This Sunday we traveled far out to Montague, MA to visit the new land that Red Fire Farm has acquired for future farming. This hike not only had Red Fire Farm attendees but also people from the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust. We all met in front of a big old tobacco barn and introduced ourselves. Then the people from Mount Grace and Red Fire Farm talked about this Montague project.
To briefly describe why Red Fire Farm is buying this land, and how Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust is involved:
Land acquirement is a difficulty for many farmers. Land is a huge capital investment for a farmer, and can be prohibitively expensive. As well, it is becoming more and more difficult to secure good farmland. Land, when valued as farmland is less expensive than residential land. Therefore, a lot of good farmland has been developed, leaving less and less usable farmland available to present day farmers. Land trusts enable the preservation of valuable farmland by assisting farmers buy or provide easements of land for farming.
Red Fire Farm has been facing land security issues in Granby, where they lease about 75% of their farmland. Although the land has been great for farming, there is high likelihood that the owners of that land will eventually not renew a lease with Red Fire Farm and sell the land as residential property to make more money off of it. Therefore, Ryan has been seeking good farmland that could be bought by Red Fire Farm to farm in the future. Luckily, a lovely set of two adjacent farms in Montague were found that were for sale. The land, however, would not be easy to buy, and Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust was able to assist in the acquirement and easement of this land for Red Fire Farm. Of course, it still will not be easy to afford and transition to this land, but with the help of Mount Grace, this acquirement has become a reality for Red Fire Farm. As well, Sarah and Ryan are working with Mount Grace to develop a plan to make the Montague farm and its infrastructure permanently affordable for future farmers. Through the work of these farmers and land trusts, hopefully Massachusetts will manage to protect its remaining rich farmland for farming, and enable our region to continue to provide food for our population.
These farms entail about 45 acres of farmable land, including barns, and irrigation pond, and a great set of greenhouses. This property also covers a lot of precious habitat that is part of the Connecticut Riverway. A great many neighbors who came out for the hike were relieved that Ryan wanted to bring a small organic farm to the area to preserve and maintain the natural balance of the land.
One farm on the property used to be Blue Meadows, which was primarily a nursery for ornamental plants. The property has a great set of well established greenhouses, in great condition.
Another great thing about the Blue Meadow property is that is has laid fallow for several years and therefore will quickly be able to transition to organic growing.
However, the land still needs some help in preparing for farming. Red Fire Farm has preparing it by growing a lot of cover crops on the land, which not only reduce weeds but also increase the nitrogen in the soil, add organic matter, and encourage good soil microbes.
The second farm’s land will require more time to be prepared for organic farming. It had been used by other farmers using conventional methods and its soil is in poor condition. Therefore, Red Fire Farm will be growing cover crops and contributing to the soil’s fertility with compost until 2012, when they will be able to begin farming the land. In the meantime, however, they have planted some raspberry bushes and an asparagus patch, so that by 2012 they will be well established.
Ryan intends to get this land up and running by the 2012 season, and still keep farming the Granby property to some extent (especially PYO’s) and keep up the really nice Granby farmstand. He anticipates that transitioning to a dual farm for Red Fire Farm will big a major challenge, but as Granby does not have good farmland that can be bought near the existing Red Fire Farm land, this is the most promising option.
We hiked into the woods to see the last set of fields, which lie along the Connecticut River.
The whole property was beautiful, and apparently the land is naturally very fertile with Hadley loam and sandy loam soil, which were deposited in the Connecticut Valley thousands of years ago.
Overall, it was a really beautiful walk around the new Red Fire Farm property. Although the transition to this new location will be difficult, it looks very promising for Red Fire Farm and for the conservation of this land. We had a lot of fun learning more about the future plans of Red Fire Farm, meeting other people involved in this project and getting a lovely view of the new farmland.