Rooted in the past, growing toward the future

  • Ray Holland and Tracy Drury turned most of their Greenfield yard into space for growing food and attracting pollinators. They enjoy visits from daughter Addie Rose Holland and granddaughter Olive Rosenberg, 6, who have their own gardens in Montague. PHOTO BY GILLIS MACDOUGALL

  • Greenfield resident Tracy Drury used to garden with her grandmother, Edith Sawin, a president of the Garden Club of America. For her dedication, the organization awarded Sawin a birdbath/garden ornament in the form of a young woman, which now graces the garden beds Drury cultivates with her partner Ray Holland. PHOTO BY GILLIS MACDOUGALL

  • Sunflowers stand tall outside the Greenfield home of Ray Holland and Tracy Drury, who devote most of their yard to growing vegetables and attracting pollinators. PHOTO BY GILLIS MACDOUGALL

  • The Greenfield home of Ray Holland and Tracy Drury has many garden beds rather than manicured lawns. PHOTO BY GILLIS MACDOUGALL

For the Recorder
Published: 9/26/2022 5:28:21 PM
Modified: 9/26/2022 5:27:32 PM

Ray Holland and Tracy Drury grow many kinds of vegetables in their Greenfield yard, as well as plants to attract pollinators. In doing so, each follows in the footsteps of ancestors.

Holland grew up with a vibrant Irish agricultural tradition and is pleased that the family legacy is being passed on.

Granddaughter Olive Rosenberg, 6, this summer operated a one-day farm stand, selling string beans and summer squash in front of her Montague home. “We put tables together and covered them with tablecloths,” said Rosenberg, who garnered $6.25 for her efforts. “We put out chairs, too, so people could stay and chat if they wanted.”

Young Rosenberg’s agricultural bent comes through both sides of her family. Her father, Dan Rosenberg, founded Real Pickles, the award-winning Greenfield-based pickled foods company that employs traditional lacto-fermentation processes and uses exclusively northeast grown produce. Olive’s mother, Addie Rose Holland, has also been integral to Real Pickles for most of its two decades.

Ray Holland says of his granddaughter: “Even as a toddler, Olive knew the difference between weeds and crops. I have photos of her pulling weeds while still in diapers.” Olive’s genetic links to farming become clear as her grandfather describes his background.

“My parents grew up on adjoining farms in Seeola, Ireland.” said Holland. “Later, my father’s family sold land to my mother’s family, the Brennans.”

Eugene Holland emigrated to the U.S. in 1929, stepping off the boat on October 29, the day the stock market crashed. “My dad made out okay, since he was a Teamster,” said Holland. “He drove horses as part of the New York City subway building project.”

Holland’s father married another Irish immigrant in New York; they had a couple of children, but his wife died young. A relative encouraged the widower to get in touch with Rose Brennan, his childhood neighbor. Brennan had left County Monaghan for a nursing job in London. “They were married in 1949,” said Holland, “and I came along in 1950. We lived in New York City, in Washington Heights.”

Before long, however, Rose “grew tired of the concrete jungle,” said her son. When Holland was five, Rose took him to Ireland for several months, which made a huge impression on the child.

“The Brennans lived a life that was like medieval times,” said Holland. “The women milked their six cows, and the men grew crops to feed the cows, which involved making hay. A horse pulled the cutter/mower, and my cousins and I stood up the sheaves and tied them so that air could blow through them, helping them to dry.”

During the process, the gate would be removed from the farm’s fence and used like a sled. “It had runners,” said Holland. “We piled it with hay and then created ricks (haystacks). My grandfather thatched the ricks to protect them from moisture.” One of Holland’s most treasured memories is of digging potatoes with his grandfather.

Holland grew up in New York City and New Jersey, but returned to Ireland every couple of years. “I stopped going as a young adult, though,” he said. “My family’s place is on the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and there was always trouble on the border. The political situation was deeply unsettled, so I avoided going.”

Yet Holland continued to long for the beauty of Ireland. When he and a buddy went to Vermont on a motorcycle, “It reminded me so much of Ireland that I decided to stay.” He worked as a carpenter, and later as an educator. “Vermont is where I raised my children, and where I met Tracy.”

Holland and Drury have been together for more than thirty years, having started out as friends and colleagues while working in a school. Drury provided one-on-one assistance for students with special needs; in choosing to work in education, she too followed in family footsteps. Her father, Francis Keppel, was Harvard’s youngest-ever Dean of Education and went on to serve as Secretary of Education under John F. Kennedy.

Drury also came to her love of gardening through a grandparent: her grandmother, Edith Moutlon Sawin, was president of the Garden Club of America, and in 1972 received an award for her dedication. The award came with a lovely statue and birdbath in the form of a young woman, which now graces one of Drury and Holland’s garden beds.

Following the death of her first husband at age forty from ALS, Drury pursued her love of horticulture while raising teenage sons as a single mom. She attended the New York Botanical Garden School of Floral Design and ran her own business for several years before switching careers to education.

Drury and Holland moved to Greenfield a few years ago after many years in Vermont, where they’d tended large gardens while raising sheep, chickens, and goats. Addie Rose Holland enjoys witnessing her dad and step-mom working together to create what she calls “notable gardens” at their Hastings Street home, and is grateful that she was raised in agricultural settings.

“My dad’s ties to Ireland shaped him deeply,” she said. “His experiences impacted how I was raised. On my mother’s side, too, agricultural roots go way back.”

She’s proud of her biological mom, Sarah Holland, whose family settled in Moretown, Vermont in 1790. “My mom’s family farmed, but eventually moved to the village to pursue a life of blacksmithing, among other things. But we all retain an avid love of gardening. In fact, my mom runs a landscaping business.”

Ray Holland says his daughter was a thoroughly land-based child. “Addie was a rock collector early on. She worked at an organic farm while in high school and has always been close to the land.” In college, Addie Rose Holland majored in geosciences and now helps run the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center at UMass Amherst, dedicated to finding ways to support wildlife and ecosystems in light of climate change.

Though she first visited Ireland in 2008, Addie Rose felt a strong connection throughout her life. “My dad’s stories always fascinated me,” she said. “I loved hearing about the farm, the well where they drew water, and the house with one electrical outlet.” In 2019, she returned to Ireland, this time with her husband Dan and three-year-old Olive.

“We stayed in the Brennan house,” she said, “and met over a hundred cousins in less than a week. My relatives all still live in that area, and the house is pretty much in its original state. Indoor plumbing was added, and the cookstove is now fueled by natural gas instead of peat and coal. Otherwise, though, it’s largely the same as when my grandmother grew up and my dad lived there as a kid.”

Ray Holland’s youngest cousin, Gerry, still farms the Seeola family land and has modernized their dairy business. “He just turned fifty,” said Holland, “and recently visited us here in Massachusetts.”

Family ties remain strong, as do memories. Ray Holland recalls his mother riding her bicycle well into her eighties. “After that, when she was in assisted living, she rode the stationary bike twice a day. Her motto was ‘use it or lose it.’ When I’d visit, I’d find her pedaling away. She’d tell me: ‘In my mind’s eye, I’m riding to Inniskeen.’ That was the town closest to our farm.”

Rose Brennan died at age 101, but her legacy lives on, both in the name of her granddaughter, and in her family’s continued devotion to living in harmony with the land.

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

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