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A Neighborhood Protects its Farms

Marsha Smith grew up on her family’s 58-acre farm in the Mormon Hollow section of Montague, where her parents, Benjamin and Mary Szenher Jalicki, raised chickens, selling eggs and meat to local stores.  “Our name was respected,” she recalls, “and my father turned down a buyout offer from a big poultry distributor because he didn’t want to lower his standards to conform to the distributor’s rules.”    

Smith’s grandparents moved to the farm, near the Wendell town line, from Poland by way of New York.  ‘My grandmother kept the house and family together, making her own breads, butter, sour cream and cheese for pierogis, canning and preserving vegetables, fruits, and eggs for winter, and making farmers cheese to eat and to trade” Smith adds.  “The farms in the neighborhood were self-sufficient, but there was always room for a bit of trading.”

Self-sufficiency and making local food the right way remain bywords today in the Mormon Hollow neighborhood where Smith still lives with her husband Denton.  And to ensure that farmland will always be available in Mormon Hollow, the Smiths have joined with nine other families, including farmers at Sugarbush Farm, Diemand Farm, Jerusalem Hill Farm, and Hunting Farm, to permanently protect their land with help from Mount Grace.

This project is part of a multi-year Mount Grace initiative to protect more than 700 acres, called the Mormon Hollow Working Lands Corridor Project.  In May of 2015, Mount Grace held a workshop at Diemand Farm for farmland and woodland owners. Wendell farmer Bill Facey—who was protecting his Sugarbush Farm with Mount Grace—worked with his wife Laurel to invite dozens of families to the meeting. The Faceys hoped to inspire their neighbors to protect their land too, to help keep farming alive in their community.

What started as a meeting of neighbors in a barn quickly became a landscape-scale conservation project that ultimately involved 10 Wendell and Montague families. “It’s been a privilege to meet and to work with the Mormon Hollow families,” said Jamie Pottern, Farm Conservation Program Manager at Mount Grace. “We’re helping neighbors conserve over 700 acres of working farms and forests, wildlife habitat, wetlands and streams, while creating miles of new recreational trail connections and increasing climate change resiliency for our region.”

“We are grateful to have been included in this project, which conserves so much of the hill for future generations of farmers and nature-lovers,” adds Smith. “Even though we ourselves do not run this farm as a business there is always the future, and thanks to the efforts of Mount Grace and its hard-working staff, there will still be a farm waiting for its rebirth in the years to come.”

In 2016, Mount Grace, the towns of Montague and Wendell and the Department of Fish & Game, were awarded a Massachusetts Landscape Partnership Grant to help protect the land.  The Mormon Hollow project was also supported by the 1772 Foundation and the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts.