By Charlotte Border, Seasonal Gleaning Coordinator
This year we have had the pleasure of working with Ray Mong at Applefield Farm on a weekly basis. Our regular Monday morning trip to his farm in Stow, MA is quite popular with our volunteers; many come back time and time again. It's true that there is something special about the combination of the beautiful wooded drive out to Stow, starting your week on an absolutely gorgeous farm, and often getting the chance to meet and talk with Farmer Ray on a personal level.
Ray has been farming for close to thirty years and a quick jaunt around his fields makes this very apparent. His farm predominantly sells their produce to wholesale markets, such as Whole Foods in the Boston area. This means Ray is a master of organization, timing and successional plantings. The wholesale world can be ruthless. It is unpredictable, with both the prices farmers are paid and the amount of produce ordered from them fluctuating greatly. And yet, the farmer is expected to be totally predictable no matter what. They are expected to have each and every crop, at whatever quantity desired by the buyer, for the entirety of its growing season.
Ray seems to orchestrate all of this effortlessly, and it is because of this that our partnership with him is so strong. He plants fast growing crops like lettuce, kale and radishes every week or two, which ensures that he has a constant supply to sell. That means every time he moves from an old planting to a new planting, we are on his heels harvesting whatever is left over before he plows and reseeds the area. Timing is everything on a farm that is this dialed in. Sometimes we have his tractor crew following us, plowing the crop moments after we finish gleaning it.
While it is exceedingly important that we don’t stall the planting cycles at Applefield Farm, Ray is very supportive of our mission here at Boston Area Gleaners and there are times where he will wait to plow something under until after we can make it out with volunteers to harvest the excess. During a recent trip to his farm, I was chatting with Ray and he told me,“It's better for me, having the gleaners come, it's good for my heart and my brain.” He knows how much waste occurs at the farm level and is doing his best to minimize his waste to the greatest extent possible. Ray also donates harvested produce that goes unsold to other hunger relief agencies in the area and donates his would-be compost to two local pig farmers.
Just two years ago, the Mong’s purchased the parcel of land that serves as their main farm site, housing their wash station, coolers & farm stand. Prior to this they had been in a year-to-year verbal lease that prevented them from doing any permanent improvements to the structures on the property. Since they purchased the land, they have installed four sun-tracking solar panels to provide them with up to 70% of their power needs during peak consumption in the winter when they are running all their greenhouses.
Applefield Farm is truly an example of a farm that has both their business model and the bigger picture figured out. Ray is a savvy business man but also cares deeply for the health of his greater community. We are excited to see how our relationship with him develops further. Next time you are in Whole Foods, look for produce from “Applefield Farm” or stop by his farm stand on Rt 117 in Stow, you won’t be disappointed!
Watch a video of a recent potato glean at Applefield Farm by clicking here!