Bigfoot, Small Footprint

The inspiration and methods behind Williamstown’s newest farm. This is the first in a series of articles designed to introduce our vendors to the community. 

         Bigfoot Farm is cut out of land that slopes down a shallow hill in Williamstown, MA. It’s surrounded by two fences, one a single wire strung up along wooden posts, and the next a net hung three feet inside the first. The two combine to stymy the local deer, which can leap over most heights but have a poor depth perception that makes the space between fences prohibitively scary. Brian Cole, or Bigfoot, has been pleased with the success of this simple device, one in a series of clever structures that fill out his acre.  

        Cole graduated from Williams College in 2011 and opened a taco truck in Williamstown, El Conejo Corredor, to bring the area the colorful, fast-paced cuisine he grew up with in California. A year in this mobile kitchen was enough to feel discouraged by the pull to buy cheaper and cheaper food to keep his prices low. He felt stuck in the ultimately truck-ending routine of “waking up early every morning to work with gross food.” He sold the truck, went to farm in California, and then banded endangered songbirds in Texas before returning to apprentice at Peace Valley Farm. While there, he met Lucy Rollins, also a Williams alum and apprentice, now girlfriend, who has shared in the project of starting the area’s newest farm. 

      Bigfoot is the patchwork product of ideas from all these places and pages of literature on how to run a small farm. It has been an experimental acre, full of interesting little moments of cleverness and care. The onions now happily ensconced in the soil actually started their lives on shelves in Cole’s living room, safe under grow lights in the cold of early February. They were happy there, too, busy making Cole’s home “way too humid.” Their lettuces mostly begin in trays, each individual given a head start in its own cubicle until it resembles a tiny green rose, at which point it is moved to face the challenges of the ground.

      The centerpiece of these natural helpers is the broadfork, a nine-tined instrument that gives the scenery with a rustic twang. The broadfork replaces any need to mechanically till the soil, instead allowing Cole to dig in and lift without violently disrupting the microbial community structures that keep soil healthy. Cole has been happy with the response he sees in his soil, which holds its shape even under the pressures of a growing season. In recent years, soil health has become an increasingly studied topic in agricultural circles. Farmers and environmentalists are aligning around the need for productive, ecosystem-sustaining soil. The relatively undisturbed state of the Bigfoot land means that it can hold more nutrients, water, and organic matter, drawing some carbon from the atmosphere as it provides for his feathery dills and young arugulas.

      Bigfoot’s little acre, then, is busy stewarding the surroundings as it writes its own patterns into the landscape. Cole and Rollins decided early on to avoid the use of chemical pesticides, instead opting for a spray of dissolved clay, which, as he put it, “gunks up the antennae” of questing insects. They also keep a column of wildflowers running lengthwise along the property, a neat strip of meadow next to the rows of tiny lettuce heads. This area is designed to feed pollinators, which are the native bees, butterflies, and moths that are in decline largely because they lack good sources of nutrition. His meadowed row was full of insects stopping for a meal, making the grasses twitch as they shifted between flowers. 

      Cole has arranged this land according to both plans and whims, sometimes forgetting exactly what he has begun under a row cover in the breadth of his schemes. This sort of surprise, however, only adds to the sport of collecting for market days. He decided early to focus on growing for the Williamstown Farmers’ Market, which means planting his acre for variety rather than quantity. Selling at the market also means revisiting the relationship between food quality and price that first appeared in his food truck days. Now, Bigfoot is selling to market customers who are willing to spend money on local, responsibly-grown food. Cole and Rollins are proud of how they manage their land, but it can still feel awkward to attach prices. Rollins laughed: “We should be able to say (of a bag of greens) that’s five dollars and we’re proud of it!” They’re charging less than that, but for now they’re happy to let their lettuces establish themselves in town. Their salad mix, in fact, is creating a bit of a stir — this eclectic array of baby lettuces is already a market favorite, now featured by local eateries like the Cornucopia Food Truck and Spring Street Market and Café. Unfortunately, carrots cannot have a say in the piece, as they have proved entirely elusive to the Bigfoot landscape. Cole is rueful about what is now an inexplicable certainty: “I can’t grow any fricking carrots.”

— Rachel Retica, Williamstown Farmers Market Intern