by Laura Rodley
Happy plants, one hundred and sixty varieties, both medicinal and cooking herbs, flowers and vegetables. That’s what Lauren Caprio and Danielle Smith of Bear Root Herb Farm sell to their customers at their roadside stand in front of their Florence home on Sundays and on Tuesdays at the Tuesday Northampton Market.
On a particularly blustery Tuesday, they were one of 30 farmers selling their wares at the Tuesday Northampton Market, covered by moveable canvas tents with a thunderstorm beckoning. Even so, customers dart through the raindrops to buy their plants. “Last year, it rained seven Tuesdays in a row,” said Caprio.
Smith commented, “I’m obsessed with plants in general. I want to grow every single plant, which is not practical.” In February, they started growing their lush-leaved beets, eggplants, heirloom tomatoes, and a variety of tomato called Valley Girl to sell as starter plants in the 16 x 48 foot greenhouse they built in 2011. They also sell medicinal herbs of tansy, feverfew, calendula, borage, mullein, echinacea, elecampane, valerian, white sage and clary sage.
Both have a heritage of gardening. “My Dad got into hydroponics,” said Smith, which allows a controlled allotment of water and nutrients to flow underneath plants to nourish them. Her father, Stephen Smith, started a small sprout business as a hobby in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands where she grew up. Caprio’s grandmother, Elvira Russamano Caprio, grew and canned her own tomatoes.
They are paying that memory of nourishment forward — to their plants and to their customers. Another reason their plants look so healthy is due to the organic potting soil and fertilizer, organic seaweed, and fish emulsion they use — though they are not “certified organic.”
The land where they have their greenhouse is situated within the approximately three acre Freedom Farm owned by Nooni Hammarlund, complete with cupola and five burros, with rich river-bottom soil. They till two gardens for their own food as well as for the other people living at Freedom Farm and neighbors.
“The whole property is on the National Historic Register. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad,” said Smith. The building they live in was once farmworkers’ housing.
Across the street is a 121-acre property, formerly the Bean and Allard Farms, that in 2011, after a two year long process, was saved from development by Grow Food Northampton, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting food security in Northampton.
Directly across from the farmhouse buildings where they live is Florence Organic Gardening on Grow Food Northampton farmland, devoted to organic gardening and launched in 2012. It now has 250 gardens, noted Smith.
They both work full time jobs elsewhere — Smith at the Kitchen Garden in Northampton and Caprio at Whole Foods in Hadley. “Plants and food all the time,” said Caprio.
They are only in their second year as a farm business. “We are trying things out. Last year, after our initial investments, we didn’t make any money,” said Smith. If their repeat customers have anything to say about it, that could soon change.
“We really enjoy it. We garden after work and on weekends. We have to have fun while we’re doing it,” said Smith.
by Laura Rodley