Local farms have always been beloved places for North Shore residents to find fresh, locally grown food and connect with the abundance of our region. We cherish traditional agricultural activities, too, like apple picking, hayrides, and feeding farm animals.
But this spring, of course, is different. As the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic empties grocery shelves, shutters businesses, and disrupts supply chains, local farms feel more important than ever before.
“The local food system sometimes gets taken for granted, but it’s good to know that local food production is happening,” says Jamie Barrett, farmer and CSA manager at Marshview Farm in Ipswich (marshview.farm), which is operating a CSA for the first time this year.
In fact, farm workers were among those that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts deemed “COVID-19 Essential Services” on March 23, and local farms are pushing forward with production amidst the upheaval.
“For now, we continue to farm and seed as if we were heading into a regular season [and] hoping for the best,” Valerie Rosenberg, marketing and events coordinator for Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury, tells Northshore.
But even beyond providing food and sustenance to their North Shore neighbors, local farms are community gathering places and always have been. That’s why when life returns to normal, we’ll all be craving warm weather, delicious food, and community connection more than ever before.
“In these times people are looking for activities that feed the soul and the mind,” says Michael Smolak, Jr., manager/owner of Smolak Farms in North Andover.
There’s no better place to find such activities than on our local farms, many of which have offered outdoor farm dining, cooking classes, flower and herb workshops, farm-chic shops, and workout classes during past seasons.
Here are a few to visit when social distancing becomes a mere memory. All of this information was accurate at press time, but remember to check each farm’s website for the latest news and information.
Willow Spring Vineyards
Willow Spring Vineyards is not only known for its wines, like its best-selling rosé blend “Pink,” but also for its stellar lineup of events.
During typical seasons, you can find “literally anything and everything” going on at Willow Spring Vineyards, says manager Jade Jalbert, like monthly paint nights, craft events, floral arranging classes, farm yoga, Friday night fires, and band nights.
Of course, this is not a typical year.
“Events this spring might be changing,” Jalbert says. But when social distancing rules lift, the winery will open. Look online for updates, as well as information on new-this-year events, like a farm-to-table wine pairing meal, cooking demos from local chefs, and a Friday food truck.
From its idyllic looking fields to its stellar lineup of events (from Appleton Cooks! culinary classes, farm dinners, guided walks, and more), Appleton Farms is a favorite spot for enjoying everything that makes the North Shore an agricultural gem.
That’s been true throughout the COVID-19 response, too, says Lieza Dagher, director of Appleton Farms.
“We are eager to keep the Appleton Farm Store open for the community to access farm fresh, high-quality, local ingredients during this crisis,” she says. “We are receiving deliveries daily from our network of small, local businesses, and we are proud to support these artisans during this crisis.”
Milk, eggs, meats, bread, pantry staples, fresh pastas, and frozen meals are among the essentials you can find at the farm store; call ahead to get whatever you need boxed up and delivered to your car when you arrive.
Dagher also recommends calling the store at 978-356-3825 or following their social media to receive the most up-to-date information about hours and pick up options. And of course, watch those spaces for updates about the resumption of farm events, too.
Great Rock Farm
You can participate in the cutest, funniest, furriest yoga class around with the help of a few baby goats at Great Rock Farm in Georgetown.
“Goats are very intuitive, very friendly, and they all have different personalities,” says Michelle Aulson, the farm’s event organizer.
Expect the little goat babies to hop on your back if you’re on your hands and knees, snuggle up on your chest if you’re on your back, or scamper under your belly when you’re in downward dog.
In addition to seasonal outdoor goat yoga, the farm has also offered “snuggle and learn” sessions with the goats, as well as goat hikes from October-May through a mile-long woodland loop trail. During social distancing, Aulson’s goat hikes have been limited to very small groups, and participants must stay a safe distance away from each other while on the trail.
Cider Hill Farm
Cider Hill Farm is beloved within the community for its incredible local food, hard cider, CSA, food truck, outdoor landscape, farm store, and events. And the love goes both ways.
“Cider Hill Farm’s passion is for growing food and supporting our community,” says marketing and events coordinator Valerie Rosenberg.
As COVID-19 upends life as we know it, the folks at Cider Hill Farm spent the end of March “carefully considering a full variety of options including home delivery and CSA-style weekly share pickups,” all the while continuing to prep for the growing season.
Once life returns to normal, check out Cider Hill Farm’s lineup of adult and family-friendly DIY workshops and children’s programming, all “focused on the importance of health, wellness, and sustaining the local food supply,” Rosenberg says. Kids can try their hands at growing produce, caring for chickens, and gardening for pollinators, while adults can enjoy indoor herb gardening, floral arranging, fitness classes, and farm tours.
This year, Smolak Farms celebrates 10 years of its Whim Dinner Series, where local restaurants use foods grown on the property to create elegant outdoor dinner parties right on the farm.
While the Whim Dinner schedule will depend on social distancing rules, the farm itself remains operational, even allowing call-in farm stand orders; employees can pass orders out to customers through the ice cream stand window, Smolak says.
“We’re considered essential because we’re a farm, and we have food,” he says. “We’ve never sold so many eggs!”
In addition to adding new Whim Dinner elements when full operations resume—like raffles and giveaways from some of the restaurants—Smolak also says he hopes to add new elements to the farm grounds, including a series of trails that connect to other trail networks, animal area upgrades, and a renovated greenhouse (which may host a Winter Whim Dinner).