One of the benefits of having your farm on a busy thoroughfare is that your farmstand doesn’t need advertising, as the produce is set up and clearly visible from the road. Location is prime for Atherton Farm, owned by Susan Atherton. It’s on busy Route 112, with easy access for people to stop in. Plus, for people choosing to support sustainability, she has no commute, as she grows over 1,000 tomato plants to sell, along with hay, other produce and flowers right at the farm, so there no trucking them in or plastic packaging.
Atherton was born and raised on the Buckland, MA farm when her parents, Bob and Pauline Atherton, owned the farm. At that time, it was a Holstein cattle dairy farm. She started learning how to drive on a little Farmall tractor when she was 10 or 12.
“Before that, I used to ride sitting on my father’s lap in the tractor and he would yodel while we were teddering hay-very cool,” said Atherton.
In 2001, she took over the farm after her father died at the age of 98. She started the farmstand and became a member of South Deerfield based Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) that lists and promotes farms on their website www.buylocalfood.org.
“None of my other siblings wanted to farm — I wanted to see it stay open as farmland,” she said. However, since 2004, her older brother Paul comes back from Florida with his wife Gerri to assist over the summer, which is a huge help. All three of them live together in the house that was on the deed in the 1860s. She’s not sure exactly how old the house is, but their big hay barn is even older, dating back to the 1800s.
Her other brother, Lewis Atherton and her sister Shirley (Atherton) Davis also come home to help for a week or two every year. They have been working on the first cutting of hay. Usually they yield 2,500 bales. “We’re not finished. It’s definitely lower, due to the dry weather this spring.”
Fifteen acres of the 140 acre farm are open and planted with gardens or hayed.
Come March, she starts seeding and transplanting in the two 50-foot long hoophouses that are open May through October, seven days a week. Of the 1,000 tomato plants, she offers many heirlooms and the old standbys dating back from the 60s and 70s — Big Boy and Early Girl. Other produce includes lettuce, corn, beets, peas, cabbage and broccoli, which she also sells at the Ashfield Farmers Market.
“We try to be as organic as we can,” though they are not certified organic. Once is a while they have trouble with cucumber beetles, which she treats “with insecticidal soap, or something stronger if we have to.” She practices integrated pest management (IPM), which she has researched thoroughly by reading articles and also utilizes the University of Massachusetts Extension Service to have her soil tested.
She uses composted manure from her horses and trades hay for manure from cows from her neighbor’s Clesson Brook Farm, a dairy farm, owned by the Willis family. The honey she sells comes in bulk from Apex Orchards in Shelburne. “Dad always raised bees,” so having honey available is close to her heart.
She doesn’t have any employees. “I try to stay small enough to keep my hands in the dirt and not be managing people.”
The only advice she has for people considering farming is, “It’s really hard work and you have to really love it to continue to do it for years. I do love it.”