NORTHAMPTON — Three local businesses start the 2015 growing season as heroes of local agriculture. At a gathering in Northampton, the nonprofit Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture bestowed “Local Hero” awards on Squash Inc. of Belchertown, Maple Corner Farm of Granville and Adams Farm of Athol.
The awards were presented Friday at CISA’s annual meeting at the Northampton Senior Center. “We give our ‘Local Hero’ award to individuals, organizations and businesses that are fulfilling our mission of strengthening local food and supporting the community in the growth of the local economy,” Margaret Christie, the nonprofit’s special projects director, told the audience.
While some might associate the local food movement with family businesses, Christie said that’s not always the case. Squash Inc. is owned by unrelated business partners Eric Stocker and Marge Levenson. Founded in 1973, the trucking company links farmers, food producers and the retailers, restaurants and institutions that serve their foods, Christie said.
Squash “demonstrates the long-lasting ties that can be developed in businesses that are not family businesses,” she said. The trucking company brings produce, cheese, butter, eggs and specialty foods to clients all over the state, including Amherst College, Trader Joe’s and Cooper’s Corner in Florence, according to Christie.
“It’s a really essential role in the local food system,” she said. Christie told the audience that Squash received multiple nominations for the award by area farmers, something that is unusual. She said in their nominations, farmers praised the company’s integrity and loyalty and called it essential to their own businesses.
Leon and Joyce Ripley own Maple Corner Farm in Granville. The farm has been family-owned since it was founded over 200 years ago.
After accepting the award, Leon Ripley said his grandfather and father used the land for beet farming, but over the years he’s expanded beyond produce. “We’ve worked very hard as a diversified farm,” he said.
In the winter, Ripley, his wife and their children operate a maple sugarhouse where they serve pancakes with their own maple syrup. Their 600 acres of land boasts over 12 miles of cross-country ski trails, some of which they light for nighttime skiing.
In the summer, they produce hay and have pick-your-own blueberry fields. “It’s a pretty impressive example of a family that’s figured out how to be flexible, how to be innovative, how to try new things, how to stick with it and do the hard work that it takes to build an economically viable business over generations,” Christie said.
Leon Ripley said he also sells produce and specialty jams at farmers markets in Springfield, Otis, Blandford and Lenox.
State Agricultural Commissioner John Lebeaux, who attended Friday, credited the “value-added” products like Ripley’s jams as an important factor in an increase in the number of farms in the Valley in recent years. “The Massachusetts farmer has to be pretty clever and innovative,” he said.
The other recipient of the “Local Hero” award was Adams Farm, a slaughterhouse in Athol. The slaughterhouse has been in the Adams family since 1919. It is owned and operated by Beverly Mundell and her children, Richard Adams and Noreen Heath. Ten of Mundell’s grandchildren also work in the business, according to its website.
The number of family members running Adams Farm “demonstrates how this family has made a very broad and deep commitment to this business,” Christie said.
Christie told the audience that meat cutting is specialized, and as the largest slaughterhouse in New England, Adams Farm makes a big difference in the local food economy of Massachusetts.
“They need to train their workforce to do skilled and tricky work,” she said. “Local meat production in our area would be much, much more difficult if they were not here doing the work that they’re doing.”
Chris Lindahl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.