When Gene got laid off from his software job back in December of 2008, it was his third time seeing a pink slip since being honorably discharged from the US Air Force, so he started considering a career that would allow him to be self employed doing meaningful work.
As luck would have it, soon after being laid off, he ran into a woman who worked for the New Entry Sustainable Farmer Project, a group that was offering a free course designed to teach people about the business of farming. That summer, Gene took the course, started a summer job working for Farmer Dave Dumaresq at the Brox Farm in Dracut, MA, and he and his wife, Marilyn, put their Westford, MA house up for sale.
As soon as they moved into their new home in Wilton, NH, Gene started working the land. The farm got its name when a big black bear came to feast on a bird feeder that was left out by the previous owners. The Wilton property was not ideal farmland, so that winter Gene found a man in Milford who wanted someone to farm part of his land. For two years Gene developed and worked plots on the Milford land and began selling produce at two area farmers markets; one at a hospital in Keene and another market in Jaffrey.
Dreaming of having some good farmland of their own, Gene and Marilyn began to search for likely properties. Gene found the Mason land thanks to a Google map error that brought him to the corner of Reed and Marcel roads instead of another listed property that he had set out to see. What he saw when he arrived at that corner was a beautiful, hay-covered field that seemed to have great potential and had a small sign posted on a big pine tree that said “For Sale by Owner”. When he called the number on the sign, he found out that the field had been “de-rocked” in the 70’s and covered in hay ever since. He also learned that a neighbor would generously let the farm use their water. A soil test revealed that the field contained Marlow loam, some of the regions’ best soil.
The rest of the farm’s story is still unfolding. Ever since Gene and Marilyn purchased the first 4 acre parcel that included part of the field in 2011, they have slowly and steadily expanded. They have opened up new plots, added high tunnels for season extension, built a cool storage unit for on-site food storage, planted fruit trees and put in berry bushes. In the fall of 2018 Gene and Marilyn had the opportunity to buy the adjacent property along with its well, so they now have twice as much arable land and their own water source. They also make the most of their Wilton property by producing log cultivated shiitake mushrooms in the woods next to their home.
Never one to sit still, Gene enjoys growing new and unusual items and varieties along with the more “traditional” veggies. He spends hours in the winter researching, choosing, and ordering a combination of heirlooms and newly developed seed varieties. Each season he typically grows at least 40 types of produce that range from tomatoes to turmeric.
Gene and Marilyn feel blessed to have found the field in Mason with its rich soil and welcoming neighbors and are committed to using practices aimed at sustaining and improving the surrounding ecosystems. Because they know that healthy soil grows healthy food, they maintain their fields with methods that include: no till, cover cropping, composting/manuring and crop rotation. Because they care about the health of the planet, their neighbors and their members, they do not use synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, or GMO seeds.