By Leslie Lynn Lucio | Photographs by Leslie Lynn Lucio and Dominic Perri
High in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts there is a raw-milk dairy farm in the small town of Cummington. Taproot Commons Farm was established by Sarah Fournier-Scanlon, then 23 years old, and her father. Though they choose to live differently in many ways, they share many of the same values, and so it made sense to farm together rather than apart.
Sarah didn’t grow up in Cummington, but spent time on the same land as a child. Her father, who is a pastor, used to spend time with the family on the same very spot when the land belonged to the United Church of Christ.
While walking around the farm, you can’t help but notice the serene beauty and peaceful sounds that embrace it. As Sarah herself says, “I came to this farm all the time as a kid; it’s one of those weird full circle things. I used to come to these wetlands and think how crazy would it be to live in a place this beautiful ... and here we are!”
Sharing this space with others, including her father, has felt good to her, as she believes in intergenerational living, and has intentionally chosen to live this way. At the age of 20, Sarah suffered the painful loss of her mother. Sarah and her father were determined to make the most meaningful use of life insurance funds her mother left them. Though people told Sarah to use the money to finish college, she and her father chose to purchase the land that is now Taproot Commons Farm.
“It was all our money, people thought it was stupid because I had to hustle and I couldn’t just let things float” said Sarah. It’s clear when speaking with Sarah, that her heart belongs to this special place. “I wanted to do this and learn from the land, I wanted to give back to the community.”
Visitors can immediately see how much appreciation is given back to the land. The farm encompasses 130 acres, but it’s mostly wetlands and woodlands. After establishing the farm, the first thing Sarah and her father did was put the land under a conservation restriction, so it would always be protected. Part of this includes a public access waterfall trail and trout fishing near the wetlands.
It’s clear that Sarah is committed to her community and the farm.
“I am kind of thrown by how specialized everything is in our society today and I really wanted to learn how to farm in a way that didn’t hurt the planet. I wanted to learn about all these things, but I couldn’t really find another way to do it. It just seemed the best way was to get into it and just figure it out.”
Sarah began working in her late teens, when she became passionate about dairying. Sarah has done thousands of milkings: She keeps Swiss and Jersey cows for their protein- and butterfat-rich milk.
“We calve all year round because we have to keep the milk flow steady. We’re not a seasonal dairy because I really believe in giving my community good milk all year round. Winters are really hard because we do the exact same thing that we do in the summer, but it takes 18,000 times as long!” She treats her animals well, even taking them on long walks with the help of others.
Sarah is excited for the future growth of Taproot Commons Farm. Plans are underway for a small folk school that will offer affordable classes on traditional farming and foodways.
“The folk school is where my heart is. I’ve wanted this for forever and just really want people to feel empowered, to think differently about what they want to be doing with their time, and to free people up.” In addition to the school, Sarah is restoring a barn on the farm as a home for community gatherings and celebrations.
For six weeks of the year, Sarah and a few others plan on hosting weddings back to back, each weekend. As Sarah says, “If you look at when you can have a true local-foods wedding in our area, it’s August through September. We’ll facelift the barn for those weeks and make it really pretty and just host a wedding every weekend!”
It’s easy to see the dedication that is being put into Taproot Commons Farm, either as a CSA member or farm stand visitor. Sarah Fournier-Scanlon knows she was given an opportunity and wants to give back as much as she can.
Walking around this piece of land and seeing what is being built for the community, there is no doubt this is an exceptional place. As Sarah says, “I want people to be able to think about livelihoods connected to the land, which builds community and serves community and to look at this tricky time as opportunity. It’s an exciting time ... it’s unprecedented, there’s nothing to lose anymore.”
Taproot Commons Farm
11 Porter Hill Rd., Cummington ◆ 413-634-5452
Leslie Lynn Lucio has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was a small child, as well as being an involved member of the local community. She can found running Beets & Barley Catering (BeetsAndBarley.com) and at LeslieLynnLucio.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.