Paul Hicks has been farming in Charlemont just about since the day he was born 54 years ago, following in his father’s and grandfather’s steps. Now grandsons Tucker and Brody (aged four and two) are out in the barn and advising their father on how to drive the oxen. Of course, the farm has changed over the years.
Paul’s father Richard and his uncle Walter had dairy herds. My husband and I got to know them because they brought their heifers up to our fields for summer pasture. We loved watching them checking on the heifers every week or so, calling out to them to give them a bit of grain so they would remain familiar. They’d laugh as the heifers ran toward them for their treat. “Why are you so wild? Why are you so wild?” they’d ask as they rubbed their faces and slapped their flanks.
Richard is gone now and so is most of the dairy herd, but Paul still has eight milkers and he raises bull calves for four months and then sells them throughout New England to be trained as oxen. Paul has also been selling vegetables at a small farm stand right on Route 2 for the past few years, but this year there is a new reason to stop at the Hicks farm – a corn maze.
“We have a family farm and it has to support the family,” Hicks said. “We drove past a corn maze in Vermont last year and started thinking that there was nothing like that out here on Route 2 and thought it was something we might try.”
After a little research, the cornfield was planted this spring, along with an extra big field of pumpkins. The experiment had begun with a lot of help from Paul’s sons, Ryan and Gary and their wives Jess and Shannon. Sister Joanne MacLean helped with set up; she and her husband Bob, in their hats as Friends of the Charlemont Fairgrounds, will be on hand at a concession selling hamburgers, hot dogs and soda.
In spite of Irene and all the rain the cornfield has not been damaged; the maze opened on Labor Day weekend as scheduled. Traffic to the maize started slow, but they were busy on Sunday. Hicks said that people have even begun buying pumpkins.
This Friday, September 16, between 5-8 PM and Saturday between 8-11 AM entries for the Scarecrow Contest are being accepted at the maze.
Friday, September 16 is also the date of the first Flashlight Friday. “The maze is a totally different experience at night,” Hicks said. Other Flashlight Fridays are scheduled for October 7 and 21.
In addition to maneuvering through the maze and maybe buying a pumpkin, families with young children will also have a chance to visit with the chickens, the goats, a baby calf, and a miniature donkey at the petting zoo. Tucker and Brody will be selling grain for the animals. Farmers start work young!
I have become quite fascinated by the whole idea of ‘agri-tourism’ and what it can mean to small farms, and to the tourists. I like to think children in our area know that eggs come from chickens, milk comes from cows and that potatoes grow under the ground while tomatoes grow out in the sun, but on his TV series the famous chef Jamie Oliver proved that many urban and suburban children do not know these things. Agri-tourism can be as much an educational event as a recreational treat.
About three years ago two of my daughters invited us to visit a big farm in their neighborhood in the eastern part of the state. The farm offered wagon rides, pick your own apples, pick your own flowers, choose your own pumpkin, and a barn store full of farm made jams and relishes, maple syrup and even bags of kettle corn. I passed on the kettle corn but the grandchildren had a great time even though they were too old for the hay bale maze set up for the very young set. However, as I recall, all the children really enjoyed walking on top of all those circling hay bales.
Farmers need to find new ways of making their farm pay, and we all need reminders of how important good farms are to our well-being and health. Agri-tourism benefits us all.
Scarecrow Contest Rules. Entry fee is $5 for each entry. Only one entry per person in each of the three categories: traditional, scariest and funniest. Set up for the contest will be Friday, September 16 between 5-8 PM and Saturday morning between 8-11 AM. Judging will be done during the week by popular vote. Winners will be announced Saturday, September 24, and scarecrows must be taken away on Sunday the 25th and Monday the 26th. There will be cash prizes! For more information call 625-2623.
Next Saturday, September 17 is also the date of the Sunflower Contest co-sponsored by The Recorder and the Greenfield Garden Club, held at the Energy Park on Miles Street in conjunction with the John Putnam Fiddlers Reunion. How did your sunflowers grow this year? Tall? Multiflowered? Bring your entry to the Energy Park on Miles Street between noon and 2 PM. The contest is divided into two groups: 15 and younger and 16 and older. The categories are tallest, most blooms on one plant, heaviest head, largest head and best arrangement, which must contain mostly sunflowers. Additionally, judges reserve the right to create a special category should that prove necessary. Winners will be announced from The Station in the park, once the judging is complete. Contest winners get bragging rights, a nifty ribbon and a bag of local apples. Everyone who enters gets their picture in the following week’s Life & Times section. ###
Between the Rows September 10, 2011