BY KENDRA MURRAY
After working at a desk job as a graphic and product designer for almost twenty years and a stay at home mom for six years, Pam Salisbury was ready for a change. That life change was to become a farmer. Although this was a drastic career shift, there were several factors that made the transition to farm life fairly easy.
Many beginning farmers struggle with access to land. Farmland in New England is increasingly difficult to find, never mind expensive. Pam and her husband Glen were blessed with farmland that has been in Glen’s family for five generations. What could normally set back new farmers thousands of dollars came to the Salisburys at little cost; in addition to land access, there was already some (“old school”) irrigation equipment already in place and three tractors available to use.
“I also think that design and farming have more in common than most people think,” Pam mentioned when discussing the transition to becoming a farmer. “Farming allows me to use my hands, build, problem solve, be creative in regards to designing marketing materials, displaying and planning the produce. One of the reasons why I love farming so much is that tasks can be managed differently in different days. It is not monotonous by any means. If I want to weed one day in the morning, I can. The next I can make 10 bouquets, or build something that the farm needs. Every day is different. Everyday provides its own set of challenges. Every day is a busy day at work.”
Prior to Pam & Glen’s new endeavor at Anawan Farm, Glen’s father was using the land primarily to grow butternut squash, which was sold wholesale to retailers like Shaw’s, and Glen’s grandfather was growing strawberries and three acres of pick-your-own blueberries. Currently the Salisburys have approximately two acres in cultivation and are planning to expand in the future. They are focused on growing vegetables and cut flowers, mainly sunflowers and zinnias, but also dahlias, gladiolus, calendula, baby’s breath, ready broom corn, and several other varieties of ornamentals. Glen’s mother was an avid gardener, even passing away in her field of zinnias. Glen and Pam wanted to pay tribute and continued growing flowers, which has been a boon for the business. After taking several bouquets of sunflowers to the Stoney Creek Farmers Market in Swansea, Pam sold out in ten minutes. The next week she brought twice as many, and sold out within the first hour. Due to the immense popularity, the couple will plant four times as many sunflowers for their farm stand and fall farmers markets.
A lot of this year’s planting is based on good guesses (as well as some customer suggestions for crop varieties). Although last year was the farm’s first “experimental year,” 2016 marked their first full growing season and they are still figuring out demand. Anawan is hoping to pick up the customers of a nearby farm that will most likely be calling 2016 their last season. Currently the Salisburys have a 12 person CSA, and are hoping to expand to at least 30 people by 2017. They also offer a work share CSA, where recipients work four hours a week on the farm in exchange for a full share CSA. You’ll only find Anawan Farm at one farmers market this season and it will most likely stay that way. Pam says she prefers spending time at the farm stand versus the farmers market and enjoys getting to know her customers and educating them about the growing practices on the farm.
“Eventually, I want the farm to create more community, to be a place where people can take time to enjoy being together, to learn about agriculture, learn about how small, local farms can make a huge impact in our everyday lives. I dream about days of having family reunions, gatherings, events (maybe our own farmers market, or a local biergarten), on the farm…where people can actually see where their food has been grown and that the eggs come fresh from the coop. The farm brings me peace and serenity in a world that keeps us all very busy. I want people to have the experience of taking time to be together as well as the reap the food benefits of our farm.”
All of the crops are organically grown, though not certified organic. The Salisburys feel being honest with the customers about how the food is grown is important…probably more important than certification. Glen’s father was a conventional grower and it takes three years after ceasing to use non-organic materials for the USDA to consider the fields organic. In addition to transitioning their fields, Pam and Glen are also trying to get Glen’s father to transition his way of thinking about farming. When mentioning pest troubles, he is quick to suggest a commercial pesticide, something the new farmers are doing great at avoiding.
One field at the farm is also used for hay, although 2016 is proving a challenging year for it. Normally two cuts of hay can be expected from the field, one in July and the second in September. However, with this year’s drought the hay is not growing, and it is unlikely there will be a second cut. This may also be the first year in Glen’s life that there isn’t any butternut squash. Although there is some irrigation on the field squash is being grown in, it isn’t enough to sustain the entire crop.
In addition to flowers, produce, and hay, the Salisburys are also raising chickens. Currently they are raising the birds for eggs, but are hoping to do pastured poultry in the future. In 2015 the couple raised pigs, and hopes to again in 2017. Pam expressed excitement about The Livestock Institute of Southern New England’s planned slaughterhouse in Westport. She’s looking forward to having a local and reliable place to take her pigs to be processed.
When asked what the most difficult thing about managing the farm was, the answer came quickly: labor costs. Already Pam and Glen are learning how to save on labor, laying down straw for weed control rather than picking weeds is just one example. Right now they have hired hands during the week, but make sure to give their employees the weekends off. Family is important to them, and they want to give their workers time to spend with their family and friends. Pam wants these family values to remain true to the farm’s “Growing Together” slogan, which holds a special place in her heart. The Salisburys have two children, a five year old and a seven year old, both of whom enjoy spending time on the farm. Glen mentioned how when they started farming, the kids’ minds were blown watching a seed turn into food. Their daughter Sophie said to Pam the other night “You know mama, farming is hard, like really hard, work but it’s also pretty fun.” Both children now enjoy helping with the harvest and working alongside their “fah-mah mama.”
When we visited the farm, these beginning farmers were already planning for autumn and getting ready to plant their fall greens. Pam says Glen, who still works full-time as a computer programmer in addition to helping on the farm, is the “spreadsheet master.” He plans their planting successions and keeps everything “thankfully” organized. Pam, who has a background in digital imaging, has been able to come up with a great logo, branding, and beautiful graphics for the farm.
So far 2016 has been a great season overall. Seeing repeat customers, hearing they have the best tomatoes in town, and seeing their veggies fly off the shelves must mean the Salisburys are doing something right! Visit Anawan Farm everyday from 11-7 at 73 Anawan Street, Rehoboth, MA or at the Stony Creek Farmers Market in Swansea on Sundays, 10-2, 1210 Wilbur Ave.