NORTHFIELD – A new chapter is about to begin for the greenhouses at Five Acre Farm in Northfield, as its sale to Nourse Farms in Whately has been completed.
Tim and Mary Nourse paid $1,050,000 for the 2.3 acres that double their greenhouse space. Those greenhouses will be used to grow strawberry, raspberry and blackberry plants.
The property was sold by Karen Randall of Randall’s Farm in Ludlow, the executor and trustee of the will of her brother, William Randall, who until his death in 2007 had owned the Northfield farm on Hinsdale Road since 1979.
Tim Nourse, who turns 80 in December, said his farm needs more space to grow plants. The farm was founded in Andover in 1932 by Roger Lewis and sold to the Nourse family and moved to Whately in 1968. The Nourses planted their first crops the following year. The farming operations now encompass 400 acres in Whately, Hatfield and Montague.
Nourse Farms employs roughly 100 people, including at least four full-timers from Five Acre Farm who will remain in Northfield. More people may be hired, depending on how well production goes. Raspberries, currants and gooseberries, blueberries, asparagus, rhubarb and horseradish are picked at the Whately site and shipped to every state in the country, as well as to Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Poland. At least 20 million plants a year are shipped from the farm every year.
Randall said she is sad to let the property go, but is pleased it will be owned by another longtime family farm.
“It was time,” she said. “We were looking for a buyer. We talked to a lot of farmers in the area and people in the flower business. (Tim Nourse) is in the nursery business. The facility suited his needs.”
Nearly all of Five Acre Farm’s employees have been taken on by Nourse Farms, or have found other employment. Bookkeeper Marsha Knox, who has worked for the farm for two years, said she is the “last man standing,” and will leave at the end of next week.
Five Acre Farm closed its retail store on Aug. 26 in preparation for the change in ownership.
During a tour of his Whately facility, Nourse said he does not work with seeds, but rather his farm propagates plants through tissue culture from an on-site laboratory, from cuttings or from runners. He explained propagation through tissue culture involves putting a meristem – a piece of plant tissue about the size of a grain of salt – into some type of a growing material to grow into a plantlet.
Nourse said strawberries have runners, the stem portion of the plant that tends to grow horizontally, to propagate new plants. He has hundreds of strawberry plants in trays. The Northfield purchase will be used to expand the company’s tray plant production, Nourse said.
Propagation via cuttings entails taking a piece of a plant and embedding it into a growing medium, like soil.
There is a great deal of travel involved in Nourse’s job. Three weeks ago, he went to California for a sales trip, and he visited his roughly 100-acre nursery in Pasco, Wash., the following week. Last week, he said, he attended the Canadian Greenhouse Conference. He explained his nursery in Washington is optimal, because that way his plants are only 1,500 miles from the California market, as opposed to 3,000 miles in the case of Massachusetts. Nourse said Washington has a longer growing season — milder winter and good land for crop rotation — which he said is vital for raspberries.
He said locally he sells fruit to Foster’s Supermarket and Stop & Shop in Greenfield.
Nourse has farming roots, having grown up on a dairy farm in Westborough before joining the United States Marine Corps. He explained that dairy farm land was granted to his family by the king of England in the 1600s, when Westborough was part of Shrewsbury. He also mentioned he is a 12th-generation descendent of Rebecca Nurse, who was hanged as a result of the 1692 Salem witch trials. Nourse said his ancestors added a letter to their surname.
Five Acre Farm opened in 1979, when William Randall bought it as a roadside stand, selling fruits and vegetables. He expanded it to three acres of greenhouse space and seven acres of outdoor growing space. In the 1980s, the farm began selling plant plugs wholesale and in the 1990s started selling rooted cuttings and finished perennials.
Reach DomenicPoli at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.