Thirty members of our club enjoyed touring some of Groton’s agricultural locations on September tenth. We began with a visit to Silveus Christmas Tree Plantation. Owner Carl Flowers spoke about how he started to grow Christmas trees rather than following his original plan of becoming a vegetable farmer. He also told us of the work that he and other farmers did more than 30 years ago to change the Commonwealth’s inheritance tax laws so that agricultural land may be taxed at an alternate, and usually lower, value based on its farm use. As farming has a very small profit margin this important change makes it financially possible for land to remain in use for farming.
Carl explained that the harvest season for Christmas trees is short, and the planning for each years harvest takes many years. That planning is easily thrown off track by many factors. A year of unexpectedly high sales leaves less inventory to grow for the following season. Drought can delay the trees reaching harvestable size. Pests and diseases can disfigure trees so they are not saleable for use as Christmas trees.
Wishing we had more time to ask questions about the Christmas tree business and the history of Silveus plantation, we had to proceed to our next stop at Joe Twomey’s chrysanthemum growing operation. Joe explained how he starts with tiny plugs in the spring and grows them into large, bushy plants by the early fall when gardeners want some fresh color in their gardens and planters. This process includes potting into larger containers, constant watering and fertilizing, and pinching back the plants around Mothers Day and again before the middle of July.
Most chrysanthemums grown today are perenially hardy and will return in gardens. These plants emerge later in the spring than many other plants, so it is important to mark them or remember where they are planted, and not disturb the roots when cleaning or planting in the early spring. Following these steps allows us to enjoy our favorite ‘mums for many years.
Our third stop was the Lindemer’s heirloom apple orchard, Whitney Farmstead. Owner Chris, a former club member, showed us around the orchard – naming and describing the various apples they grow. Many of them have interesting names, including Roxbury Russet, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Wealthy, and Blue Pearmain (a favorite of Henry Thoreau) are just a few.
To conclude this part of the tour, Chris treated us to a tasting of apples from her orchard. Many of us found our favorite in ‘Mother’ – a very flavorful and sweet apple.
Fourth on our list was a visit to Gilson’s Herb Lyceum where Cathy Gilson explained the business model that allows them to make a living from their farm. As with many small farms, they need to look beyond their farming activities for economic stability. The Herb Lyceum was among the earliest of Farm-to-Table dining spots, originally started by teenager Will Gilson who was exploring the idea of becoming a chef. He has recently returned to cooking for the Friday and Saturday evening dinners that attract diners from far outside of Groton. Beautiful landscaping by Dave Gilson has also turned this location into a desirable wedding venue. The Gilsons also rent land a mile or so away, where they grow herbs and vegetables to sell at an onsite stand and at farmers markets.
After this last farm stop, our group proceeded to the Groton Grange, where George Moore told us the history of the Grange and how it is still a vital part of our community by providing talks about farming issues and being a center for community activities such as dances and guitar lessons. Of particular interest was his talk about the recent successful inclusion of Groton in the “Right To Farm” act which gives farmers a legal standing against nuisance law suits against them.
This was an informative start to our club year. For some of us it was a discovery of the existence of these farming operations. For all of us it was an education about the complexities facing today’s farmers.