In 2021, after a year-long review process by staff, board, local farmers and community members, the Essex County Greenbelt announced that Iron Ox Farm of Topsfield, Mass., whose principals are Alex Cecchinelli and Stacey Apple, will be the new farm operator at the former Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton and Topsfield.
When Greenbelt purchased the farm in 2019 with support from the Institution for Savings Charitable Foundation and many generous donors, they knew they had an opportunity to pilot a model that could make a difference to farmland affordability in Essex County. One of the most powerful tools available to land trusts to preserve farmland and make it affordable over the long term to a new farmer is the ground lease. In this partnership, Greenbelt owns the land, but enters into a long-term lease with Iron Ox Farm. This provides stability and gives them confidence to invest in the operations and to farm sustainably.
To tell this story, Greenbelt approached Reel Quest Films wanting to document Alex and Stacey’s path to becoming farmers of this historic land and the manner in which they are protecting and preserving the land they are farming. Working with staff and volunteers from Greenbelt, Reel Quest Films followed Alex and Stacey for two years, tracking their progress as they built the farm, launched a Community Supported Agriculture program, sold food at markets and restaurants, all the while raising their toddler son Sebastian.
In 2022, Greenbelt released a short video highlighting the couple’s first year plying the land, and in 2023, Reel Quest Films will produce and release a longer form video from their second year of filming. Check out the short version above and stay tuned for the final video later in 2023.
The Essex County Greenbelt plays a vital role in protecting land in the threatened Merrimack River valley in Massachusetts, an area Reel Quest Films produced a film about in The Merrimack: River at Risk. Find out more about the documentary here.