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Down on the organic farm
Scenic View Farm is a USDA-certified organic farm situated on the urban fringe about 60 miles outside of Boston. It is a “family farm,” which its principal operators, John and Katie, rent from John’s parents and run together. John and Katie transitioned into agriculture; John has a liberal arts degree, and Katie was once a professional dancer. Despite lacking active farming backgrounds, at Scenic View the New England natives have built a farming business that has been successful for more than 10 years.
Scenic View is smaller than the average farm in the region, with four fields totaling just over six acres, under cultivation. By contrast, the 2012 Census of Agriculture found that the average farm size in Massachusetts was 68 acres. Scenic View’s annual net sales are higher than those of most farms in the region, averaging approximately $85,000. By comparison, 75 percent of U.S. farms have agricultural sales under $50,000.
Like most organic farms in New England, Scenic View is engaged in crop, rather than livestock, production. In 2007, 264 of Massachusetts’s 319 organic farms were in crop production. Scenic View grows a variety of vegetables as well as herbs and cut flowers. Most of the produce is marketed through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation. CSA programs offer consumers shares in a farm’s output before the growing season begins. Over the course of the season, shareholders receive regular deliveries of goods, with each delivery’s contents dependent on what had recently been harvested. In 2007, some 3 percent of farms in Massachusetts reported utilizing a CSA. By 2012, that proportion had expanded to 6 percent, making Massachusetts the state with the highest percentage of farms selling goods through CSA arrangements.
Like many New England farms, Scenic View relies on non-agricultural income to supplement its farm sales. In 2012, approximately 53 percent of the region’s farmers did not consider farming their primary occupation, and 40 percent of farm operators worked 200 or more days off-farm. At Scenic View, farmworkers are seasonal employees, but the principal operators work full-time all year. However, they do generate non-farm income by renting out a cottage and guest house.
Anyone who has driven through the great agricultural states knows what a 200,000-acre farm looks like. While the seas of corn in Iowa and the majestic wheat fields of the Palouse in eastern Washington captivate the eye, Scenic View is more like a nature preserve than a landscape, the farm’s fields nestled into place on a property composed of interlaced meadows, swamps, woods, streams, ponds, and agricultural fields. So many birdsongs can be heard while one is working, that identifying birds from their sound is a popular way to pass time in the fields. Herons fly overhead, their immense wings casting shadows on the ground, on their way to stalk fish and small frogs in the ponds. Catbirds can be seen watching the comings and goings of the farmworkers, and baby toads the size of pebbles hop to avoid the hands and knees of workers weeding between rows. Owls can be heard calling from the woods at night, and one can sometimes glimpse a coyote as it runs through the thickets on the field margins.
Drawn and adapted from Organic Futures: Struggling for Sustainability on the Small Farm, by doctoral student Connor J. Fitzmaurice ’10 and associate professor of sociology Brian J. Gareau. Copyright © 2016 by Yale University. Reprinted by permission of Yale University Press.