by Laura Rodley
This summer has been full of happy endings for Anna Hanchett and Michael Kalagher, owners of Manda Farm. The two have sold certified naturally grown beef, turkey, eggs, organic vegetables and Gloucester Old Spots since 2006 on Pleasant Street in Plainfield,MA. “Manda” is derived from combining letters of their first names, M and A.
On Friday, Aug. 16, a crowd of 50 looked on as a huge crane lifted a new second story onto the top of their stately 1825 farmhouse that burned in January.
The fire affected only the second story and roof, travelling around the metal of the chimney in an enclosed space, which kept it contained, then going up into the rafters.
No people or animals were hurt, but extensive water and smoke damage made the main house unlivable so the two have been living in an onsite trailer until it is restored.
“So many people invited us to dinner. We didn’t have to cook for weeks,” said Hanchett, who besides running the farm full time, is chairman of Plainfield’s Agricultural Commission.
Each affected board has been carefully taken off the house, examined and placed in piles to sort. The worst ones will be de-nailed, and ground up into compost.
Luckily the house’s right side addition was left untouched, allowing interns to live there this summer. Their assistance in helping care for the Narragansett turkeys, seven Dexter cattle, and 11 Gloucester Old Spots was very welcome, since Kalagher is busy working as board member and treasurer for the Old Creamery Cooperative, instrumental in transitioning a formerly two-person owned store in Cummington into what is now a member-owned cooperative.
There is currently a litter whose sow is 400 lbs: four year old Pearl. “Her father was an original English boar,” said Hanchett. Devoted to maintaining the breed, they are listed with the American Livestock Breed Conservancy, “selling as many as we can genetically correct,” with customers travelling from Idaho, North Carolina, Missouri, Maine and New York.
Closely following Hanchett are two tame Narragansetts, Beaker and his brother Bro, both one year old. Customers check on the two by name. Two Australian heelers, a 12 year old red named Patrick and an eight year old three-legged blue named Lane, also keep close tabs as Hanchett does her chores.
Raised as beef, the Dexter cattle are long horned, short in height, an Irish breed bred for foraging. “We are ‘Animal Welfare Approved.’ I really like that, taking in the whole picture of animals, how they’re fed, housed, how they’re slaughtered. It’s very complicated, and expensive, (but) free to participating farms that are inspected,” said Hanchett.
The soilage of the land that they are grazing on was once considered poor, creating a roadblock for farms attempting to get into the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program, overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a two year process full of paperwork. “It was very hard for Hilltowns to get APRs. Reports valued soilage as very poor, with ledge underneath. It was reevaluated, found them to be better, competing with the valley,” said Hanchett, where soils are derived from rich riverbeds.
Land enrolled must be privately owned cropland, grassland, and pastureland, or contribute to an agricultural operation, and meet at least one criteria as prime farmland, have state interest, contain historical or archaeological resources, or further a state or local policy consistent with the program. After soil typing and aerial photographs, their land fulfilled both prime farmland and state interest categories.
On their 17 acres now in APR, they have a conservation easement.
Hanchett likes that, “the land is preserved, taxes are lower; mostly land preservation.” Their farm joins other Plainfield farms just placing land in APR, 43 acres total.
The couple has placed 60 plus of their other acres into a Department Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Forest Stewardship Program, preserving natural habitats for wildlife, working closely with a forester regarding which trees to take out and which ones to leave to that end.
Massachusetts residents can call 617-626-1720 for APR applications, downloadable at www.ma.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/frpp
by Laura Rodley