In Amherst, Massachusetts, 34 miles as the crow flies from the Brattleboro Food Co-op, seated in and amongst a picturesque rail trail, a golf course, suburban homes, and a strip-mall development, is a hidden gem of sorts—a farm which holds the local food movement to a lofty standard. Despite its high standards, Old Friends Farm is not pretentious. It’s simply the expression of the founders who care deeply about the land and the workers who derive a living from that land. Their salad greens, fruits and vegetables, cut flowers, ginger and turmeric, and specialty products shine bright with the care and love that is poured into the work and the land every day.
Founders and owners Missy Bahret and Casey Steinberg (Casey, a Putney native) were following their passion for farming in 2003 when they started the business from meager beginnings. They were moonlighting, working the night shift, while employed full time elsewhere. Their long hours and dedication paid off, and today Old Friends cultivates 28 acres of leased land, provides a highly positive workplace for thirteen employees, and pays them all a respectable living wage. Their passion from the early days is still holding strong, and it shows in the superb quality and integrity of the many aspects and nuances of the farm today.
Old Friends Farm is Certified Organic by Baystate Organic Certifiers, has an on-farm Certified Kitchen facility for washing and processing, and is certified by the Commonwealth Quality Program (CQP). They have several open fields in rotation, alternating production with cover crops, and an array of year-round and seasonal greenhouses which require no active heating. They also make their own small-batch crafted specialty products at the FCCDC—Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center in Greenfield.
They offer local delivery and work with select distributors for a wider range, including greater New England, Boston, Rhode Island, and New York City. Some of the distributors with whom they work include Black River Produce, Central MA Localvore, Lettuce Be Local, Marty’s Local, Metro Pedal Power, Myers Produce, and What Cheer. The Brattleboro Food Co-op has been proudly carrying their products for almost 10 years!
Organic Salad Greens
Old Friends Farm grows select vegetables, and has focused on specializing in top-notch quality salad greens, of which hundreds of pounds are produced every week. The greens are triple washed, and spun dry, which is their way of assuring that the product is grit free when it gets to your plate (they have a 100% grit free policy). No need to rinse in your kitchen! The harvested greens are processed in batches with great attention to detail and accuracy, and workers follow stringent requirements for GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) and Food Safety, which is at the heart of their operation. CQP Quality tests ensure traceability and quality in every lot of produce. The finished goods arrive the same day to marketplace produce shelves in resealable bags which reduce packaging waste and conserve energy and space.
Organic Flower Bouquets
Old Friends Farm flower bouquets are as impressive as their salad greens. Using organic techniques for growing, harvesting and processing yields clean, long-lasting bouquets, and all the environmental advantages to organic land management. By choosing local and organically grown flowers, you can genuinely say “I Love You” to the recipient, and know that every step in the production of those flowers has received (and cultivated) LOVE! Flowers are arranged into bundles by a specialized employee and then promptly moved to dedicated cold storage for freshness. Old Friends Farm bouquets are available at stores, florists, and for weddings/events.
Organic Ginger and Turmeric Products
When Old Friends Farm started growing organic ginger and turmeric, they pioneered the local Zingiber revolution! Botanically, this family includes both culinary ginger and turmeric. This was a great opportunity for the farm to think out-of-the-box and to focus on bringing a new family of crops to the region. Old Friends Farm’s full line-up of magical, Northeast-grown ginger and turmeric-based elixirs includes: Ginger Syrup, Turmeric Honey, Elderberry Turmeric Honey, and Ginger Honey. The honey used in these elixirs is sourced from Vermont. They also make a line of local spices, and just released a Ginger Balsam Massage Oil! All of these items can be found at their farmers’ markets, and most of them at the Brattleboro Food Co-op.
In 2014, Old Friends Farm introduced their Ginger Syrup after experimenting with making specialty products from their crops. The Ginger Syrup is small-batch-crafted by the farmers themselves in Greenfield, MA using only three ingredients: organic ginger grown on their farm, organic lemon juice, and organic cane sugar. It can be added to seltzer for a home-made ginger ale, drizzled over most any dessert, pancakes or waffles, and used as an ingredient in salad dressing, marinades, elixirs, and cocktails (with or without alcohol). Their Ginger Syrup is wonderfully delicious—warm, aromatic, spicy and sweet—a true reflection of the bright sunshine and long days of the growing season. Old Friends Farm Ginger Syrup represents all the hard work, innovation, and joy, which has brought their farm to where it is today.
On January 19th, 2018, chosen from over two thousand entries from all over the country, Old Friends Farm was awarded a Good Food Award for their Organic Ginger Syrup. Now in its eighth year, the Good Food Awards is an event where the nation’s leading artisanal food producers, chefs, grocers, and journalists gather in San Francisco to host an annual awards ceremony. These prestigious awards are granted to foods and drinks that embody deliciousness, authenticity, and responsibility. According to the Awards, the producers these winning products represent are ‘pushing the envelope’ in both craftsmanship and sustainability, thus bettering the nation’s food system.
Other Local Producers Using Old Friends Ginger
Old Friends Farm Zingiber is also featured in other companies’ local products. You can find it in Artisan Beverage Cooperative’s Local Libation, Real Pickles’ fermented foods (their Turmeric Kraut, Kimchi, and Ginger Carrot), Bart’s Ice Cream, and Putney Mountain Winery’s Simply Ginger.
Old Friends Farm Holistic Goal:
Old Friends runs their farm with the core values of Integrity, Harmony, Balance, and Fun. In support of that, they even created a Holistic Goal to guide them in their business management, and use present tense to help them embody, step-in to, and realize its actuality. You can read more by visiting their webpage: http://www.oldfriendsfarm.com/philosophy.html
Old Friends Farm believes that by creating a good work environment, the rest will follow. Good workplace ergonomics and conditions support workplace safety and health, and that translates into “people sustainability”—healthy, happy, and fairly paid employees who stick around season after season. This is evident in mats on the floor (knee savers), appropriate workstation heights, and wheels on everything—no backbreaking loads. They offer fair pay to their workers and owners, and foster a connection between the community and local agriculture. They provide a workplace environment which is fun, creative, supports empowerment of the staff, and keeps them engaged.
Old Friends manages the farm to be part of a healthy ecosystem. They pay attention to the water and mineral cycles, energy flow, and community dynamics within the ecological and social ecosystem. The land is managed effectively and is in better condition with each subsequent year.
The farm encourages you to ask questions about from where your food comes, how it is grown, and what it takes to get from its source to your table. Reach out any time!
by Ben Riseman