In many ways, the end of the 2019 growing season is similar to my previous nine. For starters, it’s sudden - I’m so busy planting, harvesting, and weeding that when I finally get a chance to look up, I’m wearing a sweatshirt, not a tank top. It’s also bittersweet - though my body isn’t as sore and I have more time to relax, this comes at the expense of enjoying luscious tomatoes and other warm-season delicacies. Yet the end of this growing season is unlike any other in a big way, one with which I’m still grappling: it marks my final year as owner and operator of Second Nature Farm.
When I began Second Nature Farm with some hand tools in 2009, I couldn’t imagine the challenges and rewards that lay ahead of me. And though my primary challenges involved growing vegetables, my primary rewards involved meeting people. Without exaggeration, I can say I’ve spent the past nine years working with and getting to know the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met.
I think back to my first year, when my former bosses Art and Karen Taylor of Atypical Farm leased me ¼ acre for nothing in return, and my parents let me take over their basement, backyard, garage, and patio to pursue a dirty career completely unrelated to my Sociology degree. I remember those Saturday mornings when my parents, along with my then-girlfriend Megan, woke up at 4am to help me harvest, wash, and pack all the vegetables for that morning’s farmers’ market, all the while fending off voracious mosquitoes. I think back to my sister, Jill, who demonstrated poise and selflessness by devoting that entire summer to helping grow my business at a daunting and frustrating time when we faced as much crop failure as success.
I also remember how that first year, 15 brave families put their faith in me to supply them with vegetables before I had even put a seed in the ground - the first Second Nature Farm CSA members. Every Tuesday they drove to my glorified garden and humored me as we walked around harvesting their share since I had no way to keep their vegetables cool and fresh prior to their arrival. That summer was the year of the infamous tomato late-blight pandemic, and despite only getting to enjoy a couple tomatoes the whole year, they didn’t complain and were simply thankful for what came.
And two years later, when I had outgrown the large garden, I remember Butch Reilly’s willingness to share his land with a 25 year-old farmer who had big plans and little knowledge. I remember the first brave farm crew removing countless wheelbarrow loads of rocks before we could even start planting, and I also remember the 20 other crew members who have taken the plunge with me over the past eight years, and whose hard work has been instrumental to each successful growing season.
The fabric of Second Nature Farm is woven with these people as well as many others like them, whose compassion and generosity makes the farm possible. In fact, chances are that if you’re reading this now, you’re one of the people I’m talking about. Maybe you didn’t fix a tractor or weld my barrel washer, but at the very least, you made time in your busy Saturday morning or Tuesday afternoon to visit our farm stand. And in an era where convenience and online ordering predominates, making the extra effort to support a small family farm is a significant, meaningful act - one that states that you value community over convenience and quality over price-point.
At this point I know what you must be thinking - if the farm’s community means so much to you, why leave? The short answer is that despite searching for the past few years, I’ve been unable to find farmland to purchase in Eastern Massachusetts. As you’re well aware, there’s not much farmland here left, and what there is is usually scooped up by developers and turned into subdevelopments. The rarest of all farmland species – that with an agricultural designation which restricts it from development and thus ties its value to its agricultural productivity alone - hasn’t appeared on the market while I’ve been looking, and I’m not sure when it will. Rather than wait indefinitely, I recently began looking in Megan’s home state of Oregon, with its promise of a longer, milder growing season and more affordable farmland. Megan and I were lucky to find a 20-acre farm in northwest Oregon, and will move there in December to start anew.
If you’ve ever asked me how I became interested in farming, I probably began my reply with “I always loved visiting apple orchards.” It’s an incongruous statement for a vegetable grower, I know, but these early fall outings planted the seed of an outdoor, agricultural career. Many years after stepping foot in that first orchard, I still find that nothing matches the feeling of being amongst rows of fruit trees, and the same voice that told me to start Second Nature Farm 9 years ago tells me now to pivot from vegetables to tree fruit. This is why I felt the need to purchase farmland rather than continue my short-term lease in Norton – since orchard trees require a significant investment, it makes the most sense to plant them on land that I know I’ll be farming for decades to come.
On any given day I experience a gamut of emotions – from sadness, guilt, and anxiety, to happiness, excitement, and eagerness. It’s not lost on me that I’m leaving the people and markets responsible for my being able to afford a farm in the first place, and I wake up each day wondering if and hoping that I made the right decision. If you’re angry and upset with me, I understand. If you’re happy and thrilled for me, I understand. And if you’re both angry and happy, I also understand.
Though I may be leaving you, I hope to not abandon you. To that point, after our final Thanksgiving farmers’ markets and CSA pick-up on November 17th, I’ll turn the farm’s reigns over to my good friend and farming mentor, Joe Carvalho. He’ll continue Second Nature Farm where I left off, with the same diverse and colorful assortment of vegetables grown without chemical pesticides or insectides. I’m confident in his ability to deliver top-notch vegetables, and anticipate the farm only improving under his leadership. Additionally, know that our core employees have the opportunity to continue with the new Second Nature Farm, and that you’ll likely see familiar faces in 2019 and beyond.
Thank you, as always, for reading and again for your support. You mean more to me than you’ll ever know, and I hope to say goodbye in person at our final CSA pick up at the farm and our remaining Hingham and Braintree markets.
PS – Despite the impending Nor-Easter we will still attend the Braintree and Hingham Markets this Saturday from 9am-1pm! Due to early voting at the Braintree town hall, the farmers’ market will relocate across the street in the front lawn of the Braintree Historical Society building. This will be our last regular Braintree Farmers’ Market until the special Thanksgiving market on November 17th, and we’ll continue to attend the Hingham Farmers’ Market every Saturday until November 17th.
A Word from Joe Carvalho:
The first time I met Adam, I barged into his CSA pick-up and introduced myself as a neighboring farmer growing mixed vegetables and raising poultry. At the time I was producing more eggs and fresh chicken than I could sell, and I offered him some samples. A week later I received a phone call - got any more of that? And so our relationship began.
How can two farmers selling similar vegetables to similar people not see the other as direct competition? The day I visited CSA pick-up, Adam could have told me to hit the road. I’m glad he didn’t. I think we recognized ourselves in the other person, and knew there was more to gain through collaboration and friendship than lost through trade secrets. Like many of you, I will miss the weekly meetings and visits to see Adam at his farm
I cannot explain my gratitude to Adam for entrusting me with the future of Second Nature Farm. So what does the future hold? For starters, the emphasis on fresh salad and snacking vegetables will remain the same. You love Second Nature Farm’s diversity, and I will expand it with products like honey from my beehives, as well as handmade soaps. I will continue to attend the Braintree and Hingham Farmers’ Market and offer a flexible CSA model that allows you to choose the majority of your share at both our farmers’ markets and farm in Norton.
Adam’s and my family have become great friends - I hope the same happens with us. To be continued…
- Farmer Joe