New England Farmer Sustains Farm and Childhood Dream with Successful Year-round Farmstand
September 9, 2012 | Hana Lurie
Sixteen years ago Matthew Kozazcki realized his childhood dreams of running his own farm. Located in Newbury, Massachusetts, Kozazcki’s Tendercrop Farms has grown to cover 600-acres on which he sustainably grows a diverse range of produce and livestock from peaches and spinach to Brussels sprouts and hormone and antiobiotic free chickens, black angus beef and turkeys.
I recently spoke with Kozazcki about the origin of his farm, the challenges that he faces in consistently applying sustainable practices, his goals for the future and more.
Q: What is the story of how your farm came to be?
Matthew Kozazcki: Well, I’ve always wanted to be a farmer, since I was six years old. I pretty much worked towards it – I worked for a farm for years and then a dairy farm for 13 or 14 years, and then my current farm came up. In 1986 I went into business. I brought my sister on as a partner, but then I ended up buying my sister out. She was there for close to twenty years. My grandparents were farmers – they came over from Poland – but my parents didn’t farm.
Q: What do you grow on the farm?
Matthew Kozazcki: We grow about 40 varieties of different vegetables – anywhere from corn to tomatoes – lettuces and greens, garlic, onions, carrots. We grow strawberries, blueberries, apples, peaches, nectarines and plums. We also do beef, pork chicken and turkey along with our own slaughterhouse for chicken and poultry. We have at times up to 70 others helping on the farm.
Q: When and why did you decide to embrace sustainable agriculture?
Matthew Kozazcki: I don’t think anything has actually changed – we’ve always just wanted to grow food here. It’s a shame that it all had to change in the 70s and everyone bought it everywhere else. We’ve always tried to do the best we can for the land.
Q: What kind of unique, sustainable practices do you employ on your farm?
Matthew Kozazcki: We have a lot of composting that we put on our land. We use rotational grazing on the cattle. We use a lot of drip irrigation. I don’t know if you’ll ever see 100 percent sustainable only because of the fact that all of the land has been built up around you. We’d like to grow our own grain, but we can’t because we would need a huge amount of land for that. There’s just no more land, none.
Q: Is the farm certified organic?
Matthew Kozazcki: No. I don’t see how it can possibly be done to give a continuous food supply. Here in New England we get a lot of rain and wet weather, which causes a lot of diseases. So, we do use some of the chemicals that they use in organic. But for fungicide they’re very limited and put a lot of copper on the plants, and I don’t know how good a lot of copper is. We go back and forth with it. I have a guy that does my IPM – integrated pest management – and we try to use the whole spectrum and whatever is going to work. It’d be nice if everything would grow without disease, but that’s not the real world. We use MT, some sulfur fungicides that are considered organic, but I don’t know how good they are.
Q: How does your farm make money?
Matthew Kozazcki: I just have the farmstand – we don’t do wholesaling or anything. It’s open year round. We grow greens in the greenhouse in the winter – lettuce and spinach – so we’re picking throughout the whole year. We know how to grow it with just a fraction of the fuel that most people use.
Q: What challenges does the farm face?
Matthew Kozazcki: There will always be some labor issues, but I don’t find it as a big deal. I think that more government regulation is the thing that always scares me. As much as they want to help you, they end up ruining it. It isn’t done intentionally, it’s just that more laws pile on and it gets aggravating. Politicians talk about freedoms and all they do is take them away!
I’d rather be where I am than a young farmer starting out, because there are a lot of good people who want to do good things [and can’t]. At least when I was younger, the banks would lend you money to get started. To go to a bank now, it’s worse than when I had nothing. I hope young people figure it out, but they’ll be held back like I never was. The more that we lose these farms, the further the food will come from.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
Matthew Kozazcki: We have 600 acres here – we don’t need anymore. We’re almost at the end of the line as far as expansion in this town. We’re looking to eventually do dairy as well – cheese and ice cream – hopefully next year.