Throughout history, niche markets have helped North Quabbin farmers thrive

  • Pasture-raised turkeys at Diemand Farm. The farm, located at 126 Mormon Hollow Road in Wendell, is a third-generation farm. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

For the Recorder
Published: 8/8/2022 8:08:34 PM
Modified: 8/8/2022 8:05:17 PM

Wendell resident Cathy Stanton always had an interest in the history of farming in New England, with a particular interest in how close the present nostalgia regarding farming comes to reality. This interest has led her to join the board of Orange’s Quabbin Harvest Food Co-op as well as create two online resources.

“Most people think they know about farming in the area,” said Stanton, who holds a doctorate in anthropology from Tufts University. “Many people think the soil is poor and it wasn’t a good place to farm, as the land was full of rocks. There are a lot of rocks but the best soil in the world is in New England; however, it is on the riverbeds, where people built factories.”

New England farms were small compared to the ones farther west, she said. In the early 19th century, Stanton said farming in New England became harder as market competition ramped up.

“This was the ‘rise of the market economy’ era when more things started to be driven by market-centered calculations and prices as commercial/capitalist markets expanded in the new republic,” she explained. “Some of this was shaped by public policy — policies that made new farmland available along the westward frontier — and some by new technologies such as railroads, farm machinery, etc. All of those things tended to favor people who had more capital to invest or more land to begin with.”

Thus, Stanton said, many New England towns turned to industry, making tools, plows and other farm equipment.

Still, many people in New England and the North Quabbin region kept farming, Stanton explained, often specializing in one area such as meat, maple syrup, hay, dairy products or fruit from orchards.

“Even back then, 100 years ago, they found niche markets,” Stanton said.

Agritourism was also popular in the late 1800s, with farmers marketing to people in cities, especially after automobiles came along. Farmers sold their produce locally to hotels that catered to city visitors, including Overlook Hotel in Orange and Nichewaug Inn in Petersham.

“It was quite a thriving market until supermarkets came in after World War II,” Stanton said.

Greenery companies also developed in the early 20th century, creating decorative swags and greenery for holidays and weddings. New Salem had at least two greenery companies.

“It shows people adapting,” Stanton said.

Anne Diemand Bucci, co-owner of Wendell’s Diemand Farm, recounted how farming was once “a way of life in small communities.” Diemand Farm is a third-generation poultry farm that was started when her father, Albert J. Diemand Jr., purchased the land in 1936 and moved from Connecticut.

“Dad had always wanted to be a farmer,” she recalled. “He grew up and worked factory jobs but knew there was a better life for him.”

The Diemands had 12 children — six girls and six boys.

“All of my siblings and I grew up working on the farm, before and after school,” Diemand Bucci said.

By the mid-1940s, it was a working farm.

“Dad started the farm raising and dressing meat chickens,” Diemand Bucci said. “He did this through the ’60s. He said the bottom dropped out of the meat bird market, so he switched over to chickens for eggs.”

The farm’s evolution has continued as it has been passed down through the generations. Today, the farm at 126 Mormon Hollow Road sells grass-fed beef, chicken, turkey and lamb. Also offered at its farm store are turkey or chicken pot pies, various soups and desserts. The farm provides catering services and also sells rough-cut lumber, cord wood and compost.

‘An Anthropologist in the Grocery Store’

Inspired by her volunteer involvement at Quabbin Harvest in Orange, Stanton recently finished writing a book, titled “An Anthropologist in the Grocery Store,” which she is pitching to potential publishers and agents.

“The book is about what I learned when I became a more active participant in the real-world, present-day grocery business,” she said.

The book follows the co-op’s ups and downs from start-up to near-failure and then a surprising resurrection during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I write about the challenges of trying to sustain a small food venture in the North Quabbin as a way to illuminate some of the very largest questions about class, race, community, wealth and power in a divided American society and a rapidly changing global climate,” Stanton said.

Information on Stanton’s two online resources, The Landcestor Project and the Food Values project, can be found at landcestorproject.org and farmvalues.net, respectively.

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on history with a particular interest in the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.


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