By Lisa Cavanaugh | Photography by Matilde Simas
Barnstable County was at one time an agricultural hub, with a large variety of fruit, vegetable and dairy farms thriving across the peninsula. Although other industries eventually took over, there is still a strong community of commercial farmers on Cape Cod who help satisfy our desire for locally raised products.
CAPE COD ORGANIC FARM
3675 Main St. (Route 6A)
On an overcast July day, Tim Friary, the owner of Cape Cod Organic Farm in Barnstable, is busy overseeing his summer staff as they gather orders for local restaurants. “You done with the kale? You need onions … get 30 onions,” says Friary, as he continues to pile zucchini on a display at his farm stand, an open-sided wooden shed halfway up a dirt road bordered by rows of crops. For a farmer, especially one with livestock, the work never stops. “I take some time off after Christmas (his farm sells trees and wreaths), but if you’re a farmer, it’s 365, every year.”
Growing up in Taunton, Friary cherished the time he spent on his grandparents’ small farm. So in 1995, after years of working in horticulture and owning a native plant nursery, he began farming for himself—opportune for a stay-at-home single dad with three young children. The farm’s original location was in Cummaquid, and in 2008 he acquired the former Barnstable County Farm on Route 6A, a 100-acre property that includes 50 acres of farmable land.
“The property needed a lot of attention. Ten years on, it still does,” he says. But he loves the work and speaks with pleasure about spotting wildlife at dawn and dusk and watching his crops grow. In addition to running the Certified Organic Farm, Friary is also the largest organic producer of pork in the state. He raises about 100 heritage breed pigs annually for pork, and trucks his pigs off-Cape to a USDA-certified organic slaughterhouse. He sells chops, ribs and roasts, as well as sweet and hot Italian sausage, bratwurst and kielbasa.
Along with bringing his products to farmers markets in Truro, Wellfleet and Orleans, and servicing restaurants such as Vers, Spoon and Seed and Blackfish, Friary operates a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program. For 19 weeks beginning in late May, paying members can pick up a weekly box of freshly harvested organic produce. “A box might have Swiss chard, beets, garlic, potatoes, strawberries, beans, herbs or flowers,” says Friary. “We try to make sure the value of the produce is 15 to 20 percent over the membership cost.”
Through 20 years of farming on Cape Cod, Friary has made deep connections. Cape Cod Organic Farm regularly donates to the Cape Cod Hunger Network and has won awards for being a socially responsible business. “We like being part of the community and offering high-quality products,” says Friary, who is also proud of having always grown organic produce. “My grandparents didn’t use chemicals, and I wouldn’t do it any other way. It’s just the way I grew up.”
192 Old Kings Highway (Route 6A)
Soon after Paul Crowell and his wife, Ellen, got married at his family’s farm, other staff went to work on the field that had served as their wedding venue. “We left for our honeymoon and they plowed it and planted Brussels sprouts!” laughs Crowell. Their nuptials field now serves as one of their pick-your-own apple orchards, a popular new program for the 102-year-old Crow Farm property located in Sandwich on Route 6A that was founded by Crowell’s grandfather and great-uncle in 1916.
Young Paul always wanted to be a farmer. “I started off picking peas and beans as a kid, working through all the jobs so I’d know how to do them,” says Crowell, who lives with his family on the 40-acre property. His father, Howard, is still active on the farm, while his sister, Jean (who also began working the fields when she was very young), and Paul’s son, Jason, both do whatever needs to be done: planting, picking, sorting and selling.
Crowell’s wife, Ellen, who was not born on Cape Cod, calls herself the “summer girl who never went home.” With a background in the restaurant business, she took on the role of baker, inheriting recipes from her mother-in-law, Judy, and now produces between 20 and 40 pies a day when the farm stand is open. “I make strawberry rhubarb, peach, blueberry, apple,” says Ellen. “I run my warm pies down to the stand and they fly off the trays.”
Crowell encourages everyone on the farm to share ideas. Their newly launched CSA was suggested by one of their farm workers, and his son spearheaded the pick-your-own program. “The secret is to have people smarter than you work for you,” he says.
He also diversifies his crops. Crow Farm produces a variety of flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables, including corn and 15 varieties of apples in orchards, fields and greenhouses. As he traverses the farm, he meets with a crew planting strawberries for next season. It’s a challenge to gauge how many years the plants will produce, and while this year has been rainy, other years have required 14 hours a day of irrigation. “I like to be outdoors though, “he says. “I like growing things and meeting people.” For Crowell, customers have become friends, and the rest of the farming community on the Cape are good colleagues. “It’s a pretty tight-knit group. You help each other out.”
Back up on the apple orchard where he said “I do” years ago, Crowell gazes across his land to Cape Cod Bay. It’s a beautiful vista, one that not many pick-your-own farms can offer. “Families come here, pick apples, take pictures, hang out on the hay bales,” he says, smiling. “People love it.”
315 Cranview Road
On Facebook: @punkhornfarm
Another Cape Cod family is just starting their farming tradition up the road in Brewster at Punkhorn Farm, located in the Punkhorn Parklands. With just over 3/4 of an acre being utilized so far, farm manager Dani DeRuyter has big plans for the project she and her two brothers first opened in 2015. Her parents had invested in the 14-acre property in the mid-’80s as their family home, but things really kicked off when DeRuyter moved back to the Cape from California, where she had learned permaculture farming. “It’s about using patterns in nature and replicating them for sustainability and livelihood,” she says.
Her brothers Ben and Nick, who both live on the property with their families, cleared land, mulched and composted before DeRuyter moved back East. “We had this dream of raising all our kids together on our small farm.” Both brothers have other jobs, but continue to assist whenever needed. “Ben is the ‘CFO’ of Punkhorn,” says DeRuyter. “Nick is land management, which means he uses all the heavy machinery.”
“We started growing with only 1/16 of an acre, then I began working with chefs of small specialty restaurants such as Sunbird and Clean Slate,” says DeRuyter. This past summer, DeRuyter started selling at farmers markets in Brewster and Provincetown. Dabbling in both helps DeRuyter manage her inventory; if things don’t sell at the markets, she can call chefs who are happy to take the surplus.
“It inspires me when chefs come to the farm and walk around with me,” she says. “I learn so much from them.” She also relishes the experience of selling to the public, hearing stories from return customers of what they made with her produce. “I try to bring one crazy crop each time—like purple kohlrabi—and bring recipes,” she says. “People are psyched, and I get to reintroduce amazing food to them. It’s an awesome circle of learning and sharing.”
DeRuyter, who does all the designing and managing of the farm, has squeezed quite a bit into their small footprint. She grows kale, heirloom tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, chard, beets, carrots, cauliflower, parsley, cilantro, dill and lots of flowers. “Some are edible, like nasturtiums, but I have others just for the birds and the bees.” Tall stalks of sunflowers give birds a perch from which they can hunt bugs, which is part of DeRuyter’s system of using plants to attract or deter. “This is a shared ecosystem. You put it in place and it thrives and flourishes on its own.”
She envisions her new large barn as a location for events, with a commercial kitchen in which to make jams and pesto from her farm produce. “Punkhorn has grown a little every year, “she says. “My background in permaculture is all about starting small and scaling up as you go. We are getting positive feedback from the ecosystem here, so we feel like we are doing the right thing.”