Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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July 18, 2013

Sole survivor: Andover's last farm carries on family tradition

Two farmhands speak Spanish as they shuffle down the rows of zucchini squash, scraping at the soil with hoes, pulling up weeds.

A soft breeze cools the otherwise steamy summer air. Tall trees surrounding the 15 acres of tilled farmland shift in the wind. A flock of birds erupts from the treeline, startled by something deep in the woods.

“We love it,” said Juan Rivera, 47, of Lowell, a Puerto Rican who has worked at Dargoonian Farms on Blanchard Street for 14 years. “I love working on the farm. This is my life.”

One of a dozen or so workers at Dargoonian Farms who spend the summers there, Rivera is part of a long line of Puerto Rican family members who have worked for the Dargoonians since the 1950s.

Tom Dargoonian, grandson of the original owners who now owns the farm with his wife, Dena, said that after World War II, it got harder and harder for his uncle, Red Dargoonian, and his father, Benjamin, to find American boys to work in the fields.

So they decided to use men from Puerto Rico, flying them in for the summer growing and fall harvest seasons. They stayed in a boarding house on the property.

Today, the descendants of those original farmhands still work the land, but for most of the year, they live in Lowell, Lawrence; Nashua, N.H., and other nearby communities. A handful of them still reside on the farm in the summer.

“It’s very quiet here,” Rivera, one of those summer residents, said. “Nobody bothers us.”

In broken English, Ferdinand Ortiz, 51, of Lowell, who has worked at the farm for 30 years, added, “We have a great boss.”

Evolution of a farm

On the surface, it doesn’t look like much has changed at Dargoonian Farms in the last 50 or even 100 years. Farming is still a lot of hard work. A Dargoonian still runs the operation. The farmhands still speak Spanish as they labor in the fields.

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