Eat Well Heroes: Dominic Palumbo at Moon In The Pond Farm

Many farmers are leading the way toward a more sustainable food system. We are thrilled to support these farmers and the good work they do through the Eat Well Guide, our curated directory of 25,000+ farms, restaurants, markets and other retail outlets of locally grown and sustainably produced food throughout the US. Our new and improved Eat Well Guide just launched! Be among the first to visit the new Eat Well Guide and take your sustainable food search to the next level! 

For Dominic Palumbo at Moon In The Pond Farm in Sheffield, MA, farming and teaching are one in the same. By staffing his farm with volunteers and interns throughout the year, Dominic has turned his diversified meat and produce farm into fertile ground for educating and inspiring new farmers. His work and philosophy on farming, educating and changing our food system from the ground up are precisely what we need to sustain future generations of local food leaders and farmers. Check out Moon In The Pond Farms's profile on the new Eat Well Guide. 

What do you grow/raise on your farm?

The ‘crop’ we’re most proud of here is new farmers. Foremost, we are an educational farm. Moon In The Pond draws on traditional and modern knowledge to teach the skills and techniques of ecological local food production. Our ‘classrooms’ are within the setting of a working farm.

A unique aspect of the farm is its exceptional diversity. We are an eco-agricultural farm raising a wide assortment of both plants and animals. Our heritage breed animals (raised for meat) are “Scottish Highland” cattle, “Horned Dorset” sheep, “Large Black” pigs, “Pilgrim” geese and “New Hampshire” chickens. We also keep honey bees.

100 percent of the vegetable varieties that we grow are heirlooms (in a commitment to re-localizing the food system, increasing food sovereignty and conserving vegetable varieties with traits developed before chemically-intensive agriculture).

We also grow a broad assortment of vegetable crops in our market garden. With our solar-passive, unheated greenhouse, we’re working at extending our growing season—pushing it towards 12 months! For eight years, 100 percent of the vegetable varieties that we grow are heirlooms (in a commitment to re-localizing the food system, increasing food sovereignty and conserving vegetable varieties with traits developed before chemically-intensive agriculture). We select varieties that have a history or track record (i.e., developed for our New England climate) like “Vermont True Red Cranberry” bean, “New England Pie” pumpkin, “Deer Tongue” lettuce, “Red Wethersfield” onion and “Beedy’s Camden” kale, to name a few. We also grow a few fruit trees and bushes, hazelnuts and mushrooms along with some rhubarb and asparagus, all of which enhance the permacultural balance we’ve worked on at the farm for the past 25 years.

How many acres do you farm?

The home base of our farm is the 35 acres at 816 Barnum Street. But our farm system extends into our neighborhood. We graze about 50 acres across the road on our neighbors’ farm and we hay an additional five to ten acres of fields owned by the Nature Conservancy.

What’s a typical day in the life on your farm?

No such thing. While there’s always a sequence of chores (feeding and watering animals, milking the cow, collecting eggs, watering the greenhouse) every day on our diverse farm reflects its complexity. Usually every day begins (after chores!) reprioritizing our ever changing projects list. Today we’ll make soil blocks and seed them with heirloom “Drunken Woman Fringed Headed” lettuce, pick up a borrowed breading boar, trellis tomato plants, deliver peonies, rhubarb and fresh herbs to a local farm-to-table restaurant, transplant hot peppers and eggplant purchased from neighbor’s organic farm, have “class time” discussion and research plant varieties.

Describe your local food community in four words.

Diverse, Organic, Sustainable, Local!

What is your favorite aspect of farming?

Sharing. The overwhelming sensation of feeling hundreds of years of history—living the accomplishments of generations of past farmers—and being the steward that passes these experiences to future generations. Being able to receive and pass on a profound connection to the planet.

I started raising food because I love to eat and I knew I could easily grow lots of things that are not readily available.

How did you decide to get into growing food/raising animals? What did you do before you got into farming?

My fascination for growing things started when I was a kid and developed into a first career in horticulture. In my early 30’s, having found a country escape from my urban landscaping business, the transition from horticulture to agriculture was an organic one (literally and figuratively). I started raising food because I love to eat and I knew I could easily grow lots of things that are not readily available. Soon I started to raise animals, sheep in particular, because I had grass that needed mowing—and I enjoy eating lamb!

How did you get access to your land?

Moon In The Pond operates on 35 acres that is mostly acreage that was purchased with a deeded conservation restriction from The Nature Conservancy. Additional acreage on which we graze our cattle is leased land that is held in a Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Restriction program.

Are you certified organic?

My philosophy on growing food comes from my dedication to organic agriculture that began when I started Moon In The Pond and was selling at farmers’ markets in New York City. At the time, organic certification through NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Mass Chapter inspired and compelled me deeply into the stewardship role of an organic farmer. The concept of organic farming as an imitation of nature’s cycles continues to inspire my view. I withdrew from organic certification in 2001 when the USDA took control of certification because of my belief that the national government is disproportionately influenced by money and corporate interests.

How do you market your products?

All of our farm production is sold within 15 miles of the farm. We sell at the farm, three farmers’ markets a week and through our CSA program. Our unique and innovative CSA uses a flexible system that employs a debit system where using Moon In The Pond currency, ‘MITP Bucks’, customers can redeem for MITP products at their discretion throughout the year. We also sell to a number of local farm-to-table restaurants.

The biggest challenge I face as a farmer is the wide spread belief, deeply embedded and constantly reinforced by the corporate industrial food system, that food should be cheap.

What are some of the ongoing challenges you face as a farmer?

The biggest challenge I face as a farmer is the wide spread belief, deeply embedded and constantly reinforced by the corporate industrial food system, that food should be cheap. The massive juggernaut of the present industrial food system has wrested the hearts and minds of the American people with relentless advertising and stolen control of food production from the people.

The pervasive influence of the corporately controlled food system has convinced the overwhelming majority of Americans of two things. One, that what should never, in my opinion, be defined as food is actually edible, tasty, nutritious food. Two, as Americans we are entitled use a significant number of our resources to irresponsibly produce food. In sum, the radical devaluation of good, clean, nutritious food in our society makes it very difficult for a farmer of clean food to earn a reasonable living.

What do you think about the growing new farmer movement? What advice do you have for people who want to become farmers?

I am very inspired by the new farmer movement. I am also a little bit reserved and a little bit afraid. When I was a teenager and into my twenties I was at the tail end of the hippie “Back to the Land” movement. While it was the time during which “organic” started, over the years, I saw a lot of that enthusiasm and interest fade.

Farming is a life, and is a life-long commitment—your life—give it the respect it deserves and take the time to get to know it.

To people who want to become farmers I’d say, get started right away with the learning process! Go to farms, visit farms, research farms, volunteer at farms, then…look for someone who’s been doing a great job for a very long time—an ‘old’ person—and work with them for a couple of years. If you can, find another successful, seasoned farmer and work under them for a few years. Farming is a life, and is a life-long commitment—your life—give it the respect it deserves and take the time to get to know it. Avoid the pitfall, and really attractive temptation, of teaming up with another enthusiastic new farmer and starting a farm.

What could the government do to help establish a more sustainable food system?

What the government does now that is a huge impediment to the sustainable food system is to provide massive subsidies of tax dollars to unsustainable, industrial food monopolies. The government could be most helpful to sustainability by stopping those subsidies to giant wealthy corporate-agriculture industries.