A Page from North Quabbin History: North Quabbin farmers always found niche markets

  • An advertisement in the 1906 The Florists Exchange from the Crowl Fern Co. of Millington, one of the drowned Quabbin villages. Contributed image

  • Pasture raised turkeys at the Diemand Farm. The farm, located at 126 Mormon Hollow Road in Wendell, is a third generation farm. Staff file photo/Paul Franz

Published: 8/3/2022 12:03:52 PM
Modified: 8/3/2022 12:03:47 PM

Cathy Stanton of Wendell has always had an interest in the history of farming in New England, with a particular interest in how close the present nostalgia of farming was to reality. This interest has led her to join the board of the Quabbin Valley Food Co-op as well as creating the Landcaster and farmvalues.org website.

“Most people think they know about farming in the area. Many people think the soil is poor and it wasn’t a good place to farm, as the land was full of rocks. There are a lot of rocks but the best soil in the world is in New England; however, it is on the riverbeds where people built factories,” said Stanton, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Tufts University.

New England farms were small compared to the ones out West, she continued. In the early 19th century, according to Stanton, farming in New England became harder as market competition ramped up. “This was the ‘rise of the market economy’ era when more things started to be driven by market-centered calculations and prices as commercial/capitalist markets expanded in the new republic. Some of this was shaped by public policy, policies that made new farmland available along the westward frontier and some by new technologies such as railroads, farm machinery, etc. All of those things tended to favor people who had more capital to invest or more land to begin with.” Thus, many New England towns turned to industry, making tools and plows and other farming implements for people.

Still, many people in New England and North Quabbin kept farming, Stanton explained, often specializing in one area such as meat, maple syrup, hay, dairy products and fruit from orchards. “Even back then, 100 years ago, they found niche markets,” Stanton said.

Agritourism was also popular in the late 1800s, with farmers marketing to people in the cities, especially after cars came along. Farmers sold their produce locally to hotels that catered to city visitors, including Overlook Hotel in Orange and Nichewaug Inn in Petersham, as well as selling their produce to individuals in town. “It was quite a thriving market until supermarkets came in after World War II,” Stanton said.

Greenery companies also developed in the early 20th century, creating holiday swags and greenery for the holidays as well as for weddings. These companies, Stanton continued, sold greenery and swags both locally and to larger markets. “It shows people adapting,” Stanton said.

New Salem had at least two greenery companies, Stanton said, including the Crowl Fern Co. in Millington, one of the towns flooded during the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir.”

“Back in those days, many people had farms. It was a way of life in small communities.” according to Anne Diemand Bucci of Diemand farm in Wendell, a third generation poultry farm, which began when Bucci’s father, Albert J. Diemand, Jr., purchased the land in 1936, moving from Connecticut “Dad had always wanted to be a farmer. He grew up and worked factory jobs but knew there was a better life for him.” The Diemands had 12 children, six girls and six boys, “All of my siblings and I grew up working on the farm, before and after school.”

By the mid-40s it was a working farm. “Dad started the farm raising and dressing meat chickens. He did this through the ’60s. He said the bottom dropped out of the meat bird market so he switched over to chickens for eggs,” she continued.

The farm, located at 126 Mormon Hollow Road in Wendell, is a third generation farm. “My brother, Peter and my sister, Faith and I took over the farm, working with our parents since the 1970s. Faith is retired now and Peter is not working a full schedule. My daughter, Tessa, came to work with us in 2017 and is a co-owner now,” Bucci said.

Currently, the farm sells grass fed beef, fresh and frozen chicken, turkey and lamb. Also offered at their farm store are turkey or chicken pot pies, various soups and desserts. The farm offers catering services including chicken barbecues as well as smokehouse meals at the farm or to go. The farm also sells rough cut lumber, cord wood and compost.

More information about Diemand farm can be found on their website at www.thediemandfarm.com.

Stanton has recently finished writing a book, titled “An Anthropologist in the Grocery Store,” and is currently talking with potential publishers and agents. “The book is about what I learned when I became a more active participant in the real-world present-day grocery business, through my volunteer involvement at Quabbin Harvest in Orange. It follows the co-op’s ups and downs from start-up to near-failure and then a surprising resurrection during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a parallel story about the Minute Tapioca Co. that tracks the longer timescale of industrialized food, along with the patterns of corporatization and concentration that have made it nearly impossible to prosper in the food sector except at the very largest of scales. I write about the challenges of trying to sustain a small food venture in the North Quabbin as a way to illuminate some of the very largest questions about class, race, community, wealth and power in a divided American society and a rapidly changing global climate,” Stanton said.

Information on Stanton’s Landcaster project can be found at http://www.landcestorproject.org/. Information on her Food Values project can be found at www.farmvalues.net

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.

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