The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) recently awarded $400,000 to improve farm operations to a number of participants in its Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program. The APR Improvement Program (AIP) provides business planning and technical assistance to commercial farms containing land already protected through the APR.

AIP specifically targets applicants demonstrating a need for assistance with financial viability, resource conservation, family succession or modernization of infrastructure. The goal of the grant program is to enhance the long term continued use of the agricultural resource.

Country Folks recently spoke with Andrew Orr, owner and operator of Orr’s Family Farm. Located in Westport, MA, Orr’s Family Farm was recently awarded a $40,000 grant through AIP.

Andrew Orr founded a 14-acre farm in 2007. “I had the opportunity to purchase the farm upon graduating from high school,” he said. “The APR program helped make my dream of starting my farming career at the young age of 18 a reality.”

Orr’s Family Farm currently plants on some 35 acres of Westport soil, growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The infrastructure consists of an older style farm stand which retails 90% of the produce grown on site.

Over the past 15 years, Orr said the farm has expanded into other areas of business. “We started raising beef several years ago, and we process 100% of our beef at USDA processing facilities,” he said. He raised his first couple of beef steers from calves to market-ready in 18 months and realized how nice it was to sit down with his family and enjoy fresh beef and vegetables that were produced at his farm. All of their livestock is fed only locally grown crops, and they maximize tenderness and food safety by aging the beef only in USDA inspected and certified processing facilities.

Expanding by building at Orr’s Family Farm

Andrew Orr was just 18 years old when he founded Orr’s Family Farm in Westport, MA. His farm stand operates from early May through Christmas Eve. Photo courtesy of Orr’s Family Farm

“We also branched out into growing heirloom tomatoes in our greenhouse. We start the plants in January for an early harvest in May to get a good jump on the season and have a great tasting product to sell for spring,” he added.

As the name suggests, the team at Orr’s consists of all family. Andrew’s father Mike manages the farm stand and handles deliveries and farm repairs. His mother Joanne harvests cut flowers and greets customers. His grandmother Jean works the farm stand and is their cashier. His wife Meaghanne and three children all help out as well. They can be found at the farm every day planting, picking and washing produce.

Orr’s Family Farm’s operating season is mainly May to December. They open in mid-May for plant sales and beef. They close up shop on Christmas Eve. Their products are mainly sold on site at their farm stand; however, the Orrs do sell a portion to local restaurants, supermarkets, stores and a few other local farms. They also have a website with the possibility of an online store being established in the future.

“Our market radius is as far as 50 miles,” Orr said. “Most customers live within a short distance of the farm and stop by daily for produce. We have sold products wholesale in the past that shipped to Pennsylvania, some 250 miles away.”

He said he applied for the MDAR grant hoping to increase the farm’s sales – and so they could build a storage building at the farm. Their grant award will be used to construct a 42×80 storage building. This new building will be used to store products, supplies, produce and to equipment.

“Our plan for the future is to eventually expand our farm stand,” Orr said. “Building a new structure would allow us to expand our inventory of products and increase our sales.”

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by Enrico Villamaino