Sustainability at Ward’s Berry Farm by SSC Roving Reporter Charlotte Pototsky (age 15)

As the growing season comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to learn more about the sustainability practices at Ward’s Berry Farm, a family-owned business in Sharon. The interview with Jim Ward is below:

Jim Ward has worked on his Farm in Sharon since it opened in 1982. From his beginnings growing and selling a large variety of fruits and vegetables, the farm has become a large, successful, and diverse business employing over 150 people over the past 38 years. Jim finds lots of gratification with nurturing crops, harvesting them, and selling them to individuals and families to prepare and enjoy. He also loves working outside!

Question 1: Is Sustainability important to your business at Ward’s?

Mr. Ward definitively answered, “Yes! For obvious reasons, the long-term viability of the farm, connection to the people in town, and the sustainability of my practices are all important. We all want to be around for a long time and to continue to do what we do for a long time. So, for instance, we focus on soil stewardship here. It makes all of the other parts of our job easier, to have good, healthy soil. In fact, that’s what we focus on the most, in a real and practical way. Sustainability, though, is a big, broad topic!”

Q: 2. Can you share an example of how your practices contribute to the farm’s sustainability?

First, there are so many ways that Ward’s has incorporated sustainable practices on the farm. There are specific things we contribute every day, but these vary. Just today, we were gathering leaves from a few local landscapers in town that have a lot of leaves this time of year. We took them and immediately started on their composting. It’s a year-long process, where we turn them a few times throughout the year, add any vegetable waste, plus animal waste to make great compost. We then apply that to our fields. An entire third of our farmland gets a thick layer of this fresh compost, which adds to the organic matter and diverse microbiology levels in our soil. And that’s just today!”

Q: 3. Have you had any struggles overcoming sustainability challenges?

“Surprisingly, there have only been a few. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a time I have been negatively impacted. All of the choices we have made have been environmentally conscious, as that has always been a key focus for us. I don’t think any of the choices we’ve made have had any real negative impact. For example, one choice we made was that instead of traditional cultivation, we do “no-till and zone till” farming. This means we don’t have to do any conventional tillage, which includes plowing to work the soil.

If we had chosen to do that [tillage], we would be producing a lot more CO2 emissions not just from our tractor, but also by releasing the carbon in our soil. The struggle here was that we had to buy specialized equipment and grow food in a way we never had to before. However, we haven’t turned back or regretted any of those decisions or purchases. We now use less irrigation and gain more organic matter.”

Q: 4. What goals or ideas do you have for the company’s future that can ensure Ward’s continues its sustainability practices?

“We are trying to incorporate an animal component to the business, to have a more circular system. We have a few hogs which we can feed vegetable waste that we can’t sell because it is blemished (i.e., not pristine anymore). The hogs also help to root out obnoxious weeds. They stay in a solar-powered, electrified pen. This is just a trial this year, but I think it was pretty successful, given that they also gave us more compost from their manure. If you want to know more about farming, I strongly suggest a book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen. “It is a true and compelling story, and it was the inspiration that led us to add these animals.”

Q: 5. Where do you want to be in terms of sustainability in 5-10 years?

“There is always more growth you can do, but I think where we are right now is really good. We have a great team of workers who are conscientious about soil health and other important ideas. This is a constant process. We will be composting forever! It will never end. It will always be to our advantage, whenever we do it, so we will always do it. Generally, I don’t feel like we need to make extreme changes to our sustainability practices right now.”

Q: 6. How has the Coronavirus impacted you over the past few months? Has it changed the way you can package or bag produce or other items?

As with many companies, Ward’s did have to make some changes. “Covid has made this a strange and interesting year. We had great demand from our retail store. People seemed to stay local and we sold well. A lot of our customers that are restaurants had a much more difficult year, but we are more focused on (perhaps say we get a larger share of income from) our business with individual customers.

We only had to change our packaging a little bit. We have always had to package things like beans, but there were a few items we had to change to sell. On the other hand, a few things actually got easier. For example, we pre-cut deli meats so they fly off the shelves. Some things changed that made life simpler. We may never go back to the old way!”

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts on clean energy or how you live sustainably. Here are three ways to make your viewpoints known and keep the conversation going:

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