From the Berkshires to Beetlebung

New manager brings regenerative agriculture principles to the Chilmark farm.

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It was almost a year ago when Beetlebung Farm was sold, leaving everyone wondering what would happen next. As I recently wrote in my Chilmark town column, seasonal Chilmarkers Jim and Donna Bozzuto shared the news that their nephew, Robin Hackett, has become the manager of the new Beetlebung Farm. I had the opportunity to visit Robin and his wife, Julia Matejcek, on a drizzly, damp day just before Halloween. 

Robin and Julia met while undergraduate students at Williams College in Williamstown. Although Robin, who grew up in Great Barrington, majored in environmental policy, his true lifelong passion, albeit at 28 years old, is “no-till market gardening“ and regenerative farming. He is a contributor for Hobby Farms magazine, and loves cooking. His wife Julia grew up in Prague, though her family has since returned to their Prince Edward Island roots. She is a graphic designer, having worked at the Clark Art Institute helping design exhibitions, as well as a digital photographer and artist. In their first week together on-Island, they’d already adopted a sweet, and somewhat skittish, mixed-breed dog, now named Vatslav.

Beetlebung Farm will remain at the heart of Chilmark, thanks to a group of friends who purchased the property and “came together over a shared vision of how Beetlebung Farm could be of service to its Island community. We’re passionate about regenerative agriculture and hosting a space that cultivates inquiry through farming, food, and craft,” according to what’s written on their new website. Robin will oversee that the soil can “support a small-scale, biologically diverse, organic farm. Using regenerative agriculture principles and a low-tech farming approach, Beetlebung plans to grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and berries in our 1-plus-acre cultivated field.”

Robin’s uncle on his mother’s side has a house near Quansoo, and Robin grew up regularly visiting the Island during summers. “I think my mother always wanted to be a farmer,” he says. “My dad was a botanist, and my mom was a forester. They both went on to careers in other things, but that was how they met at UMass. When I was really little, we lived in Plainfield, homesteading out in the woods.” 

Robin explains, “Friends of friends knew people involved in the [Beetlebung Farm] project; one thing lead to another, and here I am. I left a project I was working on — managing a small farm — and helped a restaurant start a farm.”

Krishana Collins of Tea Lane Farm and Alisa Javits are both Beetlebung Farm directors. Beetlebung Farm participated in Wednesday’s Farmers Market, and they are submitting their application for next season’s markets. Robin said the Beetlebung farmstand has had much more traffic than they expected, besides a “great reception from the community.” 

Between now and the end of the season, Robin says we can expect to find “alliums, arugula, salad mix, turnips, radishes (both French Breakfast and classic red), and kale.” 

Only one acre of the six-acre property is dedicated to farming. Although there is no plan to have animals, they do plan to sell Beetlebung Meat Farm meats next season from their farmstand. (Beetlebung Meat Farm is owned by Josh and Lindsey Scott.) This year Pork-to-Fork brought pigs over for a week to help eradicate a mugwort overgrowth. Robin has even raised turkeys. Beetlebung Farm is looking to establish local partnerships within the Island community; for now everything and everyone is new for Robin.

“At this point,” Robin says, “we’re laying the groundwork for 2020, getting the cover crops established.” Right now they’re sticking to one hoop house, which is planted out with greens of various kinds, and will become their propagation space in the spring. They will grow everything from organic seeds, and look forward to seed saving. In fact, Robin had spent the morning harvesting chive seeds, but this late in the season the temperature and light affect how many seeds will become available. The farm practices are chemical-free, no artificial fertilizers, no herbicides, placing the greatest importance on soil health by minimizing tillage and using a variety of different methods to promote biodiversity, both above- and belowground.

Robin and his wife moved into what was formerly Rena’s beauty salon. Since becoming partners, Robin and Julia had not been able to visit the Island due to work commitments, so it is Beetlebung Farm that allowed Robin to reconnect with a place he’s always loved, and for Julia, to also fall in love in her own way. “It was an incredibly exciting opportunity for Robin, and I’d never been here,” Julia says. “As an artist who’s trying to establish my practice, this could be a wonderful place. I grew up spending summers on Prince Edward Island in Canada, so it felt familiar and different. Me and Robin are interested in foraging our food and being connected to our food. We’re excited about the chances to go clamming, be on the water, and be connected to a different side of nature that we never experienced in the Berkshires. We spent a lot of time in the woods.

“Digital photography is something I’ve been interested in for a really long time, and got serious about in college. I had the good fortune to work with Elle Pérez [a NYC-based photo artist], who showed me what an amazing artform digital photography is. Then right after graduation, I had the blind luck of getting a job as an intern/assistant at [art photographer] Gregory Crewdson’s studio in Great Barrington.” 

After her nine-month or so gig, Julia landed a job at the Clark Art Institute in graphic design, getting to learn all about exhibition design, “helping visualize the curator’s idea, tell the story of the art narrative, reading topography, color, and capturing the time and place. This is work I’d like to continue with.” 

What’s nice for Julia is that she can work remotely, but also does print design, including calendars, invitations, trail maps, and more. Julia looks forward to her family’s first visit to the Island.

 

If you want to reach out to the new stewards of Beetlebung Farm, try Robin Hackett at info@beetlebungfarm.org, and Julia Matejcek can be reached through her website juliamatejcek.com. If you’re interested in working on the farm for the 2020 season, check beetlebungfarm.org/join-our-team.