Strawberry Picking at Verrill Farm in Concord, MA
Rachel Napear Photography

Agritourism in the Merrimack Valley

Written by Emma Limperis

The Merrimack Valley is known for a lot of things, and it’s wide expanse of Agritourism is a great one of them. Being in the heart of New England there is no shortage of agriculture and crop production around us, meaning we are always close enough to reap the benefits of local farm life. Across the veins of northeastern Mass, there is an abundance of attractions that each offer a unique look at agritourism.

Agritourism, most simply, can mean anything that brings guests to a farm. Generally, the pull of locally sourced food and the want to support small businesses will pull people to farm stands and markets, but there are other ways agritourism flourishes as well. Farm tours and fairs, hayrides, feeding farm animals and picking your own fruit and vegetables all contribute to getting people to visit local agriculture.

Verrill Farm, in Concord, is a very active farm with lots of community involvement. Aiming to “nourish the body and soul of customers”, Verrill proudly offers weekly activities involving the season’s crops and farm life. The Summer Cooking Classes Series at Verrill Farms has just begun, and will be holding a Summer Sweets & Fruit Desserts session this July, and a Grilling Session in August. In addition to this, the farm is also hosts multiple Blueberry Pancake Breakfasts through the year and pie eating contests during the summer, each exhibiting the farm’s delicious fruit crops. A Corn and Tomato Festival is held at Verrill in August to taste recipes of the newest late summer produce, with live music and entertainment. The yearly Harvest Festival at Verrill is held in October, offering a taste of fall at the farm, but also taking guests back in time as the grounds are converted to look like an old fashion fair. The farm also throws several “Field to Fork Dinners”, to celebrate and share a menu of  “just-picked crops” with customers with candle-lit feasts. The family friendly farm works hard to produce a variety of crops, while presenting a bounty of fun activities for everyone to enjoy.

Great Brook Farm is not only a year-round dairy farm but a State Park in Carlisle. The beautiful fields for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding sit next to the homemade ice cream stand open from mid-April to the end of October. Over 60 flavors of ice cream, sherbet, sorbet, or yogurt are available to order! The farm is happy to host birthday parties during the summer season, and guests can tour the farm, watch the cows and feed the animals, go on nature walks or just sit in the shade the farm and park offer. Farm tours are by appointment during the spring and summer months and are free to the public. Visitors can see the newborn calves on the tours, check out how the ice cream is made or even go to the milkroom. Milking tours are held every Sunday evening, where visitors not only get a regular tour but get to see how the cows are milked. Also at the farm is a petting zoo for children to pet and feed the animals from the 25 cent feed machines. This part of the farm it is open year round. Some of the animals you can see are: goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, and young Holstein cows!

Artistry on the Green, the restaurant at The Inn at Hastings Park, works with a lot of farms in the area to provide a menu that is fresh and comes from nearby. By having ingredients that are in season and supporting community farms, Artistry on the Green celebrates the produce of the area with classic New England meals and twists on old favorites. The restaurant often hosts Farm to Table dinners every summer and fall, each one exhibiting different farm from the area. The dinners offer several courses of exciting plates to try and promise a night of wonder.

Many surrounding communities offer farmers markets that provide the opportunity to shop from a number of local farms, giving you a variety of options. Farmer’s markets often strive to make a difference in their community, giving everyone a chance to work healthy, fresh food into their lives. Nearby markets in the Valley can be found in the following communities: Acton-Boxborough, Billerica, Burlington, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Groton, Lexington, Lowell, Maynard, Pepperell, Shirley, Tewksbury, Townsend, Tyngsboro, Westford, and Wilmington.

Farm to Table dinners are popular high-end events often hosted by farms around the area to showcase the crops of the season with several course meals and enjoyable music and entertainment. Verrill Farm’s Field to Fork Dinner this July 27 featuring their mid-summer crop, and there will be a cash bar and live guitar. The Inn at Hastings Park in Lexington is bringing back their Farm Dinner Series this summer starting with a Farm to Table meal this July 20th catered by Codman Community Farm in Lincoln. This event will have a four course meal and an optional wine pairing, and will happen again in August and September. The Red Raven Restaurant in Acton is hosting their first ever Farm to Fork dinner on the pond in partnership with Springdell Farm in Littleton on August 25th. The five-course meal starts with cocktails at 6pm, and if weather permits the evening will be spent under the night sky.

Another event celebrating the fruits of local vineyards in the Merrimack Valley area is the Lowell Food and Wine Festival happening this year from September 8-10th. Experience locally sourced food and cocktails at a variety of events all occurring in the diverse city of Lowell. A farm to table dinner catered by nearby healthy food company Kale Yeah Catering occurs, and the open year-round indoor Lowell Farmer’s Market ends the exciting weekend. Other events include wine, beer, tequila tastings and more!

This summer there are also a few Agricultural Fairs in the area you can attend to boost your knowledge and awareness of the positive effects of agritourism in the community. The Dunstable Grange Fair is this August 20th, 2016, located at 511 Main St., Dunstable.  The Middlesex Co. 4-H Fair is this August 26th-28th, 2016, and is located at 55 S Chelmsford Rd, Westford, MA 01886. Both fairs include farmside activities for all ages.

New England, a hotspot for its farms, orchards, vineyards, and fruitful autumns, hosts a type of agritourism that can only be found in certain areas of the world. One of the best parts about participating in this agritourism is that it’s a great way to directly see the origin of the food you eat and where exactly it’s made. In a world where fast food and fast service has replaced quality and wholesomeness, it is a pleasant reminder that Farmer’s markets and PYO farms might just be down the street.

Other Resources:
www.mass.gov/agr/massgrown/
www.massvacation.com/explore/agritourism