How We Grow at Parlee Farms near Lowell MA

Arial View of Parlee Farms Since Parlee Farms began planting in 1988, we have always strived to produce the best locally grown fruit, vegetables, and flowers in the Lowell MA area while being environmentally responsible. We have practiced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods for more than 20 years. The objective of IPM is not to eliminate all pests but to prevent pest populations from reaching damaging levels. Inspection and monitoring are the backbone of an IPM program, where the goal is to detect and correct conditions that can lead to pest problems before they occur. We have an IPM consultant scout our fields weekly for pests and diseases, using traps set in all our fruit and corn fields. As a first line of defense against damaging insects, predator insects are released into the field. Often, this release is effective in keeping damaging insects in check. Spraying is only done when a pest or disease reaches a level that could seriously harm the crop.

Other ways we monitor the health of our crops is through annual soil and tissue analyses. Also, have you noticed that our strawberry, corn, pumpkin, and flower fields are moved around from season to season? Crop rotation is an effective way of keep our soils healthier so we can produce better crops.

As Farmer Mark is a graduate of University of Massachusetts Lowell in Chemical Engineering, he has been able to use his knowledge of chemistry and biology in choosing the least-toxic methods for growing and protecting our crops. He has also agreed to participate in an ADVANCED IPM PROGRAM, also known as BIOINTENSIVE IPM, with the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dan Cooley, a scientist in the Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences Department at UMass, said the following about the ADVANCED IPM PROGRAM at UMASS:

“Many people are surprised to learn that all orchards, including organic ones, use chemicals, and this is especially true in the East, where insect pests and diseases thrive in the wet climate. Although organic growers use only chemicals allowed by the National Organic Program, all apple growers, whether conventional, IPM or organic, must spend a lot of time and money on fungicides and insecticides. Advanced IPM methods call for lower amounts, and less toxic chemicals, than the organophosphates used by conventional farmers, or rotenone and pyrethrum often used by organic growers. Farmers who use IPM also take extra time to assess each pest outbreak and numbers of natural predators so they spray not by the calendar but based on the specific pest and its life cycle.”

In conjunction with Advanced IPM methods, UMass installed a NEWA WEATHER STATION at Parlee Farms this spring. The weather data from our farm is electronically transmitted to the NEWA site and the data is used, according to the site, “…for more precise IPM and crop production practices. Weather information and pest forecast models enhance decision-making in IPM, especially for plant diseases and insects.” Feel free to visit the NEWA site to see weather conditions and history at Parlee Farms.

Parlee Farms was also certified in 2011 as a COMMONWEALTH QUALITY GROWER. According to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, Commonwealth Quality “…serves to identify locally sourced products that are grown, harvested and processed right here in Massachusetts using practices that are safe, sustainable and don’t harm the environment.  That’s why Commonwealth Quality-certified growers, producers, harvesters and processors not only meet stringent federal, state and local regulatory requirements, but also employ best management practices and production standards that ensure consumers receive the safest, most wholesome products available.” We are very proud to be among the first group of farmers to receive this designation.

All these practices are more expensive and more labor intensive to maintain, but at Parlee Farms we have not lost what our primary objective is – to raise the highest quality fruits, vegetables, and flowers in the most environmentally friendly way for our customers, ourselves, and our environment. Thank you to all who support us and other responsible, local growers!