Winter Moon Roots: The Farm Our Food System Needs
There is just no comparison when it comes to locally grown produce. The vegetables, fruits, roots, and herbs provided by farms in and around the Valley are always reliably fresh, healthy, and grown under ethical and sustainable standards; a far cry from much of the industrial, large-scale agriculture dominating the global food landscape. It is impossible to understate the importance of these regional, small-scale growers to the health and economic benefit of our local communities. Likewise, it is also clear that we need to maintain continued access to fresh, local produce year-round—especially at times when nature cannot provide us with the most ideal growing conditions.
Understandably, there are fewer farms operating during the winter here in New England than throughout the rest of the year. Much of the local produce we offer at the co-op depends on warm, sunny weather to grow (with of course, a bit of rainfall here and there). That being said, a sustainable, healthily functioning food system simply cannot exist without a steady supply of local options year-round. This is why we are thankful to have farms like Winter Moon Roots in Hadley, Massachusetts, to fill this crucial gap!
Farmer Michael Docter began Winter Moon Roots about 15 years ago after realizing there was a need for access to local, organic produce during the colder months. While many of our New England crops rely on warm, humid conditions, root vegetables need dry, cool air and soil to thrive. Michael realized this and saw the potential of root vegetables as a dependable winter food in the Northeast, motivating him to grow and sell a variety of these cold-weather crops both directly to businesses like the co-op as well as through CSA shares to area residents. After a few successful seasons, Michael recruited a promising new employee with big dreams and a bright future; an employee who would go on to join Winter Moon Roots full-time before eventually taking ownership of the farm in 2022.
Rosendo Santizo immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2005 and soon started working for a number of farms around Western Massachusetts. Over the course of a decade, he gained a passion for farming and worked hard to build up his skills and acquire knowledge in the field of agriculture. He learned everything he could about not only growing, harvesting, and understanding the plants themselves but also operating the farm as a local business. With steadfast leadership qualities, an intuitive mind, and an appreciation of the importance of local food to the community, Rosendo’s commitment ensures Winter Moon Roots will continue to be an indispensable asset to our local food system for years to come.
We recently spoke with Rosendo about what it’s been like to take over a farm so important to our region and to provide communities with such a crucial food resource. He described his journey to get to this point, how his first year of ownership is progressing, and what makes Winter Moon Roots so special to him.
Click play above to watch the full interview!
Rosendo harvesting beets on the farm last fall
(Image: Leon Nguyen/MassLive)
Q: Can you share a bit of history about the farm and your journey to becoming its new owner?
A: Winter Moon Roots farm got started in 2008. Michael Docter was the first owner. I met him in November of 2009 after coming to harvest carrots for him, then he invited me back to wash roots later that season. After that, I started working with him every winter while I would work at other local farms during the spring and summer. Eventually, by around 2017, he asked me to come work for him full-time. I said, “Okay, great!” because I love this farm and I loved working for him, too. He’s a really good guy! He told me he would get me ready to take over the farm in the future, or about four to five years from then. Now, I’m in my first season as the new owner.
Q: What got you interested in agriculture and how did you get involved in farming professionally?
A: I came to the United States from Guatemala in 2005 and started off working construction jobs in West Palm Beach, Florida. When the economy started getting really bad around 2007, I realized that there weren’t enough jobs left to go around down there and decided to move up here. That’s when I started working in farming, and I loved it right away. Now, you can see I’m still farming!
Pictured: Michael Docter, original owner and founder of Winter Moon Roots
Q: What are some things you’ve learned from your first year owning the farm?
A: When you work for somebody else, you don’t think too much about what happens if your farm has a bad year—like if you lose money, stuff like that. When you become the owner, you always have to think about these things. You ask yourself: “What do I do if I have a bad year?” How can I do this, and how can I do that? When you own a farm, you have people working for you too. So, the idea of a bad year can be a little bit scary, but everything this year has been great! The carrots, beets, and parsnips all look amazing. The summer was hard because it was very dry and I was working like crazy to move pipes for irrigation. Sometimes, I was out there until 9 or 10 p.m. getting things ready. So yeah, it’s my first experience owning a farm, but since I was the only one working full-time here before, I learned how to grow everything perfectly. Everything is the same quality, and it’s all coming out so, so good.
Q: What kinds of organic vegetables do you grow and when is the farm active?
A: We grow a lot, like orange carrots and rainbow carrots (those are purple, white, and yellow). We have beets, too—Chioggia beets, golden beets, Forono beets, red beets—and radishes, like watermelon radishes and daikon radishes. We also grow purple top turnips, Macomber rutabagas, and parsnips, all of them organic. We start harvesting everything in November and sell them all winter through April.
A colorful arrangement of Winter Moon Roots' veggies—just some of many grown each year on the farm!
Q: Winter Moon Roots grows vegetables at a time of year when they’re not as accessible locally. What kind of impact does that have on the local economy?
A: It’s really important to us to grow food during the winter because it can be really hard to find locally. A lot of what we see for sale this time of year comes from California and other places like that. We need to be able to have local food here in Massachusetts. It’s important to our health and keeping the local economy running!
Q: The farm has a number of special qualities and traditions. Can you explain what some of those are?
A: Winter Moon Roots is pretty famous locally for delivering by bicycle to places like the co-op. Also, people love it because we grow fresh, unique-tasting food that always tastes delicious. We harvest our vegetables when it’s very, very cold. They have to be picked at just the right moment! The colder the ground is, the sweeter the flavors get. That’s why we hear from so many people about how they can’t wait for our carrots to come in every year.
Former owner Michael Docter and a farm employee deliver carrots by bicycle to our Northampton store!
Q: What do you feel makes local farming so crucial for our food system and food justice?
A: I love how growing local food brings you closer to your community. It feels good to know we’re doing the right thing by selling fresh, nutritious food at a time of year when it can be really hard to find it. I’m happy to be able to grow and provide for people in our area. It’s very important to eat local, organic food. You know it’s healthy, and you know you’re supporting small farmers, too!
Q: You mentioned that root vegetables need to stay cold. How do you maintain that after they’re harvested?
A: Our system is very unique. We have our own computerized cooling system that makes the roots cold by pulling winter air into the barn from outside. When it’s warm, it will open the door for a little while and pull in the cool air. So, it’s not like refrigeration where it’s always running and using electricity. It’s different because it’s always moving new air in and old air out to keep things fresh. The plan is to keep this system for now as we grow the farm and sell more vegetables to people around the area.
Winter Moon Roots harvest carrots and other roots between September and April
(Image: Carol Lollis/Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Q: Are there any differences between how each root variety is grown?
A: Every single crop is a little different, so how you want to grow them all depends. Let’s say we’re planting some new carrots. We have to think: how many carrots do you want per foot? How many beets do you need per foot? There’s a big difference between the two, so you can’t just go and throw some seeds out there. You have to learn how to deal with all sorts of different conditions too, like whether you’re in a dry season or a wet season, things like that. Every year is a little bit different, but you’re always able to learn something new when dealing with different challenges.
Q: What do you love most about farming here at Winter Moon Roots?
A: I love farming because every time I’m out there, I’m doing something different. If I’m doing one thing today, I know that tomorrow it will be something else. It’s also nice to see the seeds start to germinate and to watch the crops grow out of the ground from there. I’m always out in the fields checking things out. I’ll say something like, “Look! They’re an inch tall!” After that, I’ll watch them grow to two inches, then three inches, and so on. I think it’s fun to see it all happen!
You can find carrots, beets, radishes, and all kinds of other fresh and organic root vegetable varieties from Winter Moon Roots all winter long at River Valley Co-op!
*Please note we cannot always guarantee availability due to the unique conditions of each harvest season.