When you think of a classic organic New England farm, you’re probably picturing something close to Langwater Farm. Fields full of long, straight rows of vegetables, bordered with trees and ringed around with a rutted, muddy string of dirt roads. Here and there a large John Deere tractor standing tall over the kale and broccoli. A big barn full of curing garlic and onions. A bustling farm stand, cashiers with young faces, lots of pumpkins out front. This is the world created by Kevin and Kate O’Dwyer, the owners and managers of Langwater Farm.
Farm work has been in Kevin O’Dwyer’s life from early on; a native of eastern Massachusetts, he started working at Wards Berry Farm in Sharon at the age of 14. Before that, he was always helping out in his mother’s garden, learning to appreciate what the soil can give us. He went to college at UMass Lowell, where he met a girl named Kate. Kate and Kevin got married pretty soon after that, and moved back to the Sharon area, where Kevin became head grower at Wards Berry Farm (growing all kinds of fruits and veggies, not just berries!).
When Kevin decided he wanted to start his own farm in 2010, it just so happened that the Ames family, longtime owners of an 80-acre parcel of forest and agricultural land in Easton, were looking for a farmer to take over management of the property. At this point Kate was working as a social worker, which became essential for their growing family when Kevin decided to start his own farm. Kate supported the family on her salary while Kevin went about establishing the new farm. They took out a loan from Farm Credit East, and they were off. The first year, they built a farm stand and bought a tractor. The barn came the following winter. Grants followed for a greenhouse and equipment from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), one of the few branches of the USDA that is helpful to smaller organic growers. It takes a lot of luck, money, and moral support to start a farm, and it seems like Kevin and Kate got some of each at just the right times. A bit of a small-farm-fairytale.
Demand grew and grew as the community around Easton embraced Langwater. The farm slowly expanded to match it, and along with the farm so did the O’Dwyer family. Kevin and Kate now have three daughters – Madison, 8; Rachel, 6; and Charlotte, 3 – who all love to help out in the field. Eventually the farm was successful enough that Kate quit her job and went to work full time with Kevin. These days, Kate manages the sales, making sure the farm stand, wholesale business, and farmers markets all run smoothly, while Kevin runs the field operations.
In 2014 the O’Dwyers expanded to another 26 acres of land, which was used in large part to increase the amount of cover cropping they did. Cover cropping is a restorative practice for agricultural land, where after harvesting and clearing a field of production crops, the farmer thickly sows grasses like rye and oats, to increase nutrients and organic matter in the soil, as well as legumes like peas, vetch, and clover, which fix nitrogen from the air into the ground. All of this makes for a healthy, resilient soil with a good consistency for growing. An especially popular time to plant cover crops is late summer and early fall. That crop will mature in the late fall, and some of it right into the winter, and will get turned in in the spring, making for a much richer, more workable soil to plant into.
When I found Kevin in the barn, he didn’t have much time to talk about cover cropping or expansion or anything really. I found him with the vegetable he likes best – inspecting tomatoes in the processing area. Kevin is obsessed with tomatoes, always has been. The O’Dwyer’s have actually won trophies for their tomatoes. He seemed as if he would have been happy to stand there all day, chatting and handling his tomatoes, but unfortunately when you run a farm with a big staff and lots of fields, time is short.
Most of my day at Langwater was spent with Liz, a young woman with the quiet and calm of someone older, who was very adept at guiding the old two-wheel-drive truck we rode in over field roads that looked more lake than road. She gave me the tour and graciously put up with my questions, whereby I learned that she has been working at Langwater for three years, after some seasons at a couple other farms. After college Liz, like most people, wasn’t really sure what she wanted to do. She ended up doing a lot of WWOOFing – doing work-stays on small, organic farms that are listed on the site of the World Wide Opportunites on Organic Farms organization. Those work-stays sparked a life-long passion, and now she can’t picture herself doing anything else. She didn’t grow up gardening or farming – something that is more and more common among new employees and owners of locally-based organic farms. Nowadays, Liz works full time at Langwater and actually runs her own 20-person CSA on the side. She says she would like to have her own farm one day, maybe on a smaller scale than Langwater. Her favorite vegetable is kale.
After wandering through pepper and tomato plantings, squashes, flowers, and greens, we ended up at a field of corn, where a man with a heavy-duty weed whacker was getting ready to cut a corn maze. Langwater has lots of ways to get the local community involved in the farm. They have a corn maze every year, they do pick-your-own strawberries, tomatoes, flowers, and pumpkins, they sell fresh apple cider and cider donuts in the fall, and of course they have their farm stand, which is open every day of the week except Monday.
Come check out their produce at the Brookline Market – or at their farm, if you’re in the Sharon area! Kevin’s tomatoes may be going out of season now, but their winter squashes, cool-weather greens, and root vegetables will keep you cooking up some yummy meals all the way to Thanksgiving.