Growing for a Greater Good at Next Barn Over
A commitment to supporting local food production is the beating heart of everything we do at the co-op. We offer a place where people can gather, shop, work and build relationships, thus we choose to collaborate with our local vendors to strengthen our local food system.
Many of us are deeply concerned about how the industrialized food system is designed for maximizing profits for the fossil fuel industry and the few people at the top of the corporate food industry. Our community has been working together for decades to strengthen our local food system to build a more sustainable future. Next Barn Over is one of local producers that has grown along with our co-op and shares our commitment to the community. It is a relatively new farm using a diversity of venues for its produce sales. The growth of this relatively new organic farm is inspiring and the flavor and quality of the organic produce they supply us with are a delight!
Good agricultural practices are paramount to nurturing healthier communities. Few perhaps understand how to navigate those intricacies better than Next Barn Over owner Ray Young. A first-generation farmer, Ray came from an unlikely background, growing up in cities and with no family farming history. A proclivity for activism and concern for food injustice fueled Ray’s ambitions to become a part of the solution and inspired a foray into the world of small-scale agriculture. Now in its 13th season, Next Barn Over remains an important institution in our local food system with its massive, rotating variety of certified organic produce and advocacy for food justice education and community development. They work hard to build mutually beneficial relationships that support everyone involved, from grower to buyer, providing them nourishment and economic prosperity.
We recently visited Next Barn Over to learn its history and significance to Valley residents. Ray discussed several aspects of running an agricultural business, such as the need for state-protected farmlands, and provided insight on the farming lifestyle and what it takes to build a successful first-generation farm. We also learned about their partnerships with several local nonprofits, and of course, about what kinds of crops we can expect from them this season!
Ray Young, owner and founder of Next Barn Over in Hadley, Massachusetts!
Q: Can you introduce your farm and tell us how you became involved in local agriculture?
A: We’re in our 13th season of harvesting a wide variety of organic mixed vegetables for CSA and wholesale! My interest in starting the farm began while attending UMass, where I became involved in activism. My roommate worked at a local farm and loved it, so I decided to take an apprenticeship at the local food bank farm. For the first time, I found work I truly believed in and could make a living doing. We began Next Barn Over as a CSA-only farm, but I discovered quickly that we weren’t quite able to sell all our produce to our members. So, I reached out to River Valley Co-op and next thing you know, they were purchasing all across our menu and taking twice-a-week deliveries!
Summer squash and zucchini are local favorites... both are available all summer long at the co-op!
Q: What sorts of crops do you harvest during the summer?
A: We harvest lots of greens and what we call “incidental crops” like scallions, radishes, and turnips. We grow lots of things people may not have heard of, but that’s because we are trying to pack in a lot of diversity. We’re always eager for the first beets to come out of the ground since they’re so substantial, as are the squash and zucchini. Then, it grows from there—cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. We have three acres of garlic, which is a really prized crop for us since my mentor saved the seed for 30 years! Watermelons and cantaloupes come in later summer, then we’ll see our root-heavy cold crops in fall—like cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower. We grow as many popular crops as we can, plus a smattering of the more unusual foodie things you can play around with in the kitchen.
These beautiful garlic bulbs were harvested from seeds that were saved for over 30 years!
Q: How did you become certified organic and what is that growing process like?
A: The big differences are in things like the sources for our fertilizer. We don’t have the same kinds of chemical controls when it comes to weed and pest management, so we use a lot of cultural controls. We rely heavily on rotating crops and keeping the same crop families out of a field for a few years at a time to rotate out pests or disease pressures. We also rely heavily on cover crops like winter rye, oats, and peas—all kinds of crops to bring nutrients back into the soil. We also rely on mechanical cultivation. We use tractors, not chemicals!
The land in Hadley is just right for farming thanks to nutrient-rich soil fed from an ancient lake!
Q: Can you tell us a little about Hadley and why it's so great for farming?
A: Hadley is actually sitting at the bottom of an ancient lake surrounded by ancient mountains. For thousands of years, things were being born and dying in this lake. That led to the beautiful, loamy, and fertile soils we now have right beneath us. People from the midwest might say we don’t grow anything other than rocks here, but in Hadley and the Connecticut River Valley, that isn’t true! It takes a lot of hard work to farm, but we do joke that the soil makes it a lot easier.
Peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and tomatoes are among more than 40 crops grown at Next Barn Over!
Q: What are local communities doing to protect their farmlands?
A: There’s an incredible agricultural restriction program in Massachusetts that protects farmland from development “in perpetuity,” or forever. There’s more land protected here in Hadley than anywhere else in Massachusetts… over 2,500 acres! We didn’t go through the same kind of agricultural depression a lot of other areas did in the 70s and 80s because we have this world-class resource of soil, a supportive community that values local, and great stores like the co-op!
Watching the first beets of the season pop out of the ground is a highly anticipated event each year!
Q: What community programs do Next Barn Over engage with here in the Valley?
A: We have a great relationship with Gardening the Community in Springfield! We’ve been working with them since very early on. I got into this work as an activist and community organizer, so part of our mission was not just to grow food in a way that was good for the land but for people, too. We also work with the Amherst and Northampton Survival Centers, and the Food Bank of Western MA. We have a couple of organizations that come out and do gleaning so that food is made available at food pantries. We try to grow nutritious, sustainable, and affordable food, and we love working with nonprofits to make sure it’s available to everyone.
The Northampton Survival Center is one of the farm's several partnering local nonprofits
Q: When did you become a CISA local hero farm and what does this mean to you?
A: I first became familiar with CISA when I was an apprentice at the food bank farm. It’s clear to a lot of people around here, and especially us farmers, just how important of a program it is for building support for local farming. My wife is from Los Angeles, and it was a rather surprising notion to her when she first came here—that supporting local businesses and local farmers is a mainstream idea that dictates how you shop. It’s certainly provided more market for me and connected us with lots of our customers!
Old-school methods and equipment are an important part of how the farm grows its organic produce!
Q: Where do you see the farm going in the future?
A: One of our biggest goals is to cover crop more of the land! Out of our total 50 acres of farmlands, we keep about 15 in a fallow cover crop rotation annually. We’d like to keep building on that land base to continue covering more of that land to steward the soil. For staff, we’re working to create sustainable jobs that folks can feel good about coming back to, earning more money and benefits. We want them to feel like part of the team and connect with the work they’re doing. We’re also focused on improving equipment and systems, such as our new high tunnels. We have nightshade and tomatoes growing in those now, so I’m really excited to expand the project with more crops!
A vision for the future: improved equipment, expanded farmlands, and even happier workers!