How Rosaly’s garden grew into organic Peterborough farm
Rosaly’s Garden and Farmstand farm manager Matt Gifford and founder Rosaly Bass outside of the Farmstand Thursday morning. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)
Last week, four workers were hoeing weeds in a field of lettuce — work that continues in all weather — as rain threatened.
The farm employs 11 people, including five women who work the fields with Gifford.
“They pull all the weeds by hand so it’s a very labor-intensive thing,” he said. “The labor going into it takes a lot more expense than conventional farming. I could run this farm by myself if I sprayed.”
“I love it. It’s really nice to be connected to where our food comes from,” Meyers said, noting the farm would not be what it is today without Gifford. “He’s a great boss,” she said.
He said strides have been made with more efficient farm equipment but also in specializing.
“It was the first tractor we’ve ever paid for with farm funds, which feels pretty good,” Gifford said.
Growing up organic
Born in 1937, Rosaly Bass grew up on a farm in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts with her parents and four siblings during World War II. Though it wasn’t called organic farming back then, Bass said she learned from her mother how to grow food without pesticides.
Bass grew up, got married, had two children and settled in Francestown. She divorced and took her children to New York City, where she taught in a Harlem public school.
Rosaly Bass immediately set to work to grow a garden for her new family, which included Bass’ five children.
She grew too much, though.
“So I started selling to The Folkway Restaurant and I thought, ‘Hey this is fun.’” In 1990 she opened the Farmstand where today about 90 percent of the farm’s produce is sold. Overflow is sold wholesale to local stores, from Roy’s Market in Peterborough to Blueberry Fields in Keene.
“He bought me my first tractor, not only my first tractor, but all my tractors. In fact he didn’t like getting me jewelry, but he loved getting me tractors.”
Rosaly Bass’ aim has always been to grow organically, so when the state started issuing certification in 1989, she was one of the first in line. Only one other farm in the state was registered before her, but that farm has since closed, Bass said. Rosaly’s is not only the oldest but also the largest organic farm in the state; it cultivates 20 acres. Gifford said there are other farms that are physically larger, but don’t have as many acres in cultivation.
“It’s rather rigorous,” Bass said.
Before Perkins Bass passed away in 2011, he transferred his ownership of his conserved farm land to his adult children, who are happy to have the farm land actively used.
A high school dropout when he started as a farmhand at 19, Gifford soon found his calling in farming and returned to school to study agriculture.Organic farming doesn’t mean no spraying at all, Gifford said. There are some organic compounds certified organic farms are allowed to use, he said, adding, “Spraying is the last line of defense for us.”“Anything you can do to avoid spraying, we do,” Bass said.
“There’s a huge interest in farming locally. There is also a huge interest in organic farming,” she said. “I think a lot of conventional farmers are beginning to realize that a lot of the techniques that organic farms are using are better.”Organic has the stigma of being more expensive, but the customer base continues to grow, Gifford said. Young people more and more are choosing to shop organic, he said.“It’s not a novelty. It’s an ideology,” he said. “Our customer base is incredibly loyal.”
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