Located on the historic Hadley common, Astarte Farm is a 100 percent no-till, no-spray, certified organic, market garden. Since 2000, we've prioritized soil health and sustainability in our mission to deliver tasty, high-quality, fruits and vegetables.
Tilling is the process of turning the soil prior to planting, and is used in conventional farming to control weeds and prepare the ground for planting or seeding. According to the USDA,
“intensive soil tillage can increase the likelihood of soil erosion, nutrient runoff into nearby waterways, and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A reduction in how often or how intensively cropland is tilled enables the soil to retain more organic matter, which leaves the soil less susceptible to wind and water erosion and helps store, or ‘sequester,’ carbon.”
To address these problems, many farmers are now adopting “no-till” practices, that focus on restoring organic matter and biodiversity to the soil. Increased biodiversity means a more balanced ecosystem that provides a habitat for beneficial insects and earthworms. By not disturbing the soil, complex root systems are left intact that act as breeding grounds for fungi and other organisms. Encouraging biodiversity allows for a more complex soil composition that is resistant to extreme weather. The complex structure of no-till soil retains moisture during times of drought and absorbs water during times of flood, making it more resilient to climate change.
At Astarte, we use a combination of heavy compost and mulch applications to feed the soil and suppress weeds. We began our no-till practices in 2015 with the expectation that it would take up to five years to see the full benefits of in the soil. Soil profiles taken in 2016 showed a distinct dividing line between a 2-3 inch top layer of organic matter sitting on a uniform layer of compact loam. By year five, the soil profile had fully blended, thanks to the activity of earthworms, insects, fungi and root systems. Our soil now has high organic content penetrating 6-8 inches below the surface, with a spongy structure that can absorb and hold moisture.
According to our customers, Astarte's no-till produce has superior flavor, appearance, and shelf-life. We think that this is because no-till soils retain micronutrients that promote overall plant health, improving the nutrient value and flavor of the harvested crops.
In recognition of our commitment to delivering the highest quality produce and our commitment to sustainable practices, River Valley Co-op awarded Astarte Farm their 2018 Farm of the Year award.
Where we sell
In 1999, Dan Pratt, an experienced organic farmer, bought the 6.6 acres of rich Hadley loam that is now Astarte Farm. In 2004, the farm officially became certified organic, and Dan became known around the Valley for his high-quality, delicious tasting heirlooms. In 2014, Dan and his family decided it was time to sell, and the farm changed ownership to Jim Mead, a local electrical engineer.
Dan continued to be involved on the farm, and alongside Jim and field manager Annalise Clausen, the three decided to further their commitment to sustainability. This meant not only being certified organic, but also actively implementing alternative growing practices that were more concerned with long-term soil health and holistic farm management.
In 2014, Astarte began transitioning to become one of the first 100 percent no-till commercial farms in the area, and since then, has continued to explore what it means to "grow sustainably". Astarte now uses occultation, pollinator habitats, crop rotation, companion planting, cover crop “cocktails”, grown-in-place mulches, and more, in its inclusive approach to organic farming. The farm continues to gain recognition for its high-quality produce, which can be found at various markets and restaurants throughout the Pioneer Valley.
Now Doubt — now Pain
Come never again,
For her soul gives me sigh for sigh,
And all day long
Shines bright and strong
Astarté within the sky,
And ever to it dear Eulalie upturns her matron eye —
And ever to it young Eulalie upturns her violet eye.
Edgar Allen Poe, 1845
Astarte was the ancient Phoenician goddess of fertility. Oh my Goddess!