Homegrown News Blog
This Massachusetts farm has been in the same family since the 1600s
Updated: Feb. 22, 2023, 6:22 a.m.|Published: Feb. 22, 2023, 6:21 a.m.
By Elizabeth LaFond Coppez | Special to The Republican
Harrison Bardwell isn’t your typical 26-year-old, working various jobs to find his path. He found his passion at age 10, and, today, he’s making significant impacts both regionally and globally, one vegetable at a time.
Bardwell is owner and ninth-generation family farmer of Bardwell Farm in Hatfield. He farms over 30 acres and produces more than 100 varieties of crops in some of the most nutrient dense soil of the Connecticut River valley.
Bardwell Farm offers a roadside stand, a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm share program and offers wholesale distribution services.
“Being in the soil and watching the plants grow and develop, and eating this fresh, delicious produce out of your backyard is an experience like no other,” Bardwell said.
Bardwell recalls when he was 12 or 13 years old, he was bored with his usual fun playing in the dirt. “My grandparents showed me how to pick veggies, what plants looked like and gave me my first physical experience working and being with produce and agriculture,” Bardwell said. “I instantly loved it.”
The next summer, Bardwell continued his apprenticeship. “My grandparents taught me the fundamentals of planting a seed, establishing the care and maintenance between planting and harvest and I was intrigued more and more,” he said.
By the end of that season, Bardwell had helped to produce a large abundance of vegetables.
“I recall seeing my grandfather sitting at the back porch, and I had brought a large bucket of cucumbers,” he said. “My grandfather told me we have so many cucumbers, more than enough to feed our family – how can we give these a new home?”
The next season, Bardwell Farm opened its first stand in front of the family homestead.
“At that time, I believe Bardwell Farm established a new chapter in its history,” Bardwell added.
Bardwell’s grandparents encouraged his father not to become a farmer, so he explored other interests and became a carpenter. But the love for farming was undeniable for Harrison Bardwell, so he learned as much as he could at home and, after graduating from high school, attended the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“I started my official work on this farm in 11th grade and worked and managed Bardwell Farm as I continued my education,” he said.
He is the ninth-generation of the family to run the farm that dates to 1685, and Bardwell can track his ancestry back to the early 1600s when members of his family settled in Hampshire County after arriving from England.
“It’s really neat to still have Bardwells in the town where they first settled,” he added.
At the Stockbridge school, Bardwell pursued an associate degree. “Going to Stockbridge gave me scientific background and broadened my mind immensely,” he said.
Although Hatfield’s soil is some of the best in the world, Bardwell takes good care to ensure it stays rich with nutrients.
“Any type of soil thrives off diversity, so when you rotate crops it gives the life of the soil so much more energy,” he said. “You need to help the life in the soil to help plants to grow their best.”
Bardwell has adopted the no-till and limited-till practices in his fields. “Research shows the less you disturb the soil, the more vibrant and healthier the microbes are to be able to thrive,” he explained.
The crops include everything from kale and cabbage, tomatoes and peppers, to sweet corn and squash. “I love growing pickling cucumbers because it’s my favorite veggie to eat,” he added.
Bardwell also utilizes greenhouses and high tunnels on his farm, with efforts to harvest vegetables year-round. High tunnels are temporary, tall, covered structures that help protect crops from harsh weather.
“We’re able to harvest spinach, arugula, kale, lettuce mixes, and Swiss chard in the middle of February, allowing us to keep more staff and obtain more revenue,” Bardwell said.
This year, Bardwell and his team grew colored bell peppers in a high tunnel, and they harvested a much better-quality crop.
“My grandfather always said, ‘You’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,’ and this is 100 percent true,” Bardwell said. “Weather dictates what you do every single hour, every single day of your life.”
Bardwell has noticed firsthand how climate change has impacted farming.
“When I started seven years ago, we had normal rainfall, and it would get cold in late October or early November,” he said. “Over the years we’ve lost that nice steady rain, and it’s been replaced with heavy, harsh thunderstorms causing a lot of rain in a short amount of time.
“A drought for three weeks and a heavy thunderstorm scares me more because it can drastically affect a condition of a crop or field,” he said.
Weather changes also impact diseases and pests that can hurt crops. “Farmers must still be able to produce a high-quality crop, but it takes twice the work that it used too,” he added.
Reflecting on his short yet gratifying farming career thus far, Bardwell expressed appreciation for what he’s learned from the region’s farming community, and, in turn, works to share that knowledge.
He welcomes elementary schools for field trips to Bardwell Farm, and students in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture also visit for tours or work study programs.
He tells others that farmers must be quick on their feet and sleeping past 8 a.m. on the weekend isn’t an option. “You need to be good at making quick decisions for the best solution in the moment,” he said.
Bardwell is excited for what the future will bring and has a feeling his grandparents would be proud of what he’s created for the Bardwell Farm in the 21st century.
“It’s taken countless hours and dedication from other farmers in this town, along with friends, family and my mom and dad who have been able to help me get to where I am today,” he said. “If every person on Earth could spend one day on a farm doing hands-on manual labor, it would allow people to see its importance as we wouldn’t be able to survive.”
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