Things They are A-Changin’: The Renewal of Oak & Ash Farm

Published On: March 28, 2021Categories: Farming

“A Light exists in Spring, Not present on the Year

At any other period—When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad, On Solitary Fields

That Science cannot overtake, But Human Nature feels.”

—Emily Dickinson

It seems a bit silly to point out, but renewal abounds in Spring. Admittedly it’s not my favorite season, like most New Englanders, I find the rich colors and cool breezes of Autumn to be my lifeblood. Although, perhaps not like others, I find winter to be a time of beauty and fun, a chance to relax and enjoy the end of the long busy season. But as farmers now, I think both Matt I so much enjoy the immense excitement and possibly that comes when the snow finally melts and the earth awakens. It’s also, a mad scramble.

To say we’ve changed the direction of our farm is an understatement. When I look at the market garden area that will soon welcome CSA members and online market order picker-uppers alike, it’s hard to remember that this time last year…that wasn’t even an IDEA yet. Well, not a fully formed one anyway. We have gone from test orchard, to farm distillery, to no distillery, to forest farm with a clear vision for every portion or our property in 5 short years. We’ve spent a lot of time going, “well if we had known then, we wouldn’t have done this (or that).” But, no matter, we have things to do, progress to make and a farm to grow.

If you landed here, you may be seeking answers to, what on earth it even is we are doing up here. Or perhaps you just heard there was food involved and moseyed on over (that works on me 99% of the time). You may be trying to figure out what went wrong with the dstillery and want to know, “WILL THERE EVER BE WHISKEY!?” All in due time friends.

When we made the decision to put the distillery on the back burner (just there, not off the stove entirely), we needed a new purpose for the farm. I had had twins and was feeling more then a bit exhausted by the idea of keeping going with the farm idea at all. We knew we needed a new direction and didn’t really know where to start. Well, I didn’t, but Matt is always thinking.

After years of research on new farming practices, starting with Charles Dowding’s ‘No Dig’ principles, and moving to market gardening, Matt figured out a way combine it all with the Agroforestry (literally, farming of forest products like mushrooms, ramps and maple syrup), already going on up here. We were able to take a look at all 7 ½ acres, and come up with a basic plan, breaking the area into zones. He recognized that the area in the front woods, an area whose messy, unplanned-ness had bothered me for years, was not only relatively flat, but it got the most sun. The areas have shifted and morphed and continue to do so even now, but having a goal makes all the difference. Combining zones with sustainable/regenerative principles like, planting polyculture tree rows on contour, with keylines cut to maximize water usage, and chickens on the silvo pasture created in between to build soil. All these things have just created this beautiful symbiotic relationship with the land.

But we’re not done, not by a long shot. So much of this is theory until we put it into practice and see what works, and there’s only one way to find out. Do it. So much of what we do is doing the research, watching the Youtube videos, and then taking a giant leap. We often wonder how many people watch the video, have the motivation, and then are forced into a state of arrested development, unable to take that next step towards action because they become overwhelmed.

This is why we have a strong focus on education. Learn with us. See what works and what doesn’t. Let us take the leap and you see how you can apply it to your own life. Maybe it’s transforming your yard into an edible Eden, and helping build the soil and grow your own food in the process. Maybe it’s finding out how best to preserve or even just enjoy, the beautiful things you find at the farmer’s market or with your own CSA. Or maybe it’s by making a conscious effort to eat in season, and do a little research into your own local farm that has committed themselves to regenerative farming practices. Because if you aren’t going to do it, whether because you do not have the means to do so, or simply do not care to (I get it, trust me), it makes a massive difference to simply make choices that help..

Caption for this YouTube Video

If you aren’t near us in beautiful Belchertown, Massachusetts, you can check out our Youtube channel. I’m working my butt off trying to plan, shoot and edit the best content I can to help you learn. Keep in mind I am NOT a professional so go gentle on me, ok? This is our way of paying back all the great Youtubers who have taught us so much. We looked for gaps, thing’s people may want to learn, and made a video for it. Don’t know what coppicing and pollarding a tree is? We have a video for that! Want to know how Matt carves his timber frame joinery? We have a video for that! And cooking videos?! Well let’s just say, there are going to be so many more of those you won’t know where to start.

On that note, for anyone that doesn’t know, I am writing a cookbook, coming this Fall, 2021! A love letter to New England, eating locally and seasonally, deliciously. I’ll be sharing more on that later, but there will be many recipes to look forward to from the book.

If you do live locally and find yourself reading this, I encourage you to look into our first, very limited farm share. We will only be offering a small amount of these, making sure we can meet the needs of our members first and foremost. Everything else we produce, from sourdough breads made with local grains (hello Ground Up Grain!), to a litany of vegetables and fruits grown without pesticides, and even hand carved wood products and nourishing soaps, will be available for order through our A-La-Carte Market! We offer contactless pick-up twice weekly during CSA pick up times. You’ll be able to go online, put your order together, and come get it a few days later (on Wednesdays and Saturdays only).

So what are we up to in the meantime, to get ready for our grand-relaunch and first pick-up (1st week in June!)?

  • Plot 2 of the Market Garden has been cleared and is ready for stump grinding. Then it’s forming more bed and pathways.

  • Sitework for the greenhouse is done (ditch digging, in forest soil full of rocks and roots, super fun!). Now it’s base construction and then we can put it together.

  • Chicken brooders need to be constructed as our laying hens and GEESE (I’m very excited about the geese), come April 15th. Be sure to check our Instagram for all the pictures…but only if you can handle the cuteness!

  • We need to get our kitchen certified so that I can offer those delicious sourdough breads and english muffins.

  • Our tree row area needs to be cleared behind the market garden. We have a LOT of trees, berry bushes, shrubs etc coming that need to go in ground as soon as we can get them there. So this means lots more clearing of very tall Eastern White Pines, that need to be cut into large sections and moved to the sawmill for processing (more on that in a second), and then limbed and run through the chipper for mulch.

  • Matt has a new sawmill to set up that will make the process of turning all the tree’s removed from plot 2 and our tree rows into Produce Boxes to house our CSA’s and timbers for the barn construction!

  • The Market Garden Timberframe needs to be sided, then water and electrical need to go in, and then our fridge that will house the CSA’s and the sinks used to prep and wash them need to be installed.

  • Cardboard needs to be laid, compost needs to be spread, beds formed and then there is planting, planting, PLANTING!

Tea gardens, perennials pollinator gardens, annual cutting gardens, polyculture berry guilds, the list goes on and on. Man, is it easy to order seeds and plants online in the middle of winter and have a box of miniscule seeds. However, the day of reckoning is coming, and I’m going to have to make sure each one of the thousands of seeds I so eagerly purchased, reaches its full potential. So much to do, so little time.

This is all to say that relentless pivoting, re-adjustments and re-workings mean that we are constantly renewing ourselves (see what I did there?). We have to. It is only through this process of constantly pruning that which does not work for you anymore, that real, productive growth happens. And oh how sweet it will be. Happy Spring everyone. And as we always say up here on the farm,

Cheers, Prost, Slainte!

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