by Laura Rodley
Fort Morrison Farms is named after the fort that was built on the property during the French and Indian War fought from 1754 to 1763. All that remains of the fort is a landmark granite boulder with a brief inscription of the fort’s history by a lone flagpole. The main farmhouse was built just yards away from the site where the fort once protected Colrain, MA, which became a town in 1745 and was officially incorporated in 1761.
Native son and fifth generation farmer Craig Avery and his wife Michelle currently reside in the farmhouse. Despite high wind warnings by the National Weather Service, with gusts blowing up to 65 miles per hour from the afternoon through early evening of Feb. 25, like all farmers, Avery needed to venture out to feed his cattle. Plastic tarps held down by tires that covered manure piles snapped like ship sails and snow whirled around in funnels like tiny tornadoes.
Avery raises 50 head of beef cattle for a marketer who sells the beef to restaurants in Boston. They are raised mainly on pasture or on baleage with some grain. While not solely grass-fed at the moment, he is considering moving toward a grass-fed label. They receive their minerals through a salt block and grain.
He grows enough hay to feed his stock, plus 5,000-6,000 square and 100 round bales to sell. He applies a mixture of clover, timothy and alfalfa seeds to his fields to improve the crop’s health and yield. He also seeds other pasture land to grow corn to feed his cattle.
In the long and fruitful diverse history of the 350-acre farm, he once had a registered Jersey dairy herd of 100 head with 50 milking cows and 50 young stock. “I did that for 35 years,” he said. He sold his dairy herd three years ago. “When I had dairy cows, I was involved with registered Jerseys and everything to do with them,” he said. At the time, he was a member of the National Jersey Association. “Now I am interested in field work, putting up hay and harvesting crops.”
His father, Kenneth W. Avery, was born in the old farmhouse on May 30, 1930. “He was born in the house and passed in away in the house, just the way he wanted,” said Avery. He passed away last year. His father lived at the farm and raised poultry with his uncle, Donald E. Avery, starting in the 1960s. They raised chicks and sold poultry. They became a dairy farm and started shipping milk in 1978.
“He worked here all his life. He graduated from UMass,” said Avery, with an agricultural degree. By example, his father stressed the importance of education. Avery graduated from high school in 1980 and then attended SUNY Cobleskill in New York, graduating in 1982 with a degree in dairy husbandry. “Ever since then, I’ve been on the farm,” he said.
He passed his legacy of embracing education as a means to success along to his children, Marissa and Lauren, now married and on their own. “I made sure they were able to go to college and had the finances to go,” Avery stated.
His father also passed along the legacy of hard work. When they started the dairy farm, they started milking in an old barn. They graduated to building a dairy barn, and then a heifer barn. Utilizing USDA and federal grants, Avery obtained a 17 kWh solar panel system in the spring of 2015 that generates energy that feeds back to the grid for which they receive a rolling credit.
He became partners with his father from 1985 to 1995, after which he became sole owner. Avery works the farm by himself, with the help of Michelle in the summer.
When Avery was growing up, his father sold Christmas trees. In line with reestablishing a tradition and diversifying, he has recently planted Christmas trees and takes the farmer’s long view of patience, since it will be seven years before they are ready for sale. “During the winter, we have a lot of traffic,” he said, so he’ll have a ready market. He is also making plans to sell compost to enter the compost market. His forebears would be happy to see the how the farm has evolved, as well as the soldiers of Fort Morrison that protected themselves and fought for the very land Avery harvests each summer.