Western Massachusetts farms diversify to sell local food, meet their communities

Updated: Feb. 22, 2023, 5:05 a.m. | Published: Feb. 22, 2023, 5:01 a.m.

Barstow’s Longview Farm and store in Hadley is an example of how Western Massachusetts farms are finding ways to sell local food and welcome their communities to their farms.

By Tina Lesniak | Special to The Republican

Farms across Western Massachusetts have been expanding their offerings for decades as they move beyond growing and producing food.

These new ventures have often initially come about as another means of income, but they’ve grown into stores and events that build tremendous community and grow support for local food.

For Hadley’s Barstow Farm, the expansion of a store came after the milk market tumbled and they realized that they needed to do something.

“We had a lot of tough conversations as a family business and decided that we needed to diversify or we’d be the generation to turn out the lights on the family farm,” said Denise Barstow Manz, a seventh-generation Barstow family member.

“We wanted to diversify in a thoughtful way, one that appealed to the strengths of the next generation and fit in with our community’s needs.”

Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery opened in 2008 and offers a range of baked goods, as well as dairy products and meat. Customers also love to come and enjoy lunch out on the porch.

Barstow Manz said that although the addition of their store originally came about as a way to bring in another revenue stream, it has evolved into so much more: a gathering place, a place for education about food systems and nutrition, and the front door to their family farm.

“It is funny how much of the reason for the farm store was simply to bring in another revenue stream and engage the seventh generation,” she said. “But what it has become is so much more.”

As the store grew, so did the other offerings at Barstow’s. The farm now offers tours, its own farm-raised beef and compost. It also hosts events such as Pasture Day in May, when the heifers are released to their spring fields after spending the winter in their barns.

For Cook Farm, also in Hadley, the need to diversify came similarly to that of Barstow’s. The owners, Gordon and Beth Cook, also brought about a longstanding dream of the family’s – Beth’s desire to open an ice cream shop.

“Gordon and Beth were watching the milk prices go down and knew their income was totally out of their hands,” said Debby Cook, manager of Flavors of Cook Farm. “They knew they had to diversify in order to set prices that were consistent with inflation and rising costs. So they decided to go all in on Beth’s ice cream shop dream.”

Flayvors of Cook Farm, which opened in 1998, offers a wide range of ice cream and a small lunch menu, but also other local dairy products from Jersey Hill, Sidehill Farm and Thomas Farm. They continue to expand the store’s offerings as customers request different items.

Cook Farm also sells compost, by the bag or yard, and its own beef that is sourced locally. But the best part of their store, much like Barstow’s, is the community that it has built.

“Having an ice cream shop certainly helps to sustain the farm, but not always in the way people imagine,” said Cook. “It provides our community a place to escape from the chaos of their everyday lives, a chance to take a breath and enjoy the amazing views. It gives us a chance to talk about dairy farming with people who may never have seen a farm or a cow.”

Looking forward, both farms plan to keep expanding and doing what they need to do to make their farms sustainable.

“I think it is important for people to understand the value of keeping small or medium dairy farms like ours here in their community,” said Barstow Manz. “Food ought to fit into our landscapes, or else we end up getting it all from one place in the midwest. That doesn’t make the building blocks of a very resilient, strong, or diverse food system. And the best way to help people see that value and contribute to farm sustainability, is to provide a place for memories, learning, and connection.”

Cook agreed. “When communities support their local farm stand, they put money back into our economy through employing local workers and help to keep land open for farming instead of housing developments and so much more,” she said.

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