Farm behind the Lexington farmstand: Earthlands educates on sustainability
Lexington Minuteman, Wicked Local
At first, the chrysalises look like golden jewels on the ripe green kale plants. Then, the monarch butterflies hatch, fiery wings briefly brightening the recently established Earthlands Farm before embarking on their great international migration.
When Lexington resident Dr. Felicia Newhouse and her dad first bought the 80 acres of Earthlands Farm in Petersham in 2017, they weren’t exactly sure what they’d be doing with the land. For the previous 50 years, the 80-acres had been an environmental education nonprofit center.
With a Ph.D in education and a deep passion for beekeeping, Newhouse, who operates a farmstand in Lexington from June to October, hoped to at least establish an apiary. She started with a small box of 10,000 bees and a bee suit purchased by her husband Dr. Julien de Wit. As she started consulting with various other experts and professionals on the logistics of expanding the apiary, she said the farm practically fell right into her lap. They discovered that because the land sits right on the Quabbin Reservoir and 70 of the 80 acres is a thick forest ecosystem, they had unbelievably healthy soil in the ten acres of cleared land.
To sign up for an Earthlands Farm CSA, visit: www.earthlandsfarm.com/csa
Then in 2020 the pandemic hit and exposed the volatility of the national food supply chain, so Newhouse and her husband decided to take a risk and begin farming, although their degrees are in education and astrophysics respectively. They reached out to other local farms like the Many Hands organic farm who provided them with the seedlings. “Farms aren’t competing, they’re always working together and they understand the importance of leaning on each other because each farm has a different ecosystem,” said Newhouse. The couple also reached out to the geosciences team at UMass who studied the sustainability of the soil and ways to amplify the nutrient density of their crops.
Third year blooms
This spring blooms their third year as a farm, and thanks to constant investment in their soil health, they now have seven beehives and have planted more than 30 types of vegetables, 25 apple trees, a plum orchard, 40 blueberry bushes, 50 raspberry bushes, and Newhouse’s favorite, the pawpaws. Often described as a cross between banana and mango, pawpaws are native to eastern North America and are difficult to find elsewhere because the seeds don’t transplant well.
Healthy plant life also has a tremendous environmental impact on the local biodiversity. The monarch butterflies that light up their farm annually signify a balanced micro-ecosystem, said Newhouse.
This year, Newhouse and de Wit hope to focus their energy more on the logistical side of the operations by hiring a farm couple. With the extra set of full time helpers, Newhouse can start dedicating more of her time towards educating the community in healthy farming practices. “I think the deeper the education is, the more we can build sustainable systems and sustainable supply chains that actually serve humanity and our future generations and the planet at large,” she said.
They hope to have a new education event center and begin holding weddings and conferences at their facilities by 2023— as well as begin raising alpacas, goats and chickens. Overall, with an increased focus on educating and interacting with the community, Earthlands Farm hopes to continue creating a multidimensional experience with farming and sustainability for everyone to enjoy.