The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 27, 2009

ConsCom hears from Carlisle’s farmers

At its February 12 meeting, the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) learned about the state of agriculture in Carlisle from those who know it best – the local farmers. Farmers John Valentine and John Bakewell provided information about their past and planned growing seasons, while farmers George Fraser, Dick Shohet and Mark Duffy were not able to attend.

According to ConsCom Administrator Sylvia Willard, the commission allows several town-owned conservation parcels to be licensed for farming. These three-year license agreements allow the farmers to grow crops on the land and they must report back yearly to the commission.

Currently several farmers use conservation land to grow hay. George Fraser uses the Bisbee Land, Dick Shohet uses the main field at Fox Hill and John Valentine uses Robbins Field and half of the Hutchins field for alfalfa and hay. Mark Duffy raises corn on the Greenough Land, Fisk Meadow, Foss Farm and half of Hutchins Field, while John Bakewell uses the back of Fox Hill for trees and vegetables.

Willard notes,“This works out well for everyone. The town has told us that it wants to maintain a rural atmosphere. This allows us to do that at no cost. We don’t have to pay to mow these fields.” Each of the agreements expires in 2010.

John Valentine

John Valentine stated that there have been “no appreciable changes from last year.” Valentine farms two fields, Robbins and Hutchins, on Curve Street (the fields were formerly known as the Wang-Coombs Land). The smaller field is mostly grass, mainly timothy and clover, while the larger field has been used for alfalfa. Valentine noted that since alfalfa only lasts three to five years, it is time to replant those 20 acres.

When asked if he has encountered any major issues while farming the conservation property, Valentine noted that he clears a lot of underbrush where it encroaches on the field edges. This winter’s ice storms have left a good deal of additional brush and Valentine questioned where one could legally dispose of it. Willard assured Valentine that the DPW would remove piles of brush when he was ready.

Commission members agreed with Valentine that many residents do not realize what Carlisle looked like back when it was an agricultural town. Valentine recalled, “I farmed these fields long before the town acquired them. That’s old Carlisle. I love it there. That’s the way Carlisle was when I moved here 54 years ago.”

Noting that much of the wooded area in town is relatively new, ConsCom chair Tom Schultz explained, “You used to be able to see the Concord River from the center of town. It was not long ago that everything was pasture.”

John Bakewell

John Bakewell remembers that he first wanted to have a tree nursery on the Fox Hill conservation land, but that a friend talked him in to adding a pumpkin patch. “That turned into 7,000 square feet of vegetable space – farmed organically,” he added. Bakewell noted that he practices a type of seasonal crop rotation. Last year he planted squashes and melons, while this year he plans on planting tubers such as sweet potatoes and white potatoes. The following year it might be vegetables from the cabbage family.

When questioned about any issues he may have encountered, Bakewell replied that he had experienced no negative issues with trespassing by the public. He has done significant clearing of brush near the edges of the field and would like ConsCom approval to spot-treat poison ivy and to use his “deathstick”, a paint-roller type of device that Bakewell designed to apply herbicides directly to thin-barked invasive plants (see “Backyard action plans for invasive plants,” Mosquito, October 27, 2006) on buckthorn and other invasive species that he finds on the field margins. The commission was highly supportive of Bakewell’s efforts to control invasive species.

Bakewell then described his efforts this season to tap Maple trees on the Towle Land. “I tapped them on Tuesday [February10]” he explained. “I did the twelve trees on the Towle Land, one tap per tree, and the sap started flowing immediately.”

The commission agreed to ask Mark Duffy to come to a later meeting to discuss his experiences during the past farming season. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito