This is the reprint from my Local Paper, Sentinel & Enterprise about a city owned apple orchard and the "other uses" of the propery - one being my beekeeping.....
Happy Reading....Sholan Farms: Something for every taste
By Crystal C. Bozek Editor's Note: This is the first in an ongoing series of stories, Community Assets, focusing on the places and people that make North Central Massachusetts a great place to live and work
LEOMINSTER-- A group of Northwest School third-graders crinkle their faces with revulsion and a few start spitting green plant matter into the soil.
They just tasted chives from their herb garden in Sholan Farms on Pleasant Street.
"This is too spicy," one child says before taking another indecisive bite. "It's like sour cream and onion."
The students spent Thursday morning learning about their herb garden --they're studying plant growth -- before planting their own pumpkins and raspberries in the farm's community plots.
For the last few years, the city-owned Sholan Farms has tried to reinvent itself, showing it is more than just an 3,000-tree orchard with an historic silo.
"It's so pretty, the apples are really growing," third-grader Lamech Muma, 9, said while raking and mulching. "I love the farming."
The apples may be nice, but there's so much more.
The landscape is dotted with community gardens packed full of blueberries, squash, and pumpkins. It's a haven for city beekeeper Michael Keane and his 250,000 honey bees. Michael Keane talks about the different layers in his bee hives at Sholan Farms in Leominster, Friday. (SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / SARAH BRITAIN)
Five miles of trails spread throughout the 167-acre property, and wildlife from coyotes to bobolinks roam around the apple trees.
More importantly, it's John Chapman's legacy, Mayor Dean Mazzarella would say.
"Look back to when we bought it," Mazzarella said Thursday. "We knew we were buying an apple orchard, but we didn't know what else could happen as a result. ... There's also friendships, and stories to be told. We listen to old stories about farming. We'll be able to tell those stories."
Mazzarella said this is precisely what Chapman -- otherwise known as Johnny Appleseed, the city's famous apple growing native envisioned: "And we've just only started."
The city bought Sholan Farms in 2001, saving the land from a proposed 161-home subdivision.
Sholan Director Joanne Dinardo said the first year, the farm raised $3,000 before expenses. Since then, their gross income has skyrocketed to about $40,000 annually.
"We know our crops have a potential to really double (in value), at least $80,000," she said. "It's about diversifying."
Sholan Farms boasts 50 core volunteers, along with about 250 supporters -- known as Friends of Sholan Farms -- who keep the activities rolling.
Then there's helpers like Neil Zanni, of Gardener's Spot, who teaches students how to farm, or spouts off volumes of wisdom about herbs, vegetables and fruit.
"A lot of these students haven't even been in the dirt before," he said after giving a lecture on asparagus. "They get excited about an earthworm. This is an adventure for them. ... This is really providing a community service."
All of these volunteers and activities end up intertwined. The pumpkins Zanni grows with the children will go to next year's students, and others will be sold at the Sholan farm stand.
Some of Keane's honey will also be sold to benefit the farm.
Plus there's an added benefit to his bees' residency in the depths of the wilder parts of the orchard: "They pollinate the plants. With the apple blossoms, dandelions and clover, it's a great spot for them."
Keane set up his hives two years ago. He gives presentations to school students or even passing-by snowshoers who happen upon his bee lair. They call him "Leominster's Bee Man."
He can tell you how there's only one queen bee to a hive, and she lays 3,000 eggs a day.
Male bees, or drones, do nothing but eat, while the women collect the pollen and nectar, but the women push the men out in the winter to freeze, he said.
The beehives have proven themselves a point of fascination for the farm's younger visitors, according to Keane: "The teachers at Fallbrook School said they've never seen the kids so interested in something. I love working with Sholan and the community."
Dinardo called it a "community-supported farm," owned and run by taxpayers.
The farm association, a non-profit, supports itself selling apples, candles and other wares. They also sell their apples in loads to the Leominster School system.
"It's meant to bring the community together," she said. "I used to drive down Pleasant Street and think, 'I would like to own this someday.' Now who owns the view? Everyone does. Everyone in Leominster."
Volunteers are so committed to the land, they even receive pesticide licenses and spend hours spraying the crops, she said, adding "A lot of money comes from donations. Our local businesses really support us."
For more information on volunteering or future activities, contact 978-840-FARM or visit www.sholanfarms.com
Upcoming Events at Sholan:
June 15th -- Annual Friends of Sholan Farms Meeting, City Hall
Sept 3-5 -- Harvest Festival; Start of "Pick-Your-Own" apple season.