Song Sparrow Farm: Big Dreams on a Small Farm
Nestled within the Grow Food Northampton Organic Community Garden lies one of the Pioneer Valley’s newest farms. Song Sparrow Farm may only be four months old, but it is already growing and selling delicious produce with nearby vendors. Comprised of half an acre of previously unused field, farm owner, Diego Irizarry-Gerould is bringing new life to the land and imagining what is possible on a micro-farm.
As a friend and fellow Pioneer Valley native who is rooted in local agriculture, I wanted to interview Diego to see his new farm and to better understand what it takes to start a small farm today. At a time when land–particularly in this area–is becoming increasingly unavailable or financially out of reach for aspiring farmers and when the average age of a U.S. farmer approaches 60, supporting young new farmers is critical in building resilient local food economies.
Diego has many years of farming experience having worked at Red Fire Farm, Bug Hill Farm, and even managing the Giving Garden at the community plots through Grow Food Northampton’s Americorps program. It was in this last position that he learned what could be accomplished on a small plot of land. In 2017, he wanted to experiment with managing his own small farm and began leasing land from Valley View Farm in Haydenville. His first full season in 2018 taught him a lot about what is involved in starting a small farm business. He was able to quickly build a strong customer base with area restaurants and retailers and received a variety of technical advice from outside organizations. CISA proved to be a tremendous resource as he was able to attend regular business workshops and even received a grant to develop his current logo. He stressed how incredibly supportive they have been and that their staff continues to reach out to him to help address any obstacles.
This past winter, Grow Food Northampton (GFN) allowed Diego to take over a half-acre plot of previously unused field next to their community gardens. “This was all weeds until April,” he explained as we walked around his land, though it is hard to believe. In just four short months he transformed a quarter acre of the plot into highly productive rows of salad mix, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, kale, and more. He also constructed a small hoop house for some of his tomatoes and cucumbers and with the support from GFN, he built a mobile wash and pack station and has use of a shared cooler.
Diego only uses organic growing practices and aside from the initial tilling to build his beds, he practices no-till agriculture. No-till farming provides a variety of benefits such as preserving beneficial soil micronutrients and microbes, sequestering harmful carbon dioxide, and reducing soil erosion and degradation. He mostly sells his produce wholesale to cafés and restaurants such as the Freckled Fox, Bread Euphoria, and Bistro Les Gras, but you can also find his bagged salad mix, tomatoes, and cucumbers at State Street Fruit Store and River Valley Co-op in Northampton.
When asked what some of his biggest challenges have been getting started and what his future dreams are for the farm, he responded that a lack of resources was the biggest obstacle. He started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing campaign to raise $5,000 which helped to get the business off the ground.
He hopes to eventually move into the remaining quarter acre of his plot, but wants to remain small. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he shared. “I want to make sure the farm works for me.” By remaining small, he is able to maintain the personal connections he values with his customers and the ability to experiment with what is possible on a half-acre farm.
As a food co-op committed to supporting local growers and producers, we at Common Share want to highlight the work of some of our area’s newest farmers and businesses. We hope that Diego’s story inspires you to not only support Song Sparrow Farm and purchase his produce, but to also think about how we can collectively uplift young or marginalized farmers in our area.