IPSWICH — Gov. Deval Patrick traded his Statehouse office for chickens, cows, compost piles and dairy barns yesterday.
The governor spent the morning touring Appleton Farms in Ipswich as part of a focus on Massachusetts agriculture. Dressed in jeans, a ball cap and work boots, Patrick spent more than an hour looking over Appleton's dairy operation, solar panels, wastewater system and other aspects of the 1,000-acre farm on the Hamilton/Ipswich line.
Established in 1636, Appleton Farms is the oldest continually operating farm in the United States. The property is now managed by the nonprofit Trustees of Reservations, who were deeded the property by the Appleton family in 1998.
Patrick said he chose to visit Appleton because in addition to being the nation's oldest farm, it has a diversity of components — from solar panels and a composting operation to a thriving dairy and Community Supported Agriculture program.
"They've got it all," Patrick said, smiling. "(They're) trying to create a self-contained, complete cycle, and that's pretty darn interesting. ... Also I'm a foodie. I'm interested in where food comes from."
Patrick fired a stream of questions at Trustees staff — from which crops they plant for the CSA and how many eggs the hens lay per day to how they turn the massive compost piles. He stepped into a greenhouse and chatted with staffers who were planting onion seedlings, and even went into the henhouse to look for eggs.
Jokingly, he asked "Can I move in here?" during the tour.
Appleton Farms has a herd of about 40 Jersey cows, and began selling milk to the public in November. Previously, Appleton milk was sold wholesale to the Agri-Mark dairy cooperative.
Patrick declared Tuesday Massachusetts Agriculture Day, and special events were held at the Statehouse to highlight the Bay State's farming industry, from cranberries to cheese.
Among agriculture's numerous benefits are the contributions to the local economy and conservation of open space, Patrick said, pausing during his tour to speak with the media.
"We have a very interesting, engaged and growing farming community in Massachusetts," he said.
Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.