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 James Hoerle, owner and operator of Foxcroft Farm. Located in Amherst, MA, Foxcroft was recently awarded a $40,000 grant through AIP to add to the farm’s storage options.
Hoerle started Foxcroft Farm in 2012 when he purchased a former dairy farm in Amherst. He named it Foxcroft after his father’s family farm. Over the past decade he’s dedicated 62 acres to the commonwealth’s APR.
The farm comprises 90 acres, 60 of which are used for the production of high-quality hay for local dairy and horse farming operations. “We’ve restored several of the 18th century buildings. We’ve also added some newer ones, but maintained the period look in all our architecture,” Hoerle said. “In all, there are six buildings on the property, including a 4,000 square foot 18th century-style post and beam barn.”
James and his wife Peg do the majority of the work, and they’re supplemented with seasonal help. Since starting the farm, he said the hay has increased in both quality and quantity. “We started out with 20 acres of hay, and now we are at 60,” he said. “We have also added an organic farming practice.” The hay is their primary crop, and they also keep bees and chickens and have an organic garden. Consequently, they produce a limited amount of honey, eggs and vegetables for sale. Foxcroft Farm’s hay is sold locally by word of mouth and is often pre-sold before it even gets to harvest.
In addition to the crops they produce, Foxcroft Farm hosts an annual birding event by partnering with the local nonprofit Kestrel Trust. After looking for blue herons, red-tailed hawks, kestrels, red-winged blackbirds and bobolinks, the farm treats participants to breakfast at the barn. The farm hosts a number of trail rides as well.
Hoerle said he applied for an APR Improvement Grant because “as our farm has expanded and our output has grown, we found we greatly needed the ability to effectively store our hay and haying equipment.”
They applied for the grant a year ago and were chosen as recipients last autumn. There is a strict time limit in which to use the funds – it all had to be done by June 30, 2022, so they needed to move quickly to design, permit and build their new hay and equipment storage building.
Foxcroft Farm will continue to improve its lands and produce high-quality hay for their fellow local farmers, Hoerle added. He said they’d also like to expand their organic garden and honey production in the future.
For more information on the grant program, visit mass.gov/service-details/apr-improvement-program-aip.
by Enrico Villamaino