November 12th, 2019
By Jonathan Gray
For the last several years, Jacqui and Bob Chamberlain have donated about 50 pounds of peeled butternut squash to SEMAP’s Annual Agriculture & Food Conference. Usually, that squash is turned into a delicious butternut squash soup, which is one of my favorite parts of our conference lunch. This year I wanted to learn a bit more about Jacqui and Bob’s farm, other than just the fact that they grow some great squash, so in September I headed over to Chamberlain Farm & Pavilion for a tour with Jacqui.
The farm is located next to Stacy’s Creek in Berkley, which partially makes up the town line between Berkey and Freetown. The farm property is actually called “Town Line Farm,” and Jacqui starts the story off by telling me a bit of the history of the Indigenous People who had inhabited the fertile soils there for many years prior to the Europeans arrived. Just a few hundred yards away sits the famed “Dighton Rock.” The Chamberlain Family has been farming this land since Bob’s father Elmer bought the property in 1969, with 2019 being the family’s 50th year in operation.
Jacqui and Bob met in 1983. In the early days, Jacqui and Bob sold mixed vegetables out of the bed of their truck in Assonet. They also sold peeled butternut squash at the Boston Terminal Market and to various institutions in the region. At that time they cultivated about 50 acres.
In 1988, the pair began looking for stronger sources of income for the farm. The wholesale vegetable crops they produced continued to be less and less profitable, so the Chamberlains decided to start up a farmstand on their farm in Berkley. The stand had an assortment of seasonal vegetables, deli meats, packaged goods, relish, beer, wine, and prepared foods. At around the same time, Jacqui started opening up the farm to host birthday parties, with the help of a secondhand tent acquired from a friend. Those birthday parties proved to be the first of many events to be held on the farm.
The Chamberlain Farm Pavilion was later built in 2002, after a few years of construction. During my tour of the farm, Jacqui pointed out many of the unique touches that made the pavilion a special place, with unique charm, such as the wooden bar top salvaged from a hurricane. The pavilion, able to accommodate 200 guests, now hosts about 50 events per year, mostly on Fridays and weekends, including weddings, private events, and community events. The farm also hosts many field trips for local schools to explore the farm and help local children make the connection between farms and food.
Today, the farmstand is repurposed as kitchen space for the venue’s on-site meal preparation. Jacqui quipped that she could write a book, “101 things to do with Butternut Squash” noting the deep connection that their venue’s events have with their farm. Much of the farm is protected by an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR), ensuring that their agricultural land is kept that way for generations to come. In addition to butternut squash, the Chamberlains grow cranberries, hay, eggs, and mixed vegetables with much of their produce, and other local farms’ produce, used for the farm’s events.
According to Jacqui, “the spirit of the farm is a place that brings people together.” The Chamberlains take pride in making their guests experience the best it can be. The Pavilion sits next to a large shimmering pond, complete with waterside seating and fountains. Across the pond and up the hill, the Chamberlains have an additional farmhouse, surrounded by acres of butternut squash fields, which is now perfect for short term rentals and bridal parties who like to be close to the venue. The antique truck that sits by their barn gleams in the sunlight as I snap a photo on my way out. Jacqui tells me that many visitors use it as a backdrop for their photos. She jokes, “that truck will make more money in pictures than it ever did selling sweet corn.” In many ways, the farm and pavilion have a synergistic relationship. Each segment of the business complements the other to create a special spot for their guests, and a place where agriculture will live on in perpetuity.