Friday, March 5, 2010
Farmers report to ConsCom on year’s activities
Without farmers maintaining the fields on the town’s conservation parcels, the land would eventually return to forest. During its meeting on February 25, the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) received updates from four farmers who have license agreements to use conservation lands.
John Bakewell and Kevin Brown
John Bakewell and Kevin Brown, who farm the west portion of the Fox Hill Conservation Land on Bedford Road (see diagram), reported on their use of the land over the past year and unveiled plans for the next growing season. “The last season went well,” began Bakewell. “We grew a bunch of potatoes, but our tomatoes, eggplant and peppers did not do so well due to fungal damage.” Bakewell said they did not use any pesticides on the vegetable crop. They have done a couple of brush burns since the last report.
Plans for the coming season include more fruit, Christmas and shade trees, along with sweet corn and beans. They will be working on the back portion of the larger, east field, in cooperation with Dick Shohet. Bakewell will experiment converting some of the western hay field to grain, specifically oats. “Is there a market for oats?” asked ConsCom Chair Peter Burn. Bakewell believes so and explained that this oats is called “naked oats” which “dehulls pretty well” and should be a popular item at Farmer’s Market. Willard joked that “We’ll all be eating oatmeal next winter.”
Future plans involve ripping out a huge mass of bittersweet and doing another brush burn this spring. They plan to plant shade trees in the southern, back corner of the large field, which does not get as much sun, is not particularly good for haying and is rocky. Bakewell asked members for permission to plant the shade trees, grow oats and to have “a pretty big burn.” He noted, “It will be very visible from Bedford Road.” ConsCom members voted unanimously to grant permission for the proposed activities. Bakewell said that the well which they were permitted to install last year is “working great.”
John Valentine, who uses the Hutchins Robbins Land off Curve Street to grow hay for his cattle, began by saying what was no surprise to local farmers - “It was a terrible year for making hay in the spring.” Valentine works with Mark Duffy to farm the land, with Duffy planting corn and Valentine harvesting the hay. “One time I put it in alfalfa,” said Valentine, “Alfalfa has residual toxicity, but I think that’s expired so maybe I’ll replant it with alfalfa because it’s a much better feed for animals than timothy.”
Ears perked up around the head table when Valentine mentioned “toxicity” and member Tom Brownrigg asked for a further explanation. Toxicity in this case means toxic to the alfalfa plants, not the farm animals. “Alfalfa is a very expensive thing to plant,” replied Valentine. “It lasts about five to seven years, then it dies back. You have to give it a hiatus before replanting.”
Valentine, with the help of neighbor Steve Spang, has cleared “a tremendous amount” around the periphery of the fields. “There are still some dead trees near the road that ought to be taken down.” ConsCom members voted to allow Valentine to plant alfalfa and remove the dead trees.
Dick Shohet agreed that alfalfa is terribly expensive. He uses the Fox Hill land to grow hay for his cattle at his Mill Iron Farm on Bedford Road. Shohet also agrees that it was a tough year for growing hay. He harvests 18 to 20 tons of hay each year from Fox Hill, and was able to do a double cutting on the bottom part of the field this past season. He “warmly endorses” the Bakewell plan to plant shade trees in the rocky section of Fox Hill. “I have to stand up in the tractor to see the rocks when I’m mowing that section. It takes forever.”
Shohet puts down about 300 pounds of fertilizer and expects to take a ton of hay per acre. His favorite fertilizer is essentially poultry manure, appropriately called “Cheep-Cheep.” “It’s cheap, and the grass has done fine with that,” laughed Shohet. His solution to eliminating poison ivy is to cover it with four inches of moldy hay. He tries to provide at least 100 bales of hay to the town for Old Home Day (OHD) for the soapbox derby course “so the kids don’t go off into... the poison ivy.” Shohet has urged the OHD committee to sell the hay for “a buck a bale” to put some money in their coffers. ConsCom members voted unanimously to accept Shohet’s report.
Mark Duffy of Great Brook Farm repeated the now familiar disclaimer – “The year started out really wet.” A combination of high fertilizer prices and low milk prices forced him to rely mostly on cow manure for his hay fields. “We were able to harvest all our hay fields, three or four times,” said Duffy. “Overall, we have enough crops to feed our cows.”
Asked when he was moving into the new barn, Duffy replied, “when it’s complete – which is subject to state budgetary issues.” He stressed patience. “They’re not building it for me, they’re building it so there will be a farmer there for the next 50 years.”
Duffy hasn’t had any recent problems with the corn fields. He likes to raise corn, which discourages people from recreational use and residual trash. Cows can’t tolerate metal and so he must be particularly careful when harvesting so that none gets mixed in with the feed. He does use hay and presently balances the cow’s diet with half corn and half hay. “Corn is energy and hay is protein.” Duffy farms in four different towns and raises over 100 acres of corn and 100 acres of grass. “It spaces out our harvesting.” His reward is 10 gallons of milk a day per cow.
Regarding the cranberry crop he grows on the town’s Cranberry Bog, Duffy said that it was terrible weather during pollination. His beekeeper’s hives were attacked by bears, so he was forced to bring in some bumblebees from Michigan (bumblebees will fly when honey bees are unable due to the weather). His crop was up from the year before, but by no means what he would like to see. On top of that, the cranberry market is trending downward sharply. ConsCom members thanked Duffy and voted to accept his report, but it is doubtful that any succumbed to the romance of farming in New England. ∆
© 2010 The