Farming in a Pandemic Year
Adaptation, flexibility, creativity, resilience. These qualities are essential on a farm. The events of 2020 demanded we tap into them in order to deliver on our mission in a moment when our community farm was needed more than ever.
When the pandemic hit in March, we responded immediately. We established safety protocols and created an online store with weekly contactless pickup outside of our barn. We partnered with local farmers and food producers who had lost sales outlets during the shutdown, connecting them with our community, and reinforcing the local supply chain. Families appreciated these offerings and farm businesses were able to stay afloat. It was an incredible community response to a crisis.
Our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program also saw a surge of interest. Participation went up 20% from 2019, with over 300 families subscribing this year. Foregoing participation in farmers markets allowed us to meet that increased demand and provide donations to hunger relief organizations, which was more important than ever.
Even with Covid-19 protocols in place, 2020 was a year of fostering relationships at the farm. So far this year we have donated over 8,300 pounds of organic produce to local hunger relief; donations will continue through the end of the year. We also concluded a grant-funded nutrition education program (begun in 2019) with St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Derby.
In March, public health rules required us to adjust farm programming to reach audiences differently. Adult and youth education continued remotely where applicable. And even though we couldn’t host groups, many individuals gave their time to maintain 13 community gardens throughout the Valley and to help care for our farm animals. Special thanks to Chapel Haven and Amity High School for providing consistent volunteers.
Funds from The Werth Family Foundation allowed us to hire seven local high school students to support the farm staff during peak summer months. These students performed essential work, assisting staff with daily harvesting, planting and weeding.
With a goal of moving toward carbon neutrality, we expanded our solar energy production this year. A new installation of solar panels on the farmhouse and barn increased the existing 5,000kWh photovoltaic array to a capacity of 23,000kWh. This installation was made possible through the generosity of CGM Resources, LLC, a Hamden-based business working to increase the use of solar power across Connecticut. The expansion exceeds the farm’s current power need and paves the way for more battery-powered tools and equipment.
The farm purchased a custom-made worm composting bin from WiggleWorm, a local supplier of worms. This 3’ x 6’ bin has the capacity to handle 250 gallons of compostable material at a time. Paid for through a gift by the Greater New Haven Green Fund, the bin is located adjacent to the Learning Garden. We hope this is the beginning of larger scale composting in the near future.
Lastly, the farm received a grant from the National Resources Conservation Service for a number of projects to be completed over the next few years. Projects include installing a swale in the large field on the north side of the farm. This funding also provides for clearing invasive species and adding more native tree and shrub plantings.
This fall, we brought back the Explorers program and several outdoor community events. We thank the Valley Community Foundation for funding new technology allowing us to stay connected with our audiences remotely. We all look forward to resuming our regular schedule of events on the farm as soon as possible.
A farm season is always filled with challenges, and though a pandemic was unique, Massaro was ready. We retained our core staff, expanded hours for seasonal staff and hired additional hands during the peak summer season. Ultimately 2020 proved to be among the most productive years in our history. Our work continues now, ensuring that we can provide for the community over the winter months, again in 2021, and beyond.
Massaro Community Farm is a nonprofit, certified-organic farm on the border of Woodbridge and Ansonia, CT. It is committed to supporting the legacy of farming, feeding neighbors in need, and engaging community through events and hands-on education for all ages. More information can be found by calling the farm office at (203) 736-8618 or visiting the farm’s website at www.MassaroFarm.org.