ORGANIC FARMER TIM FRIARY
TAKES ON ANOTHER 30 ACRES
by Mary Blair Petiet
On December 22, 2008, Tim Friary of Cape Cod Organic Farm submitted a proposal in response to an RFP issued by Barnstable County for the right to lease and utilize the County Farm. The County Farm, Barnstable’s bucolic landmark one mile east of the Village on Route 6A, has been sitting for several years not reaching its highest potential. Formerly run by the Sheriff’s Department, the farm was worked by inmates from the Barnstable House of Correction just down the street. They produced vegetables, chickens and eggs, and ran a dairy herd. It was common to be held up on Route 6A by cattle crossing the street on their way to fresh pasture. The herd could be glimpsed in surrounding fields, and sometimes bovine stragglers had to be extracted from local marshes. It was possible to buy vegetables, milk and eggs, all from the County Farm.
More recently, the house of correction moved to Bourne, taking the farm’s labor source with it, and the farm became economically untenable for the county to maintain. Quiet had descended upon the formerly productive property, which consists of 97 acres, 30 of which are tillable. This is the richest and largest farm acreage remaining in the mid-Cape area. There are five greenhouses, a barn for storage, a chicken house that can accommodate up to 1,000 layers, a brooding house and a little egg washing station. Tim Friary stood out from the other RFP applicants on the basis of his already-flourishing farm in Cummaquid, and his winning the lease heralds the return of all the farm’s vibrant possibility (except maybe not the cows straight away).
Two days before this writing, 500 chicks arrived at the farm. They are now warm in their greenhouse nests, growing daily until they graduate to their refurbished chicken coop. Tim agreed to repair the farm buildings as part of the lease, and the chickens look to be among the first beneficiaries of that project. Four hundred of them will go to the big coop at the County Farm site, which will include plenty of space and a large chicken run. Although this coop could accommodate many more birds, Tim is mindful of maintaining humane conditions for the chickens and of meeting organic specifications. The other hundred will stay in the Commerce Road coop that has previously housed the chickens of Cape Cod Organic Farm. They are expected to produce around 400 eggs a day, which will be sold at the farm and at the Mid-Cape Farmers Market in Hyannis. The sound of 500 peeps chirping in one warm sunny greenhouse makes a happy cacophony.
Tim Friary has been around agriculture one way or another for most of his life. His grandparents, immigrants from the Lake Como region of Italy, were subsistence farmers. They hailed from Italian villages ten miles apart, but didn’t meet until they came to the United States, where they married and farmed three acres in Taunton. They kept chickens for eggs, and chickens and sheep for meat. Tim can remember chickens slaughtered in the morning and eaten in the evening, and the birth of sheep, which also graced the dinner table in their own time. His mother grew up on this farm and she had a knack for farming. Tim helped with the planting and incessant weeding. They were epic canners, preserving tomatoes in the hundreds, which involved the whole family.
Tim came to the Cape in the mid ‘70s as a horticulturist for the Department of Mental Health. At that time the department was de-institutionalizing, which meant former hospital residents were moving to halfway houses. His job was to get the halfway house clients together and garden with them. It was meant as recreation, but at times the clients really did depend on the produce they grew. In 1977, Tim also farmed Christmas trees at Seabury Farm in Barnstable and he had a native plant nursery in 1986. By 1995, he needed work that could include his three young children, whom he was now caring for as a single parent. He knew farming and had always had gardens. It was a short next step to the establishment of Cape Cod Organic Farm on Commerce Road in Cummaquid, on less than one acre rented from the Lowell Trust. Fourteen years later, that half an acre in Cummaquid has grown to 50 acres, which produce vegetables, eggs, herbs and flowers for restaurants and households. Tim has an impressive presence at both the Mid-Cape and Orleans farmers markets, where people wait in long lines for his consistently delicious produce that they can buy directly from his hands. He is also very active in the farming community, volunteering for committees such as Buy Fresh, Buy Local Cape Cod, which links producers with customers, and the Barnstable Agriculture Commission. He is in great demand as a speaker on all issues sustainable, agricultural and organic.
The chicks’ arrival at the farm coincided with the sprouting of the first seed in the greenhouse, where 30 different vegetables have been seeded in tiny trays, covering tables that run the length and width of the space. The first to poke through was a combination broccoli/cauliflower, which made the most of the lengthening daylight, humid air and rich soil available to it. Among the impressive offering of vegetables this year are 13 kinds of potatoes, 14 tomato varieties, four kinds of carrots and five kinds of beets. There will be endless salad greens, including mesclun and arugula as well as peas, onions, eggplant, Swiss chard and peppers. As the season progresses, so do the offerings, ending with winter squash and parsnips in the fall. While he can still be found at the farmers markets, Tim’s proposal includes plans for a farm stand that will sit adjacent to the greenhouse at the County Farm site, where customers will be able to buy produce and eggs. He is planning to keep it open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday.
Tim also offered a CSA this year. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The idea is that the customer pays in advance for a season’s worth of fresh produce, which buys the customer a share in the crop’s yield. The working concept behind the CSA is community involvement and the connecting of consumers more intimately to the source of their food. Coming to the farm each week reinforces the link to the farm, and CSA members will be encouraged to contribute a few hours of work a month on the farm. Demand was so great, that Tim’s summer CSA was quickly sold out to 150 lucky subscribers. Plans are also in motion for a winter CSA starting the week after Thanksgiving. The County Farm comes with a 10’ x 30’ root cellar. This, in conjunction with the greenhouses, makes it possible to provide the community with a winter vegetable source. It means greens from the greenhouse and root vegetables from the root cellar, including parsnips, potatoes, onions and turnips, among other things. While the Cape does have some winter greenhouses, the scale of the winter CSA marks a huge leap forward towards local winter food production. Being a locavore just got a lot easier in our community!
The County Farm will also include a flower nursery, making it possible to plant your garden with organic annual and perennial seedlings from the greenhouse. Native shrubs such as beach plum, Rosa Rogusa and bayberry will be ready for this season and in the next several years, hydrangea will also be available. Fall will bring pumpkins for doorsteps and poinsettias for Christmas.
Of his role in the farming community in which he is regarded as an anchor, Tim emphasizes the importance of using his knowledge of growing organically to produce good, healthy food. He finds that his produce is less expensive than 75 to 85 percent of conventional supermarket vegetables because his price does not include fuel to ship them over vast distances and he does not use expensive oil-based fertilizers and pesticides. This also leaves him with a far lower carbon footprint and increases the nutrient value of his food.
As the farm grows, Tim, who prefers to work independently, envisions many additions to this year’s bounty. Within three years, there should be a pick-your-own blueberry stand in the front field. He has plans to grow organic corn within the next year or two, and he is expanding his already well-known crop of strawberries. In the next several years, he plans to establish a community kitchen, which will be open for people to cook in a certified environment. The goods created in the kitchen could then be offered at the farmstand.
In the middle of the worst economy in years, Cape Cod Organic Farm seems to have found a winning business plan as people become more and more aware of what they are eating and where it comes from. The provision of good local food in this case has also provided 12 local jobs right in Barnstable. Tim envisions a time in the next five to ten years when there will be small farms every couple of miles on Cape Cod and far more local markets with local producers. He sees local government ultimately changing its rules to accommodate the small farmer. By his efforts, he is a catalyst of this change and states, “It is exciting to be at the forefront of this movement right now, seeing young farmers come through wanting to be stewards of their land with good practices.”
As the chicks grow perceptibly bigger each day, the farm is gearing up for huge activity. As soon as the soil dries, plowing can begin and as warmth returns to the land, the greenhouse seedlings can be put out to grow. By the time the peeps are fully grown chickens and the seedlings have reached their vegetable potential, the old County Farm will have been firmly re-assimilated into our community as part of Cape Cod Organic Farm. Local people will be growing and selling food to local customers on a scale not seen here in a long time. This puts the local back into local in its truest sense.
For more information on Cape Cod Organic Farm, visit www.capecodorganicfarm.com
Mary Blair Petiet, a Cape Cod native, lives with her family in Barnstable. She writes in support of local sustainability and is also a regular contributor to Edible South Shore.