Young farmer took decade to set roots in Colrain

  • Dan Greene of Good Bunch Farm with pumpkins he grew in Conway. COURTESY TERI RUTHERFORD 

Staff Writer
Published: 10/5/2018 11:24:26 PM

COLRAIN — For the 10 years since he graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in plant and soil science, Dan Greene has been farming — and searching for land.

But not until this fall had Greene put down roots near the confluence of the North and Deerfield rivers.

The red dairy barn on North River Road — where generations of the Johnson family had their North River Bridge Farm — has probably been around longer than the large, white farmhouse nearby, where Greene has been making repairs in preparation for moving in this winter. This was a farm where Frank Johnson used as a chicken coop an old former Shelburne Falls trolley — now housed at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum.

Along with ceiling repairs to a leak from last January — about the time Greene and his girlfriend, Teri Rutherford, first looked at the house — Greene is still tending the crops on a couple of rented acres in Conway, and preparing some of the 8 acres of open land he bought in September, the new home of Good Bunch Farm.

The farm plans a Nov. 4 “open-farm tour” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m (RSVP at goodbunchfarm.evebtbrite.com).

“We had to be very patient,” Greene said, speaking of the monthlong process he and the Johnsons navigated, working to get a USDA farm ownership loan and jumping through the hoops of buying the 13-acre property. But he might as well have been speaking of the search for suitable farmland, which began about the time he graduated from UMass.

Greene, originally from north of Boston, has rented three acres on Bardwells Ferry Road for four years — an acre where he’s mostly lived and kept his equipment and another 2-acre piece with better soil along the South River. When he learned he’d have to leave after this year, Greene figured he might have to find new farmland to rent, just as he’s done before in Ashfield and Shelburne Center.

“I’ve been all over the place,” he said. “I think this might be the sixth move, all around West County.

“Even with real-estate prices aside, there’s not a lot of land for vegetable production or crop production,” Greene said of the hilltowns. “Historically speaking, they’ve been used for dairying and for orchards. So finding a place that had suitable open land, a dwelling and any infrastructure, at an affordable price, was pretty remarkable. It was a blessing the family was willing to work with us.”

Good Bunch Farm began selling at Shelburne Falls Farmers Market in 2009 and has been selling everything from arugula to zucchini at the Ashfield Farmers Market and to The Blue Rock and Hearty Eats in Shelburne Falls, the Ashfield Lake House and Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, as well as to McCusker’s Market, the Co-Op Creamery in Cummington, Gloriosa and Co. catering and Double Edge Theater.

“All of our markets are in this little bubble of Ashfield and Shelburne Falls,” he said, and added that even though he was able to find decent farmland to lease, it was far from perfect.

“Renting can be tenuous. And it’s very tenuous if you have to be split between multiple plots,” said Greene, whose two Conway parcels are a mile apart, with his washing and packing station in one location with his greenhouse and coolers and most of the vegetables planted down the road.

“It’s hard to piece it all together,” he added. “And if I do, do I make investments — improving soil fertility, adding an irrigation system? … Is it worth it if I’m not owning it and have a tenuous agreement? People make it work. You have to.”

When they realized they had to move on, Greene and Rutherford began asking everyone they knew about at least five acres of tillable land they might be able to lease long-term or buy in Conway, Ashfield, Shelburne or maybe, Buckland. They asked farmers market customers and posted a notice on Facebook, Instagram and on fliers in mid-December.

“If you’re a land owner, or know of one who is ready to transition their land, please get in touch,” they wrote. They contacted Land for Good and other organizations that offer help to new and transitioning farmers. Dozens of calls came in from people who knew someone who was selling or leasing land, from people saying, “Come check out our land.”

“Everyone we talked to was so engaged in our search,” recalled Rutherford, who helps do the website and outreach for Greene’s farm. “It was heartwarming and very sweet to be in a community of so many people trying to find us a farm, who seemed very invested in finding us a home to stay in the hilltowns.”

The $272,000 farm, to which Greene drove his tractor last Sunday morning — an hour ride through Shelburne Falls — will provide enough space for him to assemble his 26-by-96-foot hoop house, as well as for an additional greenhouse or two, a wash-up station and a farm stand in the barn. Although he’ll have 2½ acres to start with this coming season for growing vegetables using organic practices, it will take more time to get additional acreage planted in an upper field, he said.

Along the way, Greene said, “We had some ups and downs thinking this was unattainable. It was like a roller coaster. But here we are.” 




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