Family farm is a dairy and then some

  • Fall is on display in front of the farm stand at Fletcher Farm in Southampton. FLETCHER FARM

  • Fletcher Farm’s farm stand. FLETCHER FARM

  • Cows eating at Fletcher Farm in Southampton. The farm has 170 cows, most of them Holsteins but about a third of them Jerseys. FLETCHER FARM

  • The Fletcher family, from left, Torrie Schwab, Nicole Fletcher, Cheryl and Bob Fletcher, Matt Fletcher, and Elizabeth and George Plouffe. CONTRIBUTED/KELLY HIGGINS LAPRADE

  • A pumpkin patch at Fletcher Farm in Southampton. FLETCHER FARM

For the Recorder
Published: 10/19/2021 1:03:09 PM

Fletcher Farm, just off Route 10 in Southampton, is the kind of place many probably envision when they hear the phrase “family farm”: a small New England dairy and farm stand selling what’s seasonal and local, still operated by one family.

The farm is first and foremost a dairy, maintains patriarch Bob Fletcher, himself a third-generation dairy farmer. “I grew up on my family’s dairy farm out near Boston,” Fletcher says. “When my dad’s operation got squeezed out by development, I decided to come out here.”

Fletcher purchased a tract of farmland preserved under the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction program (APR) in 1987, which became Fletcher Farm. “We own 110 acres, and we’re renting another 150,” he shares.

In the beginning, most of the work fell to Fletcher and his wife, Cheryl, who raised three kids on the farm. Now two of those grown children have returned to farm full time after earning college degrees in dairy management, and the third pitches in during the busy season.

“It’s definitely gotten easier since my son Matthew and daughter Nicole jumped into the business,” Fletcher says. “Matthew handles most of growing crops for the stand and the hay and corn silage we feed the cows.” Nicole, meanwhile, “always has her eyes on the herd,” and does the most to care for the cows.

Meanwhile, Fletcher’s son in-law George has taken over managing the farm stand alongside Cheryl, who maintains an off-farm job. Other relatives pitch in when needed —Cheryl’s sister and her husband even relocated to Southampton this fall to help at the stand while still working full-time remotely.

As a diversified dairy, the farm’s cows generate their core income, Fletcher says. Meanwhile, “the farm stand allows us to take some of the (financial) pressure off the dairy, so it doesn’t have to carry the full weight.”

Out the farm’s 170 cows, about half are milked at any one time. The rest are calves or unbred heifers waiting their turn. The herd was all Holsteins at first, but now contains a mix of one-third Jerseys.

Fletcher Farm’s milk is sold to the Agri-Mark dairy cooperative, which buys, bottles and processes milk from hundreds of regional dairy farms. Once it enters this regional processing system, any one farm’s milk isn’t entirely traceable, but Fletcher guesses a good portion of theirs becomes butter, skim milk or cream at the co-op’s West Springfield processing plant.

Meanwhile, some may be sent to Vermont to become Cabot cheese (Cabot is one of Agri-Mark’s brands), which Fletcher Farm’s stand carries.

Farm stand opens

The farm’s newly built farm stand, now with more space, better utilities, and much more outdoor seating, opened new possibilities. “It’s helped us open up the farm to the public and make it a destination, particularly in the fall,” Fletcher says.

Year-round, they sell local items they grow themselves, along with produce from other local farms. Fletcher, again betraying his affinity for dairy, highlights the milk they offer from Mapleline Farm in Hadley, and goat cheeses from Thomas Farm & Dairy in Sunderland.

Spring brings flowers to the stand. Summer means fresh produce, often grown on site. This time of year, “we’ve got cornstalks, straw bales and heirloom pumpkins,” Fletcher says, all grown by them, and mums grown by others locally.

“We finish up the year selling Christmas trees from Cranston’s Tree Farm in Ashfield,” he says. That’s been a tradition for nearly 30 years.

Group visits

Another tradition at Fletcher Farm is inviting groups of young students from around the Valley to the farm for a day of fall fun. “This started when my daughter Nicole was in kindergarten,” Fletcher recalls. They invited her class to see the animals and pick a pumpkin. Nowadays, hayrides are also a staple of these visits.

Last year group visits were canceled, but the Fletchers kept the tradition alive by delivering pumpkins to many local schools. This year visits are limited, but for those who can’t come, pumpkin delivery is still an option.

Fletcher is reflective about the farm’s place in the lives of local families. “It’s special that we’ve seen these kids grow up, go to high school, go away to college, come back, get married and have kids of their own now coming to the farm,” he says.

“We have people all the time walk into the farm stand, look at Cheryl and I and say, ‘I remember coming here when I was in kindergarten,’” he says. “It makes you realize we’ve really been doing this for a long time. It’s pretty cool.”

The Fletchers open the farm’s door to more than just kids, though. People of all ages are invited to see the animals and the inner workings of the farm on certain weekends throughout the year.

“We like people coming to the farm,” says Fletcher, noting their desire to help fill the gaps in society’s understanding of agriculture. “We like showing people how we’re treating the animals, talking about why, and bringing awareness to where food comes from. It’s good for everybody.”

Usually, these open farm days coincide with other events at the farm stand, like a local food or ice cream truck visiting. Explains Fletcher, “With the new construction there’s more picnic tables and space for people to hang out, have lunch, and take in the farm for the afternoon.” Those interested can check the farm’s Facebook page for announcements of coming events.

“Family farm” is now a widely used buzzword, but for many local farms in the Valley, the image it evokes of a hardworking family selling right to their neighbors is still close to reality. For Fletcher Farm and others like them, it’s the community’s support for this model that keeps them running.

 

Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To find local food and learn more about farms in your neighborhood, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.


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