Sen. L’Italien and her staff visited many family farms in Dracut, Tewksbury and Andover over the last year and a half in her ongoing efforts to learn about small businesses in her district. Here is a look at some of the amazing farms we visited in Fall 2015 on several Agricultural Walks.
Saja’s Countryside Farm, Parker Road, Dracut
Caroline Zuk gave us a wonderful guided tour and an amazing history lesson about her beautiful Saja’s Countryside Farm. Caroline is the third generation of her family to manage the 56-acre property since 1915 when her grandparents, Blanche and Andrzej Saja, founded the farm. Caroline told us about what it was like growing up on the farm where she tended crops and fed cattle as a young girl. With the help of long-time family friend and distant cousin “Farmer John” they have put the farm back into production and grow corn and other vegetables.
The farm, which is near St. Francis Church, was one of several Dracut farms I visited with town officials and representatives from State Representative Colleen Garry’s office. The purpose of our farm tour was to create an opportunity for state and municipal officials to meet and talk with local farmers so we can learn about issues impacting the local agricultural economy and establish relationships with local farmers. Plus it was a great opportunity to learn more about Dracut, see some stunning country scenery, meet terrific people and have some fun!
Ogonowski Farm, 713 Broadway Road, Dracut
I had a great time exploring spectacular and expansive meadows, hay fields, pumpkin patches and woods on and around Ogonowski Farm with Jim Ogonowski. Jim whirled me and Dracut Town Manager Jim Duggan around his 100-plus-acre farm in a golf cart while telling us about the history of his family and his farm, which has been in the family since 1948. Jim’s farm at 713 Broadway Road is one of three Ogonowski farms in Dracut, with the first one dating back to 1903. Ogonowski Farm is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through the end of October for mums, pumpkins, corn stalks and hay bales
Shaw Farm, 205 New Boston Road, Dracut
In addition to a beautiful property and sprawling barn filled with more than 100 dairy cows, Shaw Farm includes a country store, ice cream parlor and state-of-the-art milk-bottling operation. Since 1908, this family-owned farm has been providing local dairy products including fresh milk and ice cream as well as many other local products to the Merrimack Valley.
Warren introduced us to Bailey the Shaw Farm Donkey as well as many of his cows — including organic and beef herds — that produce about 80 pounds of milk per day. The farm is perhaps best known for its milk and homemade ice cream that comes in more than 60 flavors, but the country store also offers a tasty assortment of homemade pies and cookies and also carries locally-grown produce, meats, eggs, soups and more.
Farmer Dave’s in Dracut and Tewksbury
We had such a good time visiting Farmer Dave Dumaresq’s Dracut farm that we decided to visit his country farm store at 2 East St. in Tewksbury as well as several greenhouses he operates on the Tewksbury State Hospital campus. Farmer Dave’s East Street store is packed with delicious fresh produce and fall goodies such as mums, pumpkins and squashes of all kinds and sizes. Farmer Dave also operates several greenhouses at the nearby hospital that are overflowing with sweet potatoes and other fall produce. These greenhouses were originally used to grow carnations when Tewksbury was known as the “Carnations Capital of the World” back in the 1970s, but more recently fell to vacancy and disrepair until Dave resurrected them.
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Jones Avenue, Dracut
One of the newer and interesting Dracut farms we visited was New Entry Sustainable Farming Project’s property on Jones Avenue. New Entry is a nonprofit based in Lowell that trains farmers in organic growing and helps them find plots of land to work and learn their craft. Most of the organization’s produce is bound for farmer’s markets and low-income urban customers in nearby cities such as Lowell. The Dracut parcel is shared by many new farmers and is one of several New Entry operates in the region. One particular farmer we met, Martyn Botfield of Concord, was finishing his first year at the farm and picked some delicious carrots for us. Martyn said he sells some of his produce to restaurants but that most of it goes to food pantries all over the area. He said he is looking forward to working the site again next year and making improvements to his farming techniques based on what he learned in his first year there.
The Herb Hill Micro-Dairy, High Plain Road, Andover
This was one of our final stops on our Fall 2015 Agricultural Tour of farms in Andover, Tewksbury and Dracut to learn about their operations, their challenges and needs. Lucy McKain showed us around her small farm and introduced us to her chickens and goats including Anni, Queen Catherine and Broom Hilda.
Konjoian’s Greenhouses & Landscape Solutions, 221 Chandler Road, Andover
Konjoian’s has been one of the Merrimack Valley’s premier growers of high-quality annuals, vegetables, hanging baskets and more since it was established in 1959 by Michael and Vera (Hagopian) Konjoian. Today the second generation of Konjoians manages the business under Michael Jr’s supervision. The business features several sprawling greenhouses filled with plants and flowers and also offers gardening and landscaping design services to home owners, businesses, cities and towns.
Strongwater Farm Therapeutic Equestrian Center, Tewksbury
Patti Lessard for showed us around this inspirational organization, located on Livingston Street near Tewksbury State Hospital. We learned about the amazing work going on at Strongwater Farm and met several of its star equine attractions including Karlton, Chester and Cha Ching, to name just a few of the beautiful horses in their stables. We also met a handful of the more than 300 volunteers that have made this nonprofit a true local and New England-wide resource for more than a decade. Strongwater Farm provides equine-assisted activities and therapies for people with disabilities or special needs in the New England area through the healing power of horses. In addition to people with disabilities and mental health needs, Strongwater’s clients include military veterans, at-risk youth and victims of domestic violence. Strongwater Farm’s experienced team of instructors provide challenging tailored lesson plans from beginner riders to advanced riders. These therapies are designed to enhance core strength, balance and coordination, while at the same time improving fine and gross motor skills, focusing abilities, self-esteem and confidence.