apparent. “Having local options is what makes places distinct from one another, what separates communities from being homogenous,” Colman says, going on to talk about an apple farm in Wilbraham that locals love because of their fond memories of actually visiting. “You just can’t get that full experience when purchasing food that isn’t local.”
Stop by Stony Hill Farm’s farm stand at 899 Stony Hill Road in Wilbraham. To place an order online (with pickup at the farm stand) visit https://stonyhillfarmwilbraham.com/.
For more local options near you, please visit www.buylocalfood.org/farmguide.
Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.