I’ve always joked that my version of “being an astronaut when I grew up” was a little more terrestrial. As a first-generation hay farmer, there is just something inexplicably in my bones, almost like instinct (maybe arguably bordering on obsession), when it comes to hay.
My parents (a teacher from outside Boston and a nurse practitioner from Chicago – neither of them from a farming background) settled in Conway, MA, in 1984. They just so happened to buy a house next to a hay field. I came along in ’88, and for my second birthday, I was gifted a toy tractor by a close family friend. That summer I noticed a farmer haying the field next door. He had a baler with a thrower. I was hooked.
For the next decade, when I wasn’t following the farmers around town to watch their haying equipment in action, I was busy taking four cuttings a year from my living room (and the rest of the house) with my 1/16-scale Ertl farming fleet. Since I was an only child, my father was often my second tractor operator – and I have distinct memories of discussing exactly how he raked each room so I knew what pattern to follow when baling. When I turned twelve, the next-door-haying farmer hired me and took me under his wing – truly a mentor through and through, and a great friend to this day.
After studying Sustainable Agriculture at the University Of Massachusetts (where I learned about the science behind management intensive grazing and ecological benefits to grass farming), I decided to take the plunge and start my own operation. It was 2012, and I was 24. I bought an old Massey Ferguson 135 tractor, took out a loan for a hay mower that my tractor’s 35 horsepower could *just* manage, acquired a used rake and tedder (the latter from my mentor, who then refused to collect any payment for it) – and managed a work-trade for the use of a baler, which I later bought. Despite not having a physical farm to inherit, I was in business.
Operating entirely with leased acreage and barns, this operation has grown from around 9 acres (and less than 900 bales) in 2012, to 45 acres and 5000+ bales a year, heading into 2021. My dad, now retired from teaching, is still my second tractor operator when I need one. We still discuss how to ted and rake fields, even though the tractors have gotten a little bigger, and the windrows a little more tangible. Over the past decade, the farm has seen equipment upgrades, two more tractors, seemingly endless generosity from family and friends, a home purchase (in Conway) with my wonderfully gung-ho-to-sling-bales wife, and – finally, in 2017 – a Bale Thrower for my old reliable Massey 124 baler.
Why do I say all of this? Well, aside from a chance to spin my own yarn, and hopefully be an example of “follow your dreams” (as well as a case study for “some kids… just have different interests”) – let’s just say: I want to make your hay for you. (In fact, if I could just find a “cosmic pause button”, I would want to make all of the hay for everybody). I still dream about hay all winter long, and am constantly striving for ways to make an increasingly better product. Managing to couple my life-long passion with people who are engaged in environmentally sound, ethical food and fiber production – well, let’s just say my astronaut dreams are realized.