Who We Are
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, we love working outside, and we love sharing it all with so many wonderful folks.
Founded in 2009 by two enthusiastic, dedicated young farmers, First Root has grown into a thriving community farm. We grow vegetables and flowers on 4 acres of historic farmland in Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, MA. We run a 120 member summer CSA, a smaller winter CSA, attend local farmers markets, and sell to several neighboring restaurants.
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 what makes farming so much fun.
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.
The farmers, Nina & Laura, do American Gothic.
Posted by Laura :: Monday, October 20 :: 2:46pm
A few months after I moved to Concord, on a sunny April day during our first season in 2010, a silver Tacoma pickup, twin to my own, pulled up onto the field. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing—loading compost into a wheelbarrow or digging beds by hand—but I do remember who climbed out of the truck and came over to introduce himself: Joe Palumbo, who’s family had been farming the land next to the First Root fields since 1925. He’d seen me out in the fields and wanted to welcome me to the neighborhood. He was 91 at the time, and had retired from full-time farming, but still had plenty of kind advice and farm wisdom to share.
He asked me about what we were growing, and told me the big pile of compost we’d had delivered looked like good stuff. He said to stop by and visit anytime. He gave me a bunch of asparagus from his garden.
Over the next few years, Joe was nothing but friendly and supportive to First Root, the new farmers in town. He always waved at us from the porch as we drove up and down Lexington Road from our house to the farm. Sometimes we’d go over and visit with him on the porch, and talk shop. He told us all about the fields of celery he used to grow and showed us pictures of the farm in its heyday. We talked about tomato blight, pest problems, how to grow the best potatoes, machinery, the weather. He always told us we were good workers. More than once that first summer, I found a bag of corn or asparagus sitting on our front porch, a token of neighborly kindness that Joe had left for us.
Joe lent us his truck a couple times that first spring, when we needed to get a load of compost but our own farm truck was occupied elsewhere. We borrowed his walk-behind rototiller when the one we’d been borrowing from another neighbor broke. Joe made me feel welcome. He made me feel like I was in the right place, and that First Root was going to make it, even when it sometimes felt impossible.
Joe’s love for his land and his farm shone through every time we talked. He was always eager to talk about farming, to give advice or commiserate about the challenging, unpredictable nature of the work. He had spent his life working the land, and even though he was already retired when I met him, that commitment to his place was as clear as ever. This past season, we expanded onto a strip of land across the street from Joe’s house, once a part of Palumbo Farm. The field, known to the First Root crew as “Palumbo”, produced a bounty of peppers and tomatoes. I know it made Joe happy to watch us working, to see his beloved land producing food again. For me, it has been a gift to work that beautiful soil, to fall in love with a piece of land that Joe loved as well.
First Root tomatoes at the Palumbo field
I’ve only lived in Concord for five years, and though I grew up only one town over and have fond memories of visiting my grandparents in Concord as a kid, I didn’t spent my childhood here, like Joe did. But this place is my home. Since that very first spring, when I first put my hands into this dirt, when Joe welcomed me to the neighborhood with a bunch of home-grown asparagus, I have known that this is where I want to make my life.
I love the specifics of this land. I love the particular reds and golds of the trees surrounding the field in October. I love the view out over Palumbo Farm in the evenings, the way the sun settles on the horizon above the field. I love the dirt road that winds along the side of the barn. There are moments, after a long day of June planting, or packing up after a CSA pickup on a cool September evening, when I feel absolutely content. I look out at the fields bursting with green, the rows of rutabaga and carrots, the clear sky, clouds backlit by the sun, and I know there is nowhere on earth as beautiful as this patchwork of farmland on Lexington Road in Concord.
Planting peppers at the Palumbo field
In a time when people are so mobile and folks rarely end up living in the same town they grew up in, it sometimes feels as if I am the only one who feels this way. Most folks my age are happy to move from city to city, to pick up their lives and try out a new place, a new job, a new community. When people find out I’m a farmer, they often ask me if I get to do a lot of traveling in the winter. I usually answer that there’s a lot of office work to do, that it’s nice to have a rest. But the truth is that there’s nowhere I’d rather be than home.
Joe taught me that in order to be a good farmer, you have to love your place. You have to know your soil and your neighbors. You have to stay put. There are so many ways to love the world—you can go out into it and explore all its varied landscapes, or you can stay close, and learn the names of every tree on the edge of your field, every road that winds through your town.
I am only twenty-eight, and I’ve only been farming for eleven years now. I can only hope to farm into my eighties, the way Joe did. I can only hope to become the kind of farm elder for the next generation that he was for me. It takes a lifetime to build a farm, to fall in love with a place, to learn all the nuances of soil and sky and field. As I drive between the First Root fields, spread out along Lexington Road, I will always think of Joe, sitting on his front porch, visiting with friends and family, looking out at the land he loved.
Thanks, Joe, for your generosity and your kindness, for your good advice and encouragement, for showing me how to be a good neighbor and a good steward of the land. We’ll miss you.
Posted by Laura :: Sunday, August 17 :: 1:19pm
Farming is full of intangible satisfactions. There are a million reasons to do this work that are impossible to quantify. The specifics of sunlight and soil, the seemingly never-ending miracle of photosynthesis, the deeply felt gratitude of knowing my food intimately. There’s a fullness that I feel after a good day on the farm, an unequivocal knowledge that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, MA is probably not the most beautiful place on the planet, but on a bright August evening after a bountiful CSA pickup, sunlight glinting on rows of beets and carrots and celeriac, the fields still and peaceful, the farm is the most beautiful place I can imagine. Whatever that feeling is—gratitude, vocation, happiness—it’s not easily quantified by numbers and spreadsheets and yield data.
But some of farming is quantifiable, and that’s another reason that I love it. For example: this season, so far, we’ve harvested 3,222 pounds of cucumbers, 3,208 pounds of squash, 1,641 pounds of eggplant, and 611 pounds of beans. That’s 3.8 tons of food from those four crops alone. When I think about all the other food we’ve harvested this season—the hundreds of heads of lettuce and cabbage, the bins and bins of kale and chard, the enormous wall of garlic hanging in the barn, hundreds of pounds of beets and radishes and carrots—the sheer volume of food that we produce on 4 acres is astounding.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they tell an important one. All those pounds of cucumbers and squash translate into more tangibles—food distributed, meals cooked and shared, people fed. A pound of cucumbers turns into a jar of pickles, a refreshing salad, a cool raita. A pound of roasted green beans, mixed with a pound of chopped tomatoes and roasted potatoes is dinner for a family.
Sheer poundage isn’t the only thing that matters, of course. Food is basic and essential, and yet our relationship with it is complicated, often fraught. There is so little access to good food for so many people; there is so much food grown in ways that are detrimental to the soil, the land, and the people using their brains and muscles to produce it. I know that producing 3,222 pounds of cucumbers in one glorious month isn’t going to fix our broken food system. But those pounds matter. Those pounds provide literal sustenance for many people. I believe that small farms matter, that connections between people and land matter, that knowing your farmer matters, that cooking and eating and celebrating with your family and your community matters. But none of that is possible without the poundage. Yield matters, too.
I don’t know the exact breakdown of where all those pounds of cucumbers have gone. Our 176 CSA families have surely consumed hundreds of pounds. (Forgive us, delightful CSA members, for giving out four pounds of cucumbers a week, but what else are we supposed to do with this glorious, overwhelming bounty?) We’ve donated hundreds more pounds to Rosie’s Place in Boston and Open Table in Concord, two incredible organizations that provide meals for folks who need them. Our two fantastic apprentices have taken home their fair share, and we’ve probably eaten a hundred pounds ourselves (pickles make an almost-daily appearance at farm lunch). Here is another story told in tangibles: thousands of pounds of cucumbers, hundreds of people fed. It’s a start.
On Saturday afternoon, we dug up our first potatoes of the season—250 bed feet of beautiful, red-skinned French fingerlings. We used our new tractor-mounted undercutter to loosen the soil under the plants, which made digging them an effortless, joyful treasure hunt. From those 250 feet, we harvested 515 pounds of potatoes—a yield of over 2 pounds per foot, by far our best yet in four years of growing potatoes.
What I truly love about farming are those moments when the tangibles and the intangibles meet. Saturday afternoon was perfect. The sun was out, the air was sweet and cool, the dirt was soft under my hands, and we couldn’t stop smiling, joking, laughing. We were pulling plants out of the ground that were literally dripping with potatoes—sometimes 20 or 25 per plant. As I filled bucket after bucket, I couldn’t stop thinking about the sheer amount of food we were harvesting; I couldn’t wait to add up the total weight and calculate the yield. But it wasn’t just the success of the crop that kept me smiling as I sifted through dirt for edible treasure. It was also the satisfaction of hard work rewarded, the sun on my skin, the pleasing roundness of each potato, the shared joy of growing food with people I care about, for people I care about. A hundred intangible details and 515 tangible pounds of food combined to make that moment perfect.
There’s a line I love from William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, one that I can’t seem to get out of my head these days, surrounded by all this August bounty: “While here I stand, not only with the sense/Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts/That in this moment there is life and food/For future years.”
If this isn’t the definition of abundance, I don’t know what is.