, Salem, MA

Local News

December 13, 2007

Betting the farm on community support; Hamilton landowner has big plans for 250-year-old farm site

HAMILTON - It doesn't look like much yet. A yellow and green sign proclaims it Aquila Farm and Greenhouses, and there's a small stand surrounded by Christmas trees and wreaths for sale.

Aquila is Latin for eagle, and the farm gets its name from the bronze bird that can be seen perched over a stone monument directly across Bay Road (Route 1A) next to the First Congregational Church of Hamilton.

What you can't see from the road is a 120-acre farm that has been in operation - almost anonymously - since around 1750.

That's about to change, dramatically.

Owner Deirdre Pirie plans to reinvigorate a working farm on her property, and she's betting the growing interest in eating only local, organically grown produce will reap benefits for her. She's also hoping the community-supported agriculture movement will work as well for her as it has for two other local farms, where there are waiting lists for memberships.

"There's an unbelievable market for it," Pirie said.

"There's been a lot of support and enthusiasm from the community," said Suzette Hedley, whom Pirie hired three years ago to help with the farm's transformation.

Participants join community-supported agriculture programs by buying farm shares before the growing season begins. In exchange, they come by once a week and fill a shopping bag with vegetables grown on the farm in season. Surplus produce is sold to nonmembers.

Share prices have not yet been determined, nor has a cap been set on membership.

Pirie and Hedley have dreamed up a couple of twists on the program. Along with vegetable shares, they'll offer flower shares, using the same principle as the vegetable program. Just don't expect to find chrysanthemums or daisies.

"High-end, specialty flowers," Hedley said. "We're not looking to compete with Hamilton Gardens (the nursery just up the road)."

Unusual vegetables

Produce, too, will be more unusual than the standard farmstand fare - things like five varieties of Jerusalem artichokes and a Chinese artichoke, neither of which is related to artichokes. The Jerusalem artichoke is native to North America and a member of the sunflower family, while Chinese artichokes belong to the mint family. Both have a somewhat crunchy texture when eaten raw, and they can both be boiled and substituted for potatoes.

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