Feeding the Economy: Food & Agriculture in North Central Massachusetts

Agriculture in North Central Massachusetts is deeply rooted in our history. That heritage is perhaps best symbolized with our connection to apples and that icon of American folk history – Johnny Appleseed. But it is more than just part of our past; the industry is still a major economic driver and a key part of our working landscape in the region. The food and agriculture cluster is also playing an important part in shaping the future of North Central Massachusetts and helping drive our economy.

A father and son spend their afternoon apple picking at popular destination, David Farmland of Sterling.

The region is home to an estimated 800 farms, which employ over 1,700 people. Employment has increased nearly 60% in the region’s growing tourism industry is also closely tied to the food and agricultural industries in North Central Massachusetts and also showcases the dynamic nature and complexity of the sector. Farms like Davis Farmland, Red Apple, Hollis Hills and many more have reinvented themselves as major destinations in the region. “At Davis Farmland, our mission is to connect people back to agriculture and preserve the rich farming heritage of New England”, said co-owner Larry Davis. “We are a seven generation farm in Sterling, dating back to 1846. We started as a dairy and, over the generations, have been involved in virtually every form of sustainable agriculture this area of New England has seen.”

The famous “no human touch” lettuce of Little Leaf Farms in Devens is grown by state-of-the-art robotics leaving their lettuce fresh, crispy and delicious.

The innovative nature of the industry, as well as its convergence with manufacturing, is perhaps best exemplified by Little Leaf Farms in Devens. In 2015, they built a five acre greenhouse facility that produces fresh lettuce and salad greens via a technologically advanced and automated process. The baby greens produced there are all seeded, grown, cut and packaged without being touched by human hands.

Consumer interest in sustainability, authenticity and buying local has helped to empower our food and agricultural sectors in the region. Roots Natural Foods in Leominster illustrates how the region’s strength and proximity to locally sourced products has contributed to the growth of this economic cluster. Opened in 2002,

A delectable display of nothing but the freshest greens and veggies courtesy of Roots Natural Foods of Leominster.

Roots began as a market with nine employees that focused on selling and serving responsibly farmed, organic, local and sustainable foods and products. The market has since expanded to over twenty-five employees and now includes a popular sustainable kitchen that serves healthy foods and provides catering services. “Our goal has always been to enrich our community by providing quality and locally sourced products”, said Owner Marieke Cormier. “One of the strengths of North Central Massachusetts is its incredible diversity of local products for consumers.”

North Central Massachusetts is home to one of the largest concentrations of food and agricultural sectors in the state. Coupled with a thriving manufacturing cluster and burgeoning tourism industry, this unique position as a food and agriculture hub has enhanced the region’s character while creating new prosperity and employment. It is for that reason that we look forward to this sector’s continued growth and increased, statewide prominence for years to come. ◊

This story is from the latest Chamber Report