7/6/2013 7:00 AM
By Guy Steucek Massachusetts Correspondent
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — Converting developed land into farmable ground is nearly impossible because soil formation is a slow process. Likewise, preserving farmland is no simple task, especially when the availability of undeveloped real estate, i.e. farmland, continues to shrink around urban centers.
Farms saved from development require the efforts of individuals with a long-term spiritual tie to the farm and ground on which it stands.
It’s one reason Doug Stephan is leading the charge to save the Eastleigh Farm in Framingham, Mass.
The farm has applied for IRS 501(c)3 status under the name Eastleigh Farm Educational Foundation and has launched its first fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.com, where it has raised more than $7,000 to fund incidental costs such as equipment and roof repair.
The campaign features a theme of virtual gaming. People can be recognized as sponsor “farmers” of actual 100-square-foot plots of land. Plus, for those more serious about helping, nine-acre plots can be purchased with the understanding of keeping the land operating as Eastleigh Farm. Other innovative “perks” can be seen on the campaign page, http://igg.me/at/HappyCows.
“The success of this approach is wildly dependent upon what you do with the media” said Doug Stephan. “What we really need, very soon, is an angel investor who will reap the benefits from tax law by purchasing the development rights for the farm.”
Eastleigh Farm, located just west of Boston, was established in the early 20th century as a dairy farm. The farm remained in the same family until 1981, when it was sold to a businessman who used it for a beef operation until 1996. The property was then sold to a developer, who continued to raise beef for six years and then sold the property to Stephan, who purchased the farm to save it from development.
Having been successful in radio, Stephan used most of his chips to purchase the farm and return to being a dairy farmer. As a young boy, he lived across the street from the 114-acre farm. He has been working with dairy cows all of his life.
Today, he has a 30-acre farm just down the road from Eastleigh Farm where he raises calves. In addition, he has access to other plots totaling 800 acres in eastern Massachusetts. The total number of cows is 300.
Stephan was in great financial shape between 2002 and 2008, when the economy was booming. But the recession that followed was a “depression” to Stephan. Since then, he has been scrambling to keep up with the demands of his creditors.
As the pipe organist pulls out all the stops to play as loudly as possible, Stephan has pulled out all the stops to save Eastleigh Farm.
Stephan’s focus is on the health of his land and animals and the products they produce. Moreover, he is committed to giving the non-farming public a farm education by allowing purchases of farm products at the farm and through on-farm, hands-on projects.
The herd is comprised mainly of Jerseys with some Guernseys and Brown Swiss, all of which are born and raised on the two farms in Framingham. Stephan’s ladies are grass-fed and pastured throughout the year. While not certified organic, the farms are essentially organic in practice.
“I have always avoided the use of pesticides,” Stephan said.
Somatic cell counts range between 60,000 and 80,000. Because Stephan takes such good care of his cows, he has little concern about marketing most of the milk produced at the farm to raw milk customers. Selling at $10 per gallon, raw milk and raw milk cheeses are high-end products that help pay for the very expensive farmland. In addition, Eastleigh Farm offers milk CSAs.
Stephan does not slaughter his cows once they dry up. Instead, he finds happy homes for them. Some are marketed as “lawn mowers,” others as the family cow for hobby farms. Urban consumers value this decision.
Because he offers farm tours lasting three to four hours, where participants view the farm operations such as milking, haying, etc., he has ready customers for his ice cream.
The main thrust of getting folks on the farm is to educate them on the ways of farming with a humane, wholesome thrust. Consequently, his products might appear more attractive to consumers.
To help with the farm chores and as further education, Stephan has intern programs where ag students and others work on the farm. He is in the process of working on an individual/family working farm weekend where families pay a fee to experience farm life Friday through Sunday.
“They will then appreciate the value of food,” he said.
Eastleigh Farm has also hosted weddings, another way to connect with the public and showcase some of their products.
Eastleigh Farm is on Facebook and has a website: www.eastleighfarm.com. There are also videos of the farm on YouTube.