Celebrating the Women Who Keep Our Family Farms Running

The Team at Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery of Barstow’s Longview Farm

Barstow's: Denise, Kelly, Jean, and Shannon

Barstow’s: Denise, Kelly, Jean, and Shannon

Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley, Massachusetts, is a seventh-generation family farm founded in the early 1800s and a Cabot Creamery/Agri-Mark Cooperative member. To sustain the farm for future generations, the Barstow family pursued an opportunity to house one of the first anaerobic digesters in New England.

The Vanguard Renewables Farm Powered anaerobic digester partnership with Barstow’s Longview Farm began in 2013. With the expansion of the anaerobic digester project in 2016, it is one of the largest and most modern anaerobic digestion systems in New England.

We sat down with Denise Barstow Manz, a seventh-generation family member who helps run Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery, to talk about women’s role on their family farm.

(Their dairy store and bakery is the best place to grab lunch or a pie in Hadley!)

Vanguard Renewables (VR):
Hi Denise, thanks for taking the time to speak with me and helping us better understand what it means to be a female farmer in the 21st Century.

Denise Barstow Manz (DBM):
I wouldn’t consider myself a farmer, nor would any of our team who work in the farm stand. We have some pretty amazing women who work on the farm as farmhands. Even though I don’t work on the farm with the animals, I am part of the seventh generation of Barstow’s that work in our family business.

VR:
How did you end up back on the farm and working in the farm stand with your cousins?

DBM:
I came back to the farm in 2017 to work in the farm stand and help run this side of the family business with my cousins. My dad, uncle, and cousin operate the farm side of things. My cousins, Kelly and Shannon, run the store. And Jean is our supervisor; although not a Barstow (yet!), she is engaged to Kelly, so she’s already family. Our family business is comprised of four strong women in the farm stand and then the three guys up at the farm.

VR:
What made you decide to come home to the farm?

DBM:
I grew up on the farm and associated it with hard work, long hours, and low pay. I went away to college and expected I may never be back.

I went to the University of New Hampshire. After that, I worked in housekeeping at Yellowstone National Park and as a trail guide at Glacier National Park. During my time at Glacier, I had all these people coming from all over the world who wanted to donate to the park. And I was like, that’s great, but I wondered – what about your community at home? Shouldn’t you be spending your money there? That was my moment, and I had to ask myself: well then what am I doing? Because my family has been farming this land for over 200 years. We keep 450 acres of Massachusetts farmland open, which is essential for climate resilience and food security in our area, and are stewards of our groundwater and wildlife habitats. All while making affordable, local food for our community.

This perspective helped me decide that I wanted to go back and become a part of my family’s story, continue this legacy of the land, and work in support of food security in Massachusetts. It took leaving the farm to understand what I had left – and that was my family and our fantastic community. So that’s why I came back.

VR:
I love what you said about what your family has done to help address food insecurity in your community. How did that become a passion of yours? Can you talk a little bit more about that?

DBM:
Well, I think that my generation has been focused on sustainability because we, and the next generations, are the ones that are going to be most impacted, but in this instance, let’s talk about food. The consolidation of every industry will make it so that there may be four or five enormous dairy farms feeding the whole world. And I feel like that’s a scary idea. If that were to happen, not only are you losing that heritage and those people in your community who are doing that type of work, you’re also losing that land base because it’s just going to get developed.

We need to have biodiversity when it comes to food. Because if there’s an outbreak at one farm or a pandemic that harms the herd, then all the cows are gone. Or if something goes wrong, and we can’t use that food, that’s not very secure. We need to keep as many family farms farming as possible. I think New England, especially as a region, is already so sustainable and close-knit. We have these systems in place as a community, and we need to do what we can to keep those farms farming here,

VR:
Thank you for sharing that perspective. It’s why we want to work with family farms to carry on that local tradition. What was your experience growing up on your generational family farm? I would imagine that it’s all hands on deck all the time?

DBM:
We’re big enough that we mostly had farmhands, and my dad’s generation decided that they wouldn’t pull their kids out of school. When my dad was growing up during his junior and senior years, he went to school for two hours a day and then was home working full time on the farm. I never had chores before school, but my cousins would come home after school, change their clothes, and do our farm chores. I loved living on the farm. It was fun. I feel like my cousins are more like siblings than they are cousins. I was always just really proud that my dad, grandpa, and the whole family were involved in making food and caring for the land. Many of my friends’ parents seemed to work at the University, which is super important. But I was like, we’re doing something different, and that’s cool. It was great growing up in a diverse community that welcomed all of us.

VR:
You mentioned that your cousins are like siblings and that you are all the seventh generation, so you must have a special connection knowing that you have this long history and association with the land you are working on? What’s it like working with them?

DBM:
It’s everything. There’s a bottom line for the business, but it’s also about quality of life. Still, at the end of the day, the reason that we’re showing up to work, even though we’re not making a ton of money, is because of this legacy and what we are doing for the community. We’re working in honor of past generations, and we’re working to preserve what they’ve kept going for us so that we can continue it for the next generation. At our family meetings, we’re making decisions for the eighth and ninth generation, not just for ourselves.

VR:
Do you have family meetings?

DBM:
Yeah, we have bi-weekly meetings.

VR:
That is very democratic. Do you all have a vote on what is happening on the farm?

DBM:
This is our family business, and we want to make sure everybody’s on board with all the decisions. And if they’re not, then we either don’t move forward, or we have to take them by the arm and explain why we feel this is in the farm’s best interest, and it always somehow works out.

I think this is important for us because in many farm families that I’ve spoken with, people my age don’t have a say. My dad and uncle have always been ready to hear what the next generation wants because we’re the ones who will be here for the next 50 years when they’re retired.

VR:
As you know, the reason for our conversation is in honor of Women’s History Month. When we think of farms and those that support the farms in some capacity, it’s an image of a man in overalls. Your family farm is different in that aspect. You and your cousins are running the farm stand, which is a vital part of the farm. What’s your day like?

DBM:
Our day-to-day in the store begins early. My cousin Shannon is there at 4:30 in the morning, starting the day. But, what I think is so remarkable is that the farm stand has been like the farm’s front door. When we opened in 2008, it was just to bring in another revenue stream and help the farm; what we didn’t realize was how important it would be for our community. It’s a neighborhood gathering space. It’s a place where people come to have access to local food, like the beef we raise on the farm and the milk from down the street. We call it “your neighborhood dairy farm” because that’s what it is for most people who visit us! It’s become this incredible adventure where we’ve been able to open up our farm to our community and have people invested in what we’re doing.

VR:
So how do you interact with the community? I know you do a lot to support your neighbors. Can you tell me a bit about that?

DBM:
We get customers from all parts of our community.  We have a meetup group that comes in every Thursday. We live in Hockanum Village, and we had pretty much everybody over the age of 80 that would come and have coffee every Wednesday morning. We also invest in our community. We donate to the local churches, sports teams, and others who need a donation for their cause. I think it’s important that our name is out there, but also that we’re doing our part to support these community events because that’s the kind of stuff that is the fabric of the town that we live in and the community that we serve. As a business, we are flexible to the needs of our community, so we want to make sure that we’re answering those needs. Because at the end of the day, that is where we are rooted.

VR:
Denise, thank you for taking the time to share your family’s farm story with us. I know you’re busy, so I will let you get back to the farm stand.

Denise Barstow Manz

Denise Barstow Manz

About Barstow’s Longview Farm’s Farm Powered Anaerobic Digestion Program:

The farm receives nearly 24,000 tons of food waste annually from food and beverage processors, supermarkets, institutions, businesses, and food service operations such as Cabot Creamery/Agri-Mark Cooperative, Geissler’s Supermarkets, HP Hood, and Garelick. The food waste is combined with more than 9,000 tons of manure a year from the farm in a 600,000-gallon digestion tank. Manure and food waste are mixed and microorganisms convert sugars, fats, and other compounds into biogas annually producing more than 5,100 MWh of renewable energy and 30,000 tons of low-carbon fertilizer. The facility offsets nearly 3,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. This is equivalent to taking 650 cars off the road for one year.

Barstow’s Longview Farm receives energy to power the farm and hot water to heat farm buildings and family homes. The farm also benefits by retaining the organic, low carbon digestate fertilizer remaining from the process, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and increasing crop yields.