Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 18, 2013

Decline of the local farm tough to swallow


The Andover Townsman

---- — It’s easy to wax nostalgic about the days when working farms dominated the landscape of Andover.

Many of the farms were started by immigrants who came to America to provide a better life for their families. Those families — grandparents, parents, children — toiled long hours, from sun up to sun down, tending to the fields. They took pride in what they would grow by hand, the rewards coming not necessarily monetarily, but from their chance to provide for their families, not to mention their neighbors.

In many cases, the farms were passed down from generation to generation, with each new operator taking care to preserve tradition and the family name while adapting to meet the changing times.

But pride and passion are no longer enough to run a family farm. Rising costs, increased competition from imported crops and a dwindling labor force have made it nearly impossible for today’s local farmers to maintain the land the way their parents and grandparents did.

It’s hard to blame the Loosigian children for ceasing operation of Strawberry Hill Farm, after their father, Peter Ohan Loosigian, passed away over the winter. The elder Loosigian was the lifeblood of the farm on Lowell Street and his children just don’t have the fire to assume the back-breaking work that their late father and mother carried out for decades.

The closing of Strawberry Hill leaves Dargoonian Farm on Blanchard Street as the last actively working farm in Andover. Tom and Dena Dargoonian have found a way to keep the farm alive for a third generation. But like the Loosigians, their three daughters have no desire to follow in the footsteps of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. For now, the Dargoonians have every intention of continuing to farm their property. But no doubt the future of their farm remains uncertain in the coming years.

It’s ironic that as the public’s desire for locally grown food continues to grow stronger each season, there are fewer and fewer local farms to supply the crops. But sadly our quest for fresh produce isn’t enough to keep the local farmer in business. Many other variables are at play.

We may value the work of the town’s farmers over the last many decades, but we have little control over their eventual fate. What we can do is savor the taste of a fresh-picked cucumber, pepper or tomato plucked from the local soil and enjoy the flavors for as long as they’ll come.