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After a year-long process of developing and issuing a request for proposals and vetting applicants, Greenbelt is pleased to announce that Iron Ox Farm of Topsfield will be the new farm operator at the former Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton and Topsfield starting in 2021.
Iron Ox Farm’s principals, Alex Cecchinelli and Stacey Apple, have had great success in the past years growing their business from 1 acre with a 40 member CSA to 3 acres with a 120 member CSA with plans to expand further. Using organic and regenerative methods, Iron Ox produces high quality vegetables for their CSA, farmers markets, and wholesale to restaurants.
Like many farmers, Cechinelli and Apple found ways to ramp up their production to feed the increased demand that they saw in 2020 as a result of COVID. “We are so grateful to have this opportunity to help meet our community’s demand for high quality, delicious vegetables while conserving and regenerating the soils and ecology on the farm.”
Iron Ox plans to continue to utilize their existing fields at Nutter Farm while starting the process of reopening the former Green Meadows. Future plans include expanding the CSA and reestablishing the farm stand, formerly a vibrant community space.
Iron Ox is excited for this opportunity to invest in and grow their business. They will be using the larger space at the former Green Meadows to increase their vegetable production to meet the high demand within the community. They will also be partnering with Lillooet Farm to include sheep as part of the farm. The incorporation of sheep grazing into the larger farm plan will give Iron Ox the chance to bring a more holistic approach to the farm.
The team at Iron Ox wants to put an emphasis on soil health and biodiversity to keep the land resilient and protect the surrounding watershed. Iron Ox plans to have their farm fully transitioned to the former Green Meadows site by spring 2022 with an increased CSA, continued sales to local restaurants and the opening of a farm stand. Their long term plans will be to grow the farm into a community hub where people can come to learn more about agriculture, get involved with their food and enjoy nature together. Iron Ox is looking forward to sharing this special space with the community.
Greenbelt’s farmland program is designed not only to protect our most important agricultural resources, but to use innovative methods to make that protected farmland available and affordable to area farmers. In this instance, Greenbelt is utilizing a long-term ground lease approach, wherein Greenbelt will remain the owner of the land but Iron Ox, and subsequent farmers, will have access to the land under a 99-year ground lease.
This approach, pioneered in the affordable housing world and utilized by a relative handful of land trusts across the country, gives the farmers the confidence and ability to invest in the land and in their business, and they can secure financing to build out their operation. Year-to- year and handshake agreements, though common with agricultural land, do not provide adequate security for developing and investing in a business.
Seventeen farmers and farm businesses responded to Greenbelt’s request for proposals. A committee of staff, board, local farmers and community members reviewed and ultimately selected the finalist.
Greenbelt President Kate Bowditch said, “The experience highlighted the demand for farmland and the variety of highly qualified and skilled farmers and entrepreneurs who want to farm in Essex County. We will continue to work with that group of land-seekers to match them up with protected farmland. This work is the nexus of conservation, local economic development, and food security.”
Greenbelt purchased the land – a resource-rich landscape between the Ipswich River and Bradley Palmer State Park – in 2019 with support from Institution for Savings Conservation Fund and other generous donors. The vision for the property includes the public reservation at Vineyard Hill on the west side of Asbury Street, paired with a working farm. In addition to the public access already available at Vineyard Hill, new trails will be developed on the farm side of the property – providing additional public access in a way that is compatible with the farm operation.
82 Eastern Avenue
PO Box 1026
Essex, MA 01929
Greenbelt thanks the photographers whose work is featured prominently on our website: Jerry Monkman, Dorothy Monnelly, Adrian Scholes, David Alden St. Pierre & Neil Ungerleider