The only farm left in my whole city is Sullivan Farm. Owned by an old married couple and worked primarily by a newly married Jamaican man and his father, it never attracted the kind of attention that the farms in the neighboring town did. Still, the tall, dark red silo caught my eye every morning as I drove to school. Still, the splintered wooden barn stand and greenhouse doors looked more inviting than most places meant for gathering. Still, the streaky sunsets settling over the apple trees were enough to make me stop my car and wait until the lights faded.
The owner, Kathy Sullivan, is a quiet old woman who, on first impression, may seem rather gloomy. However, she cares for the farm with all her energy, as she has loved it her whole life and worked hard to sustain it. She sells flowers all summer, sometimes by the trailer-full, to demanding customers. She sells produce at three different farmer’s markets each week in the harvest season, and she sells apples, pumpkins, baked goods, and other seasonal produce from the barn along the road.
Sullivan Farm is beautiful and producing well, yet it is still declining in comparison to larger local farms. For all the years that she has owned this farm, her two employees and husband have worked most of the land while she managed sales and tended flowers. Her husband had been simultaneously working in construction for over twenty years to simply help support the two of them because of how difficult it is for small farms to be self-supporting.
My first connection to Sullivan Farm was a friend I made named Andrew. He met me as a potential intern for his nonprofit organization brought me onto his team almost immediately. Our initial mission was to turn a field of wildflowers into a large community garden. The area had never been used because of the size of the farm and the fact that there were only two employees, so we got shovels and hoes and volunteers, and we dug up six thousand square feet of hard packed New England earth.
We poured piles of organic matter on top of the unpacked ground and turned it into the soil by hand. We started our first year of work with limited irrigation and tools, and as we worked we encountered all the challenges of organic farming, including pests, soil quality, extreme heat, and excessive weeds. Our garden grew and continues to grow as a modern community effort to revitalize Sullivan Farm and keep it from fading.
But even the struggles we faced in building our garden were small compared to the overall problems faced by Kathy and many local farmers alike. Industrial agriculture still dominates the food market by a huge amount. When we sell produce at the city farmers’ market, many customers view it as a kind of abstract concept to be shopping there.
They buy a few things that are in season, like blueberries and slicing tomatoes, but many people don’t see a farmers’ market as a main source of purchasing produce. It is more of a luxury, or something exciting to embrace summertime while still relying on the nearby supermarket for regular produce.
While local farmers can still make profit, they are overshadowed by common grocery stores that provide cheaper options that last longer due to the use of preservatives and some GMO’s. The goal of the organization that I work with is to begin bringing a greater sense of community into the market and to encourage people to shop more heavily from local farmers instead of supermarkets. Doing so puts money back into the local economy and helps combat the environmental detriment caused by mainstream agriculture. It is a hard task which will take the effort and commitment of many people over time.
Not many farmers today are young, and fewer people are pursuing farming as a career because of its difficulty and the way that the world is advancing. However, returning to local farming and beginning to solve and overcome some of these challenges is one of the solutions necessary to the modern environmental crisis. If the city around Sullivan can revive our beloved farm, perhaps we can set an example for others to do the same.