News & Views

A North Amherst Farm Story – Part II

For Part I of this story see – A North Amherst Farm Story – Part I

As related in Part I of this story, the Dziekanowski heirs sold the farm property to the North Amherst Community Farm for perpetual preservation as farmland. A portion of the land is leased to Simple Gifts Farm which operates an agricultural training program for young farmers and houses student farmers and apprentices in the old farmhouse.

In 2004 the North Amherst Community Farm Inc. (NACF), a non-profit community organization, was formed to take advantage of an opportunity to preserve this 30 acre farm parcel as permanently and affordably available for farming. With the support of the Dziekanowski/Jekanowski family (who accepted the NACF offer over a larger offer from a housing developer), NACF purchased the farm, including the farmhouse at 1089 North Pleasant St. and a historic dairy barn, for $1.2 million.

Funds for the purchase came from the State Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program ($320,000); from the Town of Amherst Community Preservation Act (CPA) program ($100,800); from the sale of three strategically excised housing lots ($320,000); from a first round of community fund raising ($115,000); and with a $400,000 loan from the Jekanowski family (a vendor loan with a ten year term). A second round of community fundraising from 2012 through 2016 was successful and the mortgage debt was fully retired by the end of 2016.

On September 20, 2016, the North Amherst Community Farm Board of Directors and friends celebrated by “burning the mortgage.”


NACF never intended to manage its own farming operation. Rather, we resolved to find a lease farmer who would commit to using the farmland to grow food for local consumption. Further, we wanted a farmer who would use organic farming methods and who would support NACF in creating a “farm community” around the land. In the Simple Gifts Farm duo of Jeremy Barker-Plotkin and Dave Tepfer, NACF found such a prospect – and even before the farm purchase was fully finalized, a Letter of Intent between SGF and NACF was exchanged, and SGF set about its farming operation.  Their first productive season was 2006.


Dave, Jeremy (center) and apprentice farmers at Simple Gifts Farm

The aspirations / expectations of both parties were:

  1. That this would be a long-term relationship;
  2. That the SGF would establish a mixed vegetable organic farming operation with a Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) component, and a farmworker apprentice program to train future farm owner / managers, such as themselves;
  3. That SGF would be able to accumulate equity by purchasing the “improvements” – i.e., existing farmhouse and 5 existing barn buildings, – and by investing in improvements (fences, water supply, etc.) that they would own;
  4. But that SGF would not accumulate so much equity as to make it overly burdensome for the farming operation to be sold to a future farming enterprise when the SGF principals chose to retire.

All of the above were formalized with an interim lease that was replaced with a 50-year lease with options to renew in 2017 when all debt obligations on the land and farmhouse were discharged.  Now the farmers have complete security whilst retaining affordability for the future farmers to whom Simple Gifts will eventually transfer the lease.


For more on the history of farming in North Amherst, MA see: History.

A North Amherst Farm Story – Part I

Farming in North Amherst passed through many cycles in the 19th century from mixed grain and livestock in the early years, to tobacco cultivation, then the more reliable broom corn, then sheep and other livestock. Dairy farming became the dominant type of local agriculture in the 20th century.


The farmhouse around 1870

It seems that the present house at 1089 North Pleasant St. in North Amherst, MA was erected by the widower Zaccheus Crocker Ingram (1781-1858) around the time of his marriage to the widow Annice Wait Smith in September 1833. Ingram was the son of John and Susannah Ingram and had previously been married to Sarah Hastings in October 1806.

In 1858 Zaccheus Ingram died. The majority of the farm passed to his son William Ingram (1817-1878) who had married Betsey Sanford Parker (1839-1906) in October 1839. One–third of the farm went from the estate of Zaccheus Ingram to William’s older brother Robert, but was repurchased by William.

After William Ingram died in August 1878, ownership of the farm passed to his widow Betsey S. Ingram and their daughter Harriet Lucretia Ingram Guertin. Harriet Ingram (1841-1902) had married David Guertin in November 1860. David Guertin was a local butcher and meat dealer who died in 1885. Harriet was a professional nurse and also cared for her mother who lived with them at the farm. Harriet continued to operate the farm and the meat dealership with the help of her son Albert I. Guertin.


Edwin Dickinson

In March 1899 Betsey Ingram and Harriet Guertin sold the forty-acre farm in North Amherst to Nellie Graves Cowles Dickinson (1866-1931). Nellie had married Edwin Harris Dickinson (1868-1928) in March 1892. Edwin (son of Charles R. Dickinson and Aidelia Harris) was a graduate of the Mass. Agricultural College in Amherst (Class of 1888) and quickly assumed the operation of the farm. Most of the interior improvements that are evident in the house were likely made under the ownership of Nellie and Edwin Dickinson from 1899 to 1931. The 1930 census listed two separate houses and households: that of Nellie G.S. Guertin and that of her son and daughter-in-law, Edwin H. Dickinson Jr. and Lydia S. (Nickerson) Dickinson.

In September 1932, the estate of Nellie G.C. Dickinson sold the “westerly portion of the home farm” (amounting to 35.3 acres) to Chester and Rose A. (Wysocki) Dziekanowski. Chester Dziekonowski was born in Amherst about 1899 and was a dairy farmer. His wife Rose Wysocki (1903-1968) was also an Amherst native. The Dziekanowskis developed the farm into a successful commercial dairy adding a new milking room and barn to the property. The asbestos cement siding on the exterior of the house was added during the Dziekanowski ownership, probably c. 1960.

By the dawn of the 21st century, the sole member of the family remaining on the land was Edwin, and the task of managing the property became too much for him.


Edwin Dziekanowski

In 2005, the Dziekanowski heirs sold the property to North Amherst Community Farm for perpetual preservation as farmland. A portion of the land is leased to Simple Gifts Farm which operates an agricultural training program for young farmers and houses student farmers and apprentices in the old farmhouse.

In June, the North Amherst Community Farm will celebrate the memory of Edwin Dziekanowski with a permanent plaque.  Edwin’s family made it possible to create this community farm by accepting an offer to purchase the farm for far less than offers they had received from parties interested in turning the farm into a housing sub-division.

We believe the farmhouse at 1089 North Pleasant St. is the oldest farmhouse in Amherst that has remained in active farming since it was built.

The story continues in Part II.  For more on farming history in North Amherst, see: History.


Farming in North Amherst – a history

GreekRevivalThe following text was taken from a document prepared for the Town of Amherst Historical Commission by Bruce Coldham, President of the North Amherst Community Farm Board, and Gregory Farmer of Agricola Corporation dated January 8, 2018.  It reviews the historical context for the proposal to restore the Ingram-Dickinson farm house pictured here, which has housed farm families since its construction around 1833.


A rather well off, livestock farm with sheep and cattle (Edward Hicks, 1780–1849, Leedom Farm, 1849. Oil on canvas. )

The Connecticut Valley region in the early 19th century was in the midst of a gradual transition from subsistence farming with mixed grain and livestock to more market-oriented farming. The opening of the Erie Canal (1825) and access to the extensive farmland in upstate New York and Ohio had made New England’s small farms less (more…)

Keeping our 19th century North Amherst farm house affordable for future farmers


North Amherst farm house today (left) and circa 1890 (right)

This past year, NACF retired the debt on the purchase of 32 acres of prime farm land in North Amherst, MA with the support of local citizens, the town of Amherst and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Following a brief celebration, the NACF Board of Directors made a commitment to the next phase of development for this historic farm property at 1089 North Pleasant St. – that is, restoring the home of the farmers!

The historic farm house on North Pleasant St. is a two-story wood and timber framed structure built by the Ingram family in the early 19th century; later purchased by the (more…)

North Amherst farm continues a tradition of creativity and change

Something is happening in North Amherst, MA


We know the U.S. food system is changing fast in response to consumer demand for fresh and healthy local food.  Western Massachusetts particularly is among the national leaders in direct farmer to consumer sales, estimated at being 10 times higher in our region compared with the national average.  The food conscious and progressive nature of the area means that we are blessed with local farms, farmers markets, food 50x60cooperatives, and neighborhood farm stands.  In fact, the Food Solutions New England vision called  “50 by 60” …. is to grow 50% of our food in New England by 2060!

And if that happens, North Amherst will likely be among the leaders of the local food movement – thanks to the creativity of one of our local farms and the surrounding community which is busily inventing a more sustainable agriculture right here in our own backyard!


“Pig Floyd” continues a tradition in North Amherst

One of the current four-legged residents of the property owned by the North Amherst Community Farm and managed by Simple Gifts is….

Pig Floyd  


You can see Pig Floyd if you stop by the new Simple Gifts Farm Stand at 1089 North Pleasant St. from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm weekdays and 8:00 am – 7:00 pm on weekends.  You can also buy local meat products and much more at the new Farm Stand!

But did you know that raising animals to sell as local meat products is by no means a new venture on this property?  In fact, if you were to transport yourself back to North


Buying local is an investment in a better quality of life… for all!

Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was tying grape vines at a farm in Central California, when the temperature soared well above 95 degrees. Only a few days in the country, this undocumented field worker, who didn’t have easy access to water, shade or the work breaks required by law, passed out from the heat and died two days later.Maria-Isabel

Maria was 17 years old. The Center for Disease Control reports that heat-related deaths of farm workers are on the rise in the U.S.  This deadly trend is unfortunately one of the costs of cheap food.   When you buy cheap food at the big box stores, you also invest in this deadly system of industrialized food.

Compare this experience with that of working at a local farm like Simple Gifts in North Amherst.  Here the farm workers work hard but are treated fairly.  As apprentices who live on the site, they are gaining a valuable


Why we support local farming…

Those of us who support local farming in general and the work of the North Amherst Community Farm non-profit specifically are concerned about the long term impact of industrial farming.  This story from England suggests that “As long as society sees farming only as a business and food as just a commodity, we’re all headed for ruin.”  We agree….. do you?   Please share your thoughts in the comments box below!


MATTERDALE, England — I am a traditional small farmer in the North of England. I farm sheep in a mountainous landscape, the Lake District fells. It is a farming system that dates back as many as 4,500 years. A remarkable survival. My flock grazes a mountain alongside 10 other flocks, through an ancient communal grazing system that has somehow survived the last two centuries of change. Wordsworth called it a “perfect republic of shepherds.”

It’s not your efficient modern agribusiness. My farm struggles to make enough money for my family to live on, even with 900 sheep. The price of my lambs is governed by the supply of imported lamb from the other side of the world. So I have one foot in something ancient and the other foot in the 21st-century global economy.


Local entrepreneur leads the way to post-carbon farming in Amherst, MA


Jeremy Barker-Plotkin, who is a co-owner of Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, drives a pedal-powered tractor called a Culticycle at the farm, Wednesday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS – Buy this Image

AMHERST — Weeds are a major cause of crop failure at organic farms, making the equipment used in controlling their growth important to the successful production of fruits and vegetables.

“After harvesting, it’s our biggest labor,” says Jeremy Barker-Plotkin, who runs the 50-acre Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst. “Everything we do is with weed control in mind.”


Wild Edible Plant Walk – June 17


Take a walk at Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst with edible plant (and weed) expert John Root to learn about finding “wild” food in our own backyards! ‘

Free workshop and everyone is welcome (especially kids)! 

Saturday, June 17 – 10:30am – 12:00 noon

1089 North Pleasant St.

North Amherst, MA

For more on John Root, see: