Traveling on Greenfield’s Leyden Road, it’s easy to miss that there’s a small farm thriving in town. A stone walkway leading to a gate, accented by an arch of greenery and clematis, gives hints of what’s happening on a 2.5-acre site that’s home to two enterprising women.
Lucy Fagella and Terri Kerner breed abundant food for their own use and beautify their property. Every woman is a powerhouse of talent, and their combined efforts send projects around the house in ravishing ways.
The walkways around their home are a sight to behold; Fagella created large stepping stones made of river rock and broken pottery in cement. Behind the house, traffic noises are muffled and one finds an oasis of gardens, orchard, beekeeping and landscaping with chickens, a homemade swing and a do-it-yourself pizza oven. It seems like there’s nothing these women can’t do, even though they also have full careers.
The Lucy Fagella Pottery Studio has long been a source of functional items for the kitchen. Fagella is also widely known for making beautiful urns to honor deceased people and pets and to preserve their cremains. Kerner is a midwife in the hometown of Baystate Franklin, where she has welcomed babies and cared for women and their families for 30 years. They also raised children; Kerner says that grandmother of five is one of her greatest joys.
“I have to catch the last one,” she said with a proud smile.
About their gardens, Fagella said: “We have three basic zones. The closest to the house we grow food for easy access. It’s also the hottest place, sheltered by buildings.” Land that slopes steeply in the backyard is a bit cooler, crops are planned accordingly.”And what we consider zone three is the furthest from the house,” Fagella added. “We had to skip a section that gets very wet. “
The combined gardens yield an impressive variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers. “We eat well,” Kerner said. “Our country provides us with delicious, nutritious organic food all year round.”
It starts with spinach and lettuce grown under protective plastic covers stretched over hoops. Extra cold frames allow vegetables and carrots to hibernate. “We get two to three crops of carrots every year,” Kerner says.
Escarole plants start under lights in Fagella’s studio, move to a greenhouse, and eventually end up in outdoor beds. Other plants that have started under lights include tomatoes, kale, lettuce, microgreens and parsley.
Fagella, a lifelong gardener growing up on Long Island, studied permaculture design. “We plant the foods we often need close to the house,” she said, “such as lettuce, green beans, peas, kale and herbs. Further away we put things we don’t have to pick every day, such as garlic, onions, root vegetables. pumpkin, horseradish, corn and rhubarb.”
Interspersed between garden beds are elongated metal feeding troughs with holes drilled in the bottoms and sitting on cement pads. Kerner explains, “They are great for sweet potatoes. They concentrate heat, keep the soil loose and prevent rodents from entering.” Last year they harvested 65 lbs. “In March we ate the last sweet potato. Having a root cellar helps to preserve food.”
Near the lowest gardens, tomato plants grow tall, supported by attractive wooden cages Kerner built. “Tomato cages can be pricey,” she said, “but I built three for $30 worth of pine.”
In a fenced area, permaculture practices are in full swing. “We do leaf mulch,” Fagella said. “We lay out cardboard and add chicken manure and wood chips. We leave that for at least a year, then we rake off the wood chips and place them around the blueberries.”
After removing the wood chips, they add mulch hay, which Fagella gets from a local horse farm after it’s used as bedding. Kerner adds grass clippings that she catches while mowing.
Kerner mows by hand, which takes more than three hours a week in multiple stints. “I use an electric mower,” she said. “It’s good exercise.”
The leaf mulching process produces a rich soil in which the couple grows edamame, asparagus, garlic, cucumbers, onions, cauliflower, leeks, celery, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, zucchini and dried beans. The enclosed garden is brightened by nasturtiums, calendula, amaranth, cosmos and zinnias.
“We’re going to move the rhubarb to make room for other crops,” Kerner says. “Animals don’t bother rhubarb, so it doesn’t really need to be fenced.”
The mention of predators leads the conversation to the orchard. Fruit trees include peach, pear, plum, and cherry, and there are also blueberry and raspberry bushes. “The deer like to eat the cherry tree,” Kerner said, “and elderberry bushes.” Fagella thinks their mulberry tree deters would-be looters. “I believe it distracts birds from our raspberries, and we hope it draws squirrels away from our peaches.”
Fagella, who planted comfrey around the fruit trees for nitrogen-fixing purposes, deeply respects nature’s balance.
“It’s okay to have some insects because they encourage birds. And we don’t destroy snakes because they eat slugs,’ she said.
Multicolored beehives represent a different project. “Terri is the chief guard,” Fagella said. “I am her helper.” A solar powered electric fence protects the four cabinets from bears. Beyond the hives is a glorious field of goldenrod and other wildflowers, “all for the bees,” Kerner said.
The journey into beekeeping began when Kerner took a class at Greenfield Community College with local legend Cliff Hatch of Upinngil Farm. “As an adjunct professor, I was able to take the beekeeping course for free. So I thought, who cares?”
Beekeeping requires storage space for equipment, so went into a “bee barn” that doubles as a garden shed. A local builder built the pretty outhouse three years ago, but the diligent farmers built their own doors, hutches and ladder.
“I manage hives organically,” Kerner said, “including methods to control mites.” She leaves 60 pounds of honey in the cupboards. “Most honey is for the bees,” she said. “I’m just glad they put up with me stealing some of their food.” Last year’s yield was 30 pounds for humans.
The tour continues up the hill in a greenhouse and hen house, home to both meat birds and layers. “We have 20 meat birds, up from 12 last year,” Kerner says. “And I’m going to the post office in a few minutes to pick up eight new layers to add to the fourteen we already have.”
In an adjacent wood shop, Kerner makes cutting boards from wood chips, and Fagella makes wooden pottery tools from the remains of Kerner’s remains. The pair eagerly rescue wood: They’ve curly maple, Brazilian cherry (from slatted frames), Cuban mahogany (from discarded Greenfield High School stands), and oak (left behind by sewer workers).
Creating their farming paradise has taken countless hours to clear out bittersweet that threatens to invade forever, and they’ve removed countless loads of poison ivy, which go in black plastic bags and go to landfill.
“We are vigilant about invasive agents,” Fagella said.
Using an electric chainsaw, they harvest firewood from their land to supplement what they buy elsewhere. Their wood-burning stove and solar panels pay the energy bills significantly.
“Our home improvement projects are endless,” says Fagella. “Our house was built in 1890. Before us it was owned and occupied by only one family. Some people still call it the Hallowell House. The Hallowells had a chicken farm and an apple orchard here.’
Fagella and Kerner continue the farming tradition with confidence, inspiring others to take even small steps toward self-sufficiency.
Eveline MacDougall is the author of “Fiery Hope” and a recording artist, musician and mother. She welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.