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WGBY documentary traces area’s agricultural past

July 16, 2014 | G. Michael Dobbs

WGBY has produced a new documentary on the history and present status of local farming, “A Long Row in Fertile Ground.”
Reminder Publications submitted photo

SPRINGFIELD – The new documentary WGBY premiered on July 9 tells the story of agriculture in western Massachusetts and it’s far from just history.

A Long Row in Fertile Ground” depicts a growing and vibrant agricultural scene that provides a variety of products to the region.

The key to the area’s success is the soil, several speakers noted. The Connecticut River Valley was once the home to the glacial body of water now known as Lake Hitchcock.  The retreat of the glaciers during the Ice Age left behind what has become known as “Hadley Loam,” a rich deep top soil with few stones that is ideal for farming.

The documentary also shows how soil and topography differs throughout western Massachusetts and in the communities in the foothills of the Berkshires that have more rocky elevated terrain, which is good for orchards and for grazing animals such as sheep.

Some of the on-camera interviews also address the issue of land use and how some agricultural land has been redeveloped for housing and other uses.

The film illustrates both how family farms have been sustained with family members staying on to continue a tradition as well as how small scale agriculture has attracted people. It also shows the importance of farmers markets.

Local farmers featured in the program include Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Luther Beldon Farm in Hatfield, Winter Moon Farm in Hadley, Szawlowski Potato Farms in Hatfield, Red Fire Farm in Montague and Indian Line Farm in South Egremont.

Philip Korman, the executive director of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture), is one of the people who was interviewed for the film and told Reminder Publications he views local agriculture as being “overall in an optimistic position.”

He said right now area farms are producing between 10 and 15 percent of the food consumed in the Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties and CISA has the goal of increasing that amount to 25 percent over the next 20 years.

“I’m utterly confident that we could [do] this, but not utterly convinced that we will,” Korman said.

According to a 2012 agricultural census that was released in May, local farmers have increased sales despite the effects of the 2008 recession, Korman said.

He said that for local agriculture to grow there must be a stronger connection between farmers and consumers as well as the creation of more diverse markets.

Certain segments of the local agricultural scene do have challenges, he noted. Milk seldom comes from more than 300 miles away from a market, but little local milk is labeled as such, Korman said.

New England farms produce three local beverages, he said: milk, apple cider and cranberry juice. They all compete with orange juice, which has a national marketing plan. Korman explained that orange juice has been positioned as more than just a breakfast drink and is produced at least a thousand miles away.

Although locally grown foods must compete in a global market with out of season produce coming from as far away as 6,000 miles, Korman said, “The ultimate difference between grown locally and elsewhere is quality and freshness.”

He said that much local produce is delivered to the consumer on the day of being harvested. Korman added that some local farmers truck their produce to markets on Boston and New York City.

Korman said that CISA farmers and their goods wish to have a larger presence in Hampden County, the population center of the region.

“We hope to have the same level of acceptance, passion and community in Hampden County as we do in Franklin and Hampshire counties,” he said.

Funding for this film was provided by Eastern States Exposition, PeoplesBank, Dennis Group, Big Y World Class Markets, Solidago Foundation, Massachusetts Farm Bureau Association and Care @ Home.

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