by Nate Harlan
I drove up to the biggest building around and parked in front. Stepping out of my van, I spotted a solidly built human wearing jeans and a grey t-shirt. I walked over and introduced myself. “Ah,” said the man, “you’re here for the inspection.” Without another word he turned, quickly walked over to his Chevy pickup, got in, and fired it up. I hurried over to the passenger’s side, a bit worried by his pace that he might just leave without me.
It turned out that the man’s name was Tommy Nicewicz, and his brother Allan (whom readers will know from the farmer’s market) had given him a heads up that I would be visiting the farm. The truck hurtled along windy asphalt and dirt roads, slowing now and then to trundle through the grassy fields and orchards, as Tommy told me about the farm. The Nicewicz family (pronounced ‘nee-shway’) have farmed on their hundred-acre property in Bolton, MA, for almost a hundred years. Tommy’s grandparents, Julian and Catherine Nicewicz, immigrated to the US from Poland in the 1920s and settled in the nearby town of Clinton. They bought the farm in Bolton in 1929 and started growing apples, peaches, and pears. The farm is now owned and operated by the four Nicewicz brothers: David, Allan, Ken, and Tommy, who are the third generation of their family to work the farm.
Nicewicz Farm is in a hilly area of central Massachusetts, with most of their orchards and fields on something of a tilt. It makes for some very scenic walks. You might come over a hill covered in peach and nectarine trees and see their foliage sweep down the slope to stands of blueberry bushes at the bottom, which turn to flowers if you look to the right, then to squash, then maybe to a cornfield, or tomatoes, or yellow wax beans. The property is not fully planted, so there are sections of woods that break up the fields, giving some relief from the sun with the shade and flickering light.
Having worked on farms myself, I was curious to learn something about the Nicewiczs’ day-to-day operations and farming style. One of the things Tommy told me that surprised me the most was that they had only had a well installed for irrigation for about 10 years. Apparently, before that they had been able to rely solely on the rain for their irrigation. It was a very telling sign of how much global warming has unsettled the trends in our weather patterns in recent times. For Tommy and his brothers, these changes translate to a lot more running around day after day, looking for leaks, clogs, and other problems in the drip lines that bring water from the pumps down the rows of fruit trees and crops.
After my whirlwind tour of the 100-acre property, Tommy dropped me at the little farm store, quickly showed me their cold storage room, and then left me on my own to explore on foot. I soon found Chath pierSath, the Nicewiczs’ only employee, picking blueberries not far away. If you know Allan from the Brookline Market then you know Chath, too. He’s a comforting presence with a ready smile, and he made me feel right at home in the blueberries. He told me some of his story as he picked. Chath came to the US from Cambodia when he was ten. He grew up and attended school in Colorado and got a master’s in California studying group sociology. He writes poetry, he paints, he’s traveled to countries all over the world, and for the last fifteen years he has worked and lived at Nicewicz Family Farm. It seems he brings lightness and a little art to all he touches, especially on the farm. He enjoyed showing me the many little gardens he’s established in the unused corners between the fields and orchards. I was particularly excited to see the hazelnuts growing there, something I’d never seen before in real life.
Before leaving, I was lucky enough to run into an IPM scout, Kathleen, who had been visiting for a spray consultation. The Nicewiczs practice IPM (Integrated Pest Management) at their farm, which means that while they may use synthetic chemicals in their orchards, they are as sparing and strategic as possible with their use. The idea behind IPM is that no matter whether a farm is using organic methods or not, it is always possible to misuse or overuse a soil input or pesticide, either organic or synthetic. This is particularly true for orchards like the ones the Nicewiczs own. Apples are extremely susceptible to disease and insect damage, and the amount of organic inputs used to combat these can actually be more damaging to the surrounding ecosystem than synthetic sprays are. So, using IPM, farmers and orchard managers can integrate new research in biological cycles, weather, natural enemies (eg. introducing ladybugs to combat aphids) and chemical use into their farm practices, in order to do the least harm to the surrounding land and wildlife while keeping their crops viable. Often these farms are already set up for a scale and growing methods that require at least occasional synthetic chemicals to continue, so becoming more strategic with that approach allows them to keep farming without having to totally override their business model and go broke in the process. At the end of the day, IPM growers want the same thing many organic growers want – to grow delicious food and maintain the business they already have, while preserving and hopefully improving the environment around them as much as possible.
Nicewicz Family Farm is a beautiful and very interesting place. If you ever find yourself in Bolton, MA, I highly recommend checking out their farm store and maybe taking a walk. And please, come buy their peaches, apples, nectarines, corn, tomatoes, squash, and more at the Brookline Farmers Market! Allan and Chath would love to see you.