A thriving little farm right in town

  • The second story of the barn on Lucy Fagella and Terri Kerner's Greenfield homestead houses Fagella's pottery studio, where she produces functional kitchen items and urns to hold the cremains of people and pets, among other objects of beauty and practicality. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall—

  • Many parts of Terri Kerner and Lucy Fagella's homestead involve multi-use aspects, like the cold frame built outside the greenhouse, which in turn helps heat the chicken coop housed inside. The couple installed little doors in their adjoining wood shop to enable them to collect eggs without having to enter the coop. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall—

  • For one of her many DIY projects, Terri Kerner built an outdoor pizza oven on the Greenfield property she shares with longtime partner Lucy Fagella. Kerner's first attempt at masonry resulted in success. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall—

  • From the lowest of their three garden sites, Terri Kerner and Lucy Fagella can view parts of their orchard as well as their home and barn, which houses a chicken coop, wood shop, and Fagella's pottery studio. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall—

  • Lucy Fagella and Terri Kerner take a break from projects to hang out with Willow on the stoop of their bee barn, which houses the considerable equipment required for beekeeping, and doubles as a garden shed. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall—

  • A stone walkway and green archway provide hints of what's happening on the property of Greenfield residents Lucy Fagella and Terri Kerner. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall—

For the Recorder
Published: 8/1/2022 2:23:08 PM

While traveling on Greenfield’s Leyden Road, it’s easy to miss that there’s a small farm thriving right in town. A stone walkway leading to a gate accented by an archway of greenery and clematis provide hints of what’s happening on a 2.5-acre property that’s home to two enterprising women.

Lucy Fagella and Terri Kerner raise abundant food for their own use and beautify their property. Each woman is a powerhouse of talent, and their combined efforts steer home projects in delightful ways.

The walkways around their house are a feast for the eyes; Fagella created large stepping stones made of river rock and broken pottery set in cement. Behind the house, traffic sounds are muted, and one finds a haven of gardens, orchard, beekeeping, and landscaping with chickens, a homemade swing, and a DIY pizza oven. It seems there’s nothing these women can’t do, even though they also have full careers.

The Lucy Fagella Pottery Studio has long been a source of functional items for the kitchen. Fagella is also known far and wide for creating gorgeous urns to honor deceased people and pets, and to hold their cremains. Kerner is an ob/gyn nurse at Baystate Franklin’s Birthplace, where for the last 15 years she’s welcomed babies and cared for women and their families. They’ve also raised children; Kerner says being the grandmother of five is one of her greatest joys.

“I got to catch the last one,” she said with a proud smile.

Of their gardens, Fagella said, “We have three basic zones. Closest to the house, we grow food for easy access. It’s the hottest spot, too, being sheltered by buildings.” Land that slopes steeply down the backyard is a little cooler; crops are planned accordingly. “And what we think of as zone three is farthest from the house,” Fagella added. “We had to skip a section that gets really wet.”

The combined gardens yield an impressive variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. “We eat well,” said Kerner. “Our land provides us with delicious, nutritious organic food year round.”

It begins with spinach and lettuce grown under protective coverings made of plastic stretched over hoops. Additional cold frames enable greens and carrots to winter over. “We get two to three crops of carrots every year,” said Kerner.

Escarole plants start under lights in Fagella’s studio, move to a greenhouse, and finally make it to outdoor beds. Other plants started under lights include tomatoes, kale, lettuce, microgreens, and parsley.

A lifelong gardener who grew up on Long Island, Fagella studied permaculture design. “We plant close to the house the foods we need frequently,” she said, “like lettuce, green beans, peas, kale, and herbs. Further down, we put stuff we don’t need to pick every day, like garlic, onions, root crops, squash, horseradish, corn, and rhubarb.”

Interspersed between garden beds are oblong metal feed troughs with holes drilled in the bottoms and sitting on cement pads. Kerner explained: “They’re great for sweet potatoes. They concentrate the heat, keep the soil loose, and prevent rodents from getting in.” They harvested 65 pounds last year. “We ate the last sweet potato in March. Having a root cellar helps with food preservation.”

Near the lowest gardens, tomato plants grow tall supported by attractive wooden cages Kerner built. “Tomato cages can be pricey,” she said, “but I built three of these for $30 worth of pine.”

Inside a fenced-in area, permaculture practices are in full swing. “We do sheet mulching,” said Fagella. “We lay down cardboard and add chicken manure and wood chips. We let that sit for at least a year, then rake off the wood chips and put them around the blueberries.”

After removing wood chips, they add mulch hay, which Fagella gets from a local horse farm after it’s been used for bedding. Kerner adds grass clippings she captures while mowing.

Kerner mows by hand, which takes over three hours per week in multiple stints. “I use an electric mower,” she said. “It’s good exercise.”

The sheet mulching process yields rich soil in which the couple grows edamame, asparagus, garlic, cucumbers, onions, cauliflower, leeks, celery, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, and dried beans. The fenced-in garden is brightened by nasturtiums, calendula, amaranth, cosmos, and zinnias.

“We’re going to move the rhubarb to make room for other crops,” said Kerner. “Animals don’t bother rhubarb, so it doesn’t really need to be fenced in.”

The mention of predators turns the conversation toward the orchard. Fruit trees include peach, pear, plum, and cherry, and there are blueberry and raspberry bushes, as well. “The deer love to eat the cherry tree,” said Kerner, “and elderberry bushes.” Fagella thinks their mulberry tree deters would-be marauders. “I believe it distracts birds from our raspberries, and we hope it draws squirrels away from our peaches.”

Fagella, who planted comfrey around the fruit trees for nitrogen fixing purposes, deeply respects nature’s balance.

“It’s OK to have some bugs, because they encourage birds. And we don’t destroy snakes, because they eat slugs,” she said.

Multicolored beehives represent another project. “Terri’s the head keeper,” said Fagella. “I’m her helper.” A solar-powered electric fence protects the four hives from bears. Beyond the hives is a glorious field of goldenrod and other wildflowers, “all for the bees,” said Kerner.

The journey into beekeeping began when Kerner took a class at Greenfield Community College with local legend Cliff Hatch of Upinngil Farm. “As an adjunct professor, I was able to take the beekeeping class for free. So I thought, what the heck?”

Beekeeping requires storage space for equipment, so up went a “bee barn” which doubles as a garden shed. A local builder constructed the lovely outbuilding three years ago, but the industrious farmers built their own doors, lofts, and ladder.

“I manage the hives organically,” said Kerner, “including methods to combat mites.” She leaves 60 pounds of honey in the hives. “Most of the honey is for the bees,” she said. “I’m just happy they put up with me stealing some of their food.” Last year’s yield was 30 pounds for the humans.

The tour continues back up the hill in a greenhouse and chicken coop, home to both meat birds and layers. “We have 20 meat birds, up from 12 last year,” said Kerner. “And I’m heading to the post office in a few minutes to pick up eight new layers to supplement the 14 we already have.”

In an adjoining woodshop, Kerner makes cutting boards from lumber scraps, and Fagella makes wooden pottery tools from the remnants of Kerner’s remnants. The couple avidly salvages lumber: they’ve scored curly maple, Brazilian cherry (from bed slats), Cuban mahogany (from discarded Greenfield High School bleachers), and oak (left behind by sewer workers).

Creating their agricultural paradise has required countless hours clearing away bittersweet that perennially threatens to encroach, and they’ve removed innumerable loads of poison ivy, which goes into black plastic bags and off to the dump.

“We’re vigilant about invasives,” said Fagella.

Using an electric chainsaw, they harvest firewood from their land to supplement what they purchase elsewhere. Their wood stove and solar panels substantially defray utility bills.

“Our home improvement projects are never-ending,” said Fagella. “Our house was built in 1890. Before us, it was owned and lived in by just one family. Some people still call it the Hallowell House. The Hallowells operated a chicken farm and apple orchard right here.”

Fagella and Kerner continue the agricultural tradition with aplomb, inspiring others to take even small steps toward self-sufficiency.

Eveline MacDougall is the author of “Fiery Hope” and an artist, musician, and mom. She welcomes comments from readers at eveline@amandlachorus.org.


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