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Fall 2023 Updates from the GFN Community Farm

By now the garlic is planted, the water is turned off and all those who tend the Grow Food Northampton Community Farm are starting to look toward next year. At the conclusion of an historic growing season due to the July 10th flood of the Mill River, we want to give an update from the land, wrap up the year and give a look into what to expect in 2024 and beyond.

New Plantings

This spring Grow Food Northampton began to transition the flood-prone edges of the Community Farm into food-producing, pollinator-friendly, perennial plantings. We collaborated with Regenerative Design Group to make a whole farm design and with Connecticut River Conservancy to purchase plants and supplies to perennialize the edges of the community farm with a diverse range of flood-adapted species. 

Our efforts were kicked into high gear after the flood on July 10th that ravaged over ~50 acres of the 121 acre farm. Students, teachers, community members from around the valley came out to visit and volunteer with us. We cleared areas, moved debris, dug holes, seeded cover crops, added compost, and planted out the beginnings of perennial floodways and riparian buffers along the Mill River.

Since this April we have planted roughly 200 herbaceous, resilient perennials throughout the community farm, species including New England Aster, Spotted Joe Pye Weed, bee balm, lobelia, and swamp milkweed. We have planted over 50 shrubs including red-osier dogwood, spicebush, elderberry, hazelnut, high bush cranberry, as well as over a dozen resilient tree species including various oaks, hickories, and American Persimmon.

Over the course of this year we’ve already witnessed the fortitude of these plantings: our spring planted seedling blueberries, elderberries, currants, and basket willow didn’t skip a beat after the flood of July 10th. This is only the beginning of our plans to plant perennial trees, shrubs and herbs at the Community Farm. Grow Food Northampton has both the opportunity and the obligation as the stewards of floodplain land, to demonstrate diverse food production in less-than-ideal annual farming conditions. 

Leasing and Land Use Update

After the July 2023 floods, we spent time reconsidering the vulnerability and optimal land use of different areas of the farm. Working with our Site Advisory Committee, we developed a new Flood Resilience Framework that we will use in conjunction with other decision-making tools, including our Equitable Access policy, when making leasing and land-use decisions in the future. We will be sharing the Flood Resilience Framework in the coming weeks.
Susan Pincus, owner of Sawmill Herb Farm

We’d like to share the bittersweet news that Sawmill Herb Farm will be leaving the Community Farm at the end of this season. Owned by Susan Pincus, the certified organic herb farm specializes in medicinal and culinary herbs and got its start at GFN back in 2013. We are thrilled that Susan is finalizing a move to a new location in Montague, but her expertise, stewardship, and community presence will be missed greatly on the Community Farm. Because of this transition, in mid-January we will be posting a Request for Proposals to lease the approximately 1.5 acres of land that Sawmill has been farming.

New Gathering Space

We are again working with our long-time partner, Regenerative Design Group, to create designs for a more intentional community gathering space on the farm. The flexible space will be used for workshops, student field trips, meetings, or just for taking a quiet moment in the shade at the garden. We will be seeking community input and guidance on this project in the coming months.

Newly planted this fall:

American Hazelnut

American Persimmon

Black Chokeberry

Cardinal Flower

Common Elderberry

Eastern Purple

Coneflower

Echinacea Purpurea

Great Blue Lobelia

Meadowsweet

Mountainmint

New England Aster

Paper Birch

Red Chokeberry

Red-osier Dogwood

Spicebush

Spotted Joe-pye Weed

Swamp Milkweed

Sweet Fern

White Mulberry

Yellowbud Hickory

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