Valley Bounty: Young year-round farm growing naturally

  • Alice Colman and her partner, Brian Cunningham, added a barn to the farm this year. Contributed photo/STONY HILL FARM

  • Alice Colman stands with some sizable tomato plants in one of the farm’s greenhouses. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/STONY HILL FARM

For the Recorder
Published: 9/8/2020 9:40:10 AM

The hot and dry conditions across Western Massachusetts have caused many crops to come earlier than in previous years, and that is just fine with Alice Colman, co-owner of Stony Hill Farm in Wilbraham.

“We’re excited to start harvesting some of our fall vegetables, like winter squash and sweet potatoes,” Colman says. Until then, Colman and her partner, Brian Cunningham, will continue to harvest tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, green beans and more.

Started in 2015, Stony Hill Farm is in the midst of its sixth season growing vegetables, cut flowers and bouquets and honey. This year, due to COVID-19, their products are for sale exclusively through its farm stand, though Colman and Cunningham are excited to return to farmers markets next year.

Growing year-round, Stony Hill Farm will be harvesting fresh greens including spinach, Swiss chard and kale this winter, and will continue to have fall storage crops such as carrots, beets, turnips and radishes available.

“Winter is my favorite season on the farm — everything tastes sweeter and the flavors really come out,” Colman explains.

The land that Stony Hill Farm now grows on had previously been used as a garden space, but not as a commercial farm. To make things run smoothly and efficiently, Colman explains, they have had to install quite a bit of infrastructure — no small feat when you are also farming full time.

Colman and Cunningham built a barn this year to be used for storage that includes a walk-in cooler and a warm produce washroom for the winter months. They also finished installing a well this year and added three high tunnel hoop houses to overwinter their wide variety of flowers, including sunflowers, snapdragons and zinnias.

Stony Hill Farm doesn’t use any pesticides. Instead, Colman explains, “we’ve brought in various beneficial insects in order to help build an ecosystem where the bugs eat bugs and keep problems with pests from getting too out of control.”

Stony Hill Farm has purchased ladybugs and praying mantises. The ladybugs were brought into the greenhouse to help control an aphid problem. Aphids are small (adults are smaller than a quarter-inch), soft-bodied insects that suck the nutrient-rich liquids out of plants. They multiply quickly, causing several generations to appear in one season. While aphids typically are wingless, most aphid species can develop wings if food sources become sparse, allowing them to travel to other plants, reproduce, and start new colonies.

The praying mantises were brought into the greenhouses as a general predator, with the ability to hunt pests such as flies, aphids, moths and mosquitoes. Some species of praying mantises have even been known to eat small rodents, frogs, snakes, and birds.

Colman said they also have lacewings, another common beneficial insect, living naturally on the farm. Similar to the praying mantis, lacewings are generalists that will eat aphids, whiteflies, caterpillars and leafhoppers. “I’ve never noticed a whitefly problem in the greenhouses,” Colman says, “though to be honest I’m not sure if it’s because the lacewings are doing their job or if it’s just not an issue for us.”

Their five-year plan, Colman explains, is continue to refine what they are currently doing. “We’re hoping to hire a field crew next year to help us grow more on the land than we have, and we’d like to see a more consistent supply of our crops available year-round.” Colman and Cunningham are also looking to make Stony Hill Farm more of a place that people can visit and get the community more involved, starting with opening up their flower fields to pick-your-own customers next season.

“The greatest reward for us has been getting to build relationships with our customers, and actually see who it is we are growing food for,” Colman says.

Their love for their community in Wilbraham, and for the local food scene, is apparent. “Having local options is what makes places distinct from one another, what separates communities from being homogenous,” Colman says, going on to talk about an apple farm in Wilbraham that locals love because of their fond memories of actually visiting. “You just can’t get that full experience when purchasing food that isn’t local.”

Stop by Stony Hill Farm’s farm stand at 899 Stony Hill Road in Wilbraham. To place an order online (with pickup at the farm stand) visit stonyhillfarmwilbraham.com/. For more local options near you, please visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.

Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.




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