Cars were lined up on country roads, parked in front of 10 homes. It was an extended party of sorts, a chance for visitors to get a rare peek at the owners’ working farms and gardens during the 24th Annual Franklin Land Trust (FLT) Farm and Garden Tour held June 27. The Buckland, MA based non-profit FLT has been conserving farmland, open space and rural character since 1987, working with landowners and communities to protect the future of their land by putting it into conservation easements.
By 1 p.m. 50 people had visited Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway, MA, owned and managed by Lilian R. Jackman, many leaving with arms full of her multiple varieties of hydrangeas or vibrantly colored herbs that they had purchased. She expected 50 more by the afternoon’s end at her organic perennial and flowering shrub nursery, open to the public on weekends May through October. She noted there were many people doing really well growing and selling local vegetables. In mid-July, a half-acre of 100 organic highbush blueberries will be ready for PYO, with varieties for harvesting well into August. She also offers individual apprenticeship programs.
Her neighbor, Anne Meyer, owner and manager of Hart Farm, recently returned from Ashfield’s Farmers Market, offered a self-guided walking tour on her 100-acres, much of it under conservation through FLT. A self-taught, first generation farmer, she started her farm in 2013, growing organic produce on one acre, in its third year of production. “I inherited much of the land from my father, (Chuck Meyer) who passed away five years ago. He had great reverence for locally grown food, and sustainability,” said Anne.
He lived full-time in New York, where she also lived. Besides three local farmers’ markets, she brings box farm shares to customers in Manhattan, and Brooklyn, many she already knew. This is her first FLT farm tour.
In Ashfield, Ron and Nina Coler live “off the grid”, solar power pioneers since 1996. The process of putting 88-acres into conservation easement with FLT took less than a year. “I don’t consider that long. We understood conservation easements, knew what we were doing,” said Nina, volunteer on FLT board of directors, and watercolor artist. Ron is a retired survey engineer. They had to consider all their future wants and needs. They are also volunteer FLT monitors, as land under trusts must be monitored annually, per order of the state. Their fruit trees, shrubs and gardens were mapped out and labeled. Crops from their three vegetable gardens stay in their 50-degree cellar, or are canned or solar-dehydrated. They do utilize a 1,000-gallon underground propane tank. “Although it breaks our heart to consume any fossil fuel, at the present, we must,” their mission statement reads.
Kate Kerivan, owner of Bug Hill Farm, led three tours to groups of over 20 each, pointing out pink champagne currants, or the black currants that will be picked for her signature Kiss of Cassis Black Current Cordial, sweetened only with honey. Originally, she tried to grow some high-class tomatoes, but at 1,700 feet above sea level, valley farmers were way ahead of her. “I can’t beat the valley, but I can grow some weird plants,” like currants, honeyberries, elderberries, Aronia, yellow, black and red raspberries.
She is reinvigorating hundreds of wild highbush blueberry bushes, opening them up to the sun by cutting down surrounding trees. To rehab really old bushes, she advises cutting back one third of the bush. Beware of Spirea, commonly called steeplebush, or hardtack, vibrant now with pink flowers “If it gets in between blueberries, you’re dead.”
Taking down the trees opened up the winterberries, lying latent in the soil. Inside the store kitchen, her chef, Springfield’s Marianna Starosielski, with 20 years of food services behind her, was stirring a large vat of freshly picked rhubarb for Rhubarb Crush, assisted by Springfield’s Terry Love. He measured blueberries and homegrown black currants for the cordial, Black and Blue Shrub.
Other destinations were Ashfield’s Bill Viera, owner of North Winds Stonework, artist Julie Fisher’s The Old Leisure Farm, “Cheese Queen” Ricki Carroll, Conway’s Ruah Donnelly and Steve Dinkelaker with ancient Roxbury Russets, possible remnants of the first apples grown in Conway, and Conway’s Sue Bridge’s off-the-grid Wildside Cottage & Gardens, whose seven gardens emphasizing permaculture are a destination for teachers, architects and builders.