hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

February 27, 2014

No winter hibernation

Livestock, indoor planting keeps local farms going

By Bruce Amaro

---- — It’s probably the furthest thing from most people’s minds as snow dominates the city’s landscape.

But not for farmers.

While the city’s plows continue to clear snow and weathermen yak about the frigid temperatures, local farmers’ minds are already turning to the upcoming growing season.

During the snowy months, the farmers work at alternate farming tasks and prepare for the spring and summer planting seasons. They also care for their winter products like corn silage and hay, which they sell.

And they prepare to order the goods they will need for the next growing season.

Recognized for generations as an industrial city because of its successful shoe factories, Haverhill does have a small but strong farming community. Whether plowing snow in the winter, growing corn or raising livestock at different times of the year, the city’s farmers don’t balk at their agricultural duties.

They take their farming seriously.

In a city of about 34 square miles, “We have 2,500 agricultural acres here in Haverhill and have several different types of farms right here in our own backyards,” farmer Marlene Stasinos said.

Some Haverhill farms grow produce, vegetables and commercial produce. Others grow a combination of vegetables and livestock.

Different farms prepare for the end of growing season and the approach of winter in different ways. Large farms like Rogers Spring Hill Farm cultivate corn during the growing season as a winter crop that they wholesale to local farms and animal service businesses during the cold season.

At the end of every growing season, crews from Rogers farm cut and bale the hay that they store for their winter customers such as livestock farms and animal shelters.

“We store the corn silage in the silos at Ward Hill yearround,” said farm owner Steve Rogers. “It’s one of our winter income sources while we wait for the growing season.’’

Some Haverhill farmers earn part of their annual income as contracted snowplow drivers. For example, the Rogers farm has been hired by the city to plow snow since the 1930s.

Stephanie Lesiczka at Wally’s Vegetables said that during the winter, her family also turns to snowplowing for work. But because their in-season business is produce, they begin seed purchases almost immediately after a growing season ends.

“That’s the only way we can get the quality seeds that we want for the next season’s crop,” she said.

They also use the winter to start growing plants, which they will transplant outdoors when the warm season begins.

Farmers represent only about 1 percent part of the city’s population. Yet, Haverhill residents have a lot of exposure to the farming community through local farms that run Community Supported Agriculture programs. Those programs sell fresh produce in season from the farms and participate in Haverhill’s popular summer and winter farmers markets.

Two state organizations actively promote small farmers like those in Haverhill.

The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture has started a buy-local promotion encouraging residents to purchase produce from their local farmers. Some Haverhill farms participate in that program.

Other support comes from the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation.

“The farm bureau is trying to promote the oh-so-real quote, ‘No Farms No Food,’ ‘‘ Stasinos said. “We have a lot to offer to make our city sustainable and can help the growth of Haverhill.’’

The farm bureau recently won a zoning regulation change for small farms in suburban settings like Haverhill.

The state’s zoning regulations formerly prohibited roadside farm stands for farms with fewer than five acres. The bureau won a change that reduced the farm size to two acres. Now smaller farms can sell their produce at roadside stands.

The bureau also filed legislation this year that would change the state’s tax code to allow non-incorporated farms to take advantage of a 3 percent investment tax credit. For every expense applied to a farm’s business, the farm would receive a 3 percent tax credit.

How local farms continue operating in winter

Plant produce indoors to prepare for transplanting during the growing season

Sell corn and hay to livestock farms and animal shelters

Plow snow for the city