First Root Farm
First Root is a little vegetable farm with a big heart. We are young farmers who grow food with love. We love to eat, we love to cook, and we love working outside.
We farm on 4.5 acres of historic farmland in Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, MA. Since 2009, we have been providing sustainably-grown vegetables and flowers to our community in eastern Massachusetts. Our vegetables are available in the summer, fall, and winter through our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We also sell to several local restaurants and operate a mini-farmstand.
We use organic and sustainable growing practices because we want this land to be fertile and healthy for generations to come. We host monthly community work days and farm potlucks because we believe connecting folks to each other and the land and the food we all eat is both satisfying and important.
As a successful start-up farm, we hope to inspire other farmers (young and old) to take the plunge and make their own farm dreams come true.
Posted by Laura :: Friday, September 9 :: 11:13am
Dear friends, neighbors, and farm family,
After seven incredible years—full of the best tomatoes I have ever eaten, more pie-filled community day potlucks than I can count, the worst drought Massachusetts has seen in almost twenty years, three different and equally incredible co-farmers, and 408 individual CSA pickups—it is with a lot of mixed emotion that I share the bittersweet news that 2016 will be First Root Farm’s last season.
This has been a tough decision to make, and it has taken the better part of the hardest season I’ve witnessed in thirteen years of farming to come to it. For seven years I have poured all of my brainpower and muscle and creativity into building this little farm you know and love. I could not be more proud of it. But loving a farm doesn’t always translate into long-term success. It is because I have always wanted First Root to be the best farm it could possibly be that I know this is the right decision.
I co-founded First Root Farm seven-years ago, with my farmer friend Ariel Berman. I was twenty-three, and had been working on farms since I was seventeen. I had just graduated from the Farm School and when the opportunity arose to start my own farm, I jumped on it. I can’t pinpoint when I decided that farming was what I wanted to do with my life, but by the fall of my twenty-third year, having my own farm was all I dreamed about.
Looking back on it now, I am so grateful that I didn’t let doubt or fear or uncertainty get in the way of my excitement. I dove in without looking back. We didn’t even have a written lease back then. We didn’t have a cooler, a tractor, or greenhouse space. What we had was an acre of marginal soil, a bunch of awesome friends willing to volunteer, incredible neighbors—and drive. Did we ever have drive.
I remember our very first CSA pickup so clearly. We only had thirty members. That first Tuesday, Ariel spread out vegetables on a picnic table in the barn, and I took the truck into Davis with one folding table. There was arugula, bok choy, lettuce, radishes, mizuna. At the time, it was the proudest moment of my life. After plowing and tilling and building beds, putting seeds in the ground, weeding and harvesting, worrying and fretting, there I was, at my own CSA pickup, with vegetables I had grown, feeding people I didn’t even know. I had arrived. I was on my way to my forever farm.
Back then, I was convinced that I could make it work on leased land with borrowed equipment and no infrastructure. I was in love with the little farm Ariel and I built, and I was determined to carve a long-term home out of that scrappy soil and informal lease.
First Root looks very different now from how it did that first season. But the biggest difference is in me. I am no longer that starry-eyed twenty-three year old, willing to go to any lengths for the dream of having a farm. I still love farming, but I’m a tiny bit wiser now. I’m old enough to consider the future. I’d like to have a family. I’d like to be able to retire. I’d like to have room in my life for things that aren’t farming. I’d like to make a living—not a grand or an extravagant living—but a steady one.
It’s not that these things are incompatible with owning a business or running a farm. But they are incompatible with farming on land over which I have no control. They are incompatible with farming without crucial infrastructure and a stable lease. I built the very best farm I could within the restrictions of our lease with the national park. But without the ability to make land and infrastructure improvements (irrigation, a greenhouse, coolers), and to make decisions based on what works for me and the farm, instead of what is permissible within the confines of the lease—it’s simply not possible to run a farm that is sustainable and successful—financially, environmentally, emotionally—for the long haul.
I had an inkling of this last summer, which was extremely dry, and left us struggling to make ends meet without irrigation. I knew I needed to do some hard thinking about the future, and so I left the farm in Cheryl’s extremely competent hands and have spent the last six months on sabbatical. My goal was to come up with a a long-term plan for the farm's future. I spent a lot of time working through various possibilities—moving the farm to another location, running a winter-only CSA, downsizing to an acre or less.
Then two things happened. First, I left the farm for a month—the first time in seven years I have been completely separated from this demanding and beautiful beast I’ve created. Second, it became clear that the dry hot spring was turning into something much, much worse. Distance and disaster often conspire to create clarity.
22.67% of Massachusetts, including Concord, is now in extreme drought. It’s the first time any part of the state has experienced extreme drought since the US Drought Monitor began tracking data in 1999. This is season is no longer hard on the level that last year was hard—it’s something else entirely. It’s an emergency.
The true test of a farm’s resilience is its ability to survive through extreme conditions. Baring the most horrific hurricanes and floods, a farm should be able to make it through. That’s how you build your systems: for the worst case scenario. In an extreme drought year like this, farmers across the state are struggling. But the truly resilient farms will get through it. They’ll lose some blocks of fall roots, their yields will be down, it’ll be a nightmare moving irrigation 24/7, their fuel and labor costs will go through the roof—but they’ve built the infrastructure and the systems to get them through. Without that infrastructure, farming stops being hard, and becomes impossible.
Because our lease was never intended to be long-term, and because it doesn’t allow us to invest in key infrastructure, First Root simply isn’t resilient. We keep pushing up against limitations that are out of our control. It’s hard to see that in a good year. Back in 2014, one of the most perfect growing seasons farmers in the state can remember, it was easy to believe I could go on farming here forever. But there will always be tough seasons—whether next year or in five years or in fifteen. The farm can’t keep coasting along through the good seasons and shattering to pieces in the bad ones. It’s impossible to run a successful business that way.
The drought was a wakeup call, and being away from the farm was an incredible gift. I was able to walk away from something I had built, assured that it would still be there when I got back—thanks to the heroic hard work and perseverance of the incredible, drought-defying crew of 2016. Being away gave me the space to accept that I can’t keep fighting the same battles, expecting different results. It also made me realize how truly special and successful these past seven years have been. The CSA has fed 631 separate households. That's in addition to all the folks who visited us at the Lexington Farmers Market, various winter markets, Concord Ag Day, our mini stand, and the bustling Pre-Thanksgiving Sale. Friends, neighbors, family, farm crew, volunteers, customers, CSA members—so many people have left their mark on First Root, and First Root has touched the lives of so many people. If I was proud at that first tiny CSA pickup, it’s nothing compared to how proud I am of the farm that exists today.
I have put everything of myself into this farm, and so of course I am heartbroken that First Root is finally coming to an end. I’m also excited for what’s next, and grateful for every moment I spent in the fields. Wherever and however I farm again, First Root will always be my first farm, the place I learned to make it happen. Whether you donated tools or helped us purchase our first tractor, showed up to community day, emailed us encouragement from afar, joined the CSA or visited us at market--you have all been a part of that. I simply cannot thank you enough.
Thank you for being a part of the CSA, for shopping at the farmers market, for visiting our mini stand. Thank you for bringing your families to community day. Thank you for letting your kids run between the flower beds and dig around in the dirt. Thank you for helping us harvest potatoes and tomatoes and onions. Thank you for showing up in the rain and the muck and the heat, back when we were just a tiny volunteer-powered farm. Thank you for telling your friends about us, for loving our tomatoes, for learning how to eat kohlrabi. Thank you for laughing at our veggie puns. Thank you for your excitement and your reassurance and your gratitude. Thank you for your time, your recipes, your hard work, your money, your kind words--however you contributed, we could not have done it without you. You have made this farm a part of your life, and it is because of that that First Root ever existed at all. It has been a pleasure and an honor to share these past seven years with you.
With so much love and gratitude, your farmer,
Posted by Laura :: Thursday, May 19 :: 1:56pm
Pop Up Farmstand!
THIS SUNDAY, MAY 22nd
The First Root Farmstand
955 Lexington Road, Concord
Come celebrate spring with us! The hoophouses are overflowing with greens and we want to share all that vegetable bounty with you.
Stop by the stand to get your spring greens fix. We'll have arugula, baby lettuce, salad mix, baby kale, mustard greens, cress, radishes, chives, oregano, popcorn, and more!
In addition to our own produce, we'll have some tasty local products from neighbor farmers, including beans, honey, maple syrup, flour and cornmeal.
We'll also be selling 2016 Farm Cards--your ticket to farmer's market style shopping at First Root all summer long. Learn more about our new farm cards here.
What better way to welcome in the beginning of the harvest season?
See you there!