The portrait could be of any barn in the winter, the faded red walls made bright by the clumps of snow that surround it. A pile of
manure lightly dusted with snow towering beside the silo and barn. The barn and manure are seen from the snow packed dirt
road through a line of young trees and barbed wire fence with wooden posts. But it isn't just any barn; it is a portrait of Cynthia
and Tom Cranston's farm in Ashfield just after they purchased the 160 acres from Tom's father to allow him to retire in the late 1970s. The portrait is a symbol of how the landscape has been changed by the Cranstons.
The original structure of Cynthia and Tom's house was built in the 1790s as suggested by a coin from 1773 found buried in a wall
they renovated. Since then the house had been added upon and modernized. The land and home entered Tom's family when his
grandfather bought the land from a widow in the 1940s. Tom's grandfather began raising sheep to sell wool which, before the
mass production of nylon, was profitable enough to live on. Tom's father bought the land from his grandfather in the 1950s and
converted the farm to dairy production which was the most profitable at that time. In the late 1970s Tom and Cynthia bought
the land from his father. But with rising costs of dairy production and the push towards large scale operations, Tom and Cynthia
opted out of dairy farming. They researched ways they could maintain a living on their farm which in the past had supported
grazing agricultural animals, but they were interested in alternatives because of the land's easily eroding surfaces and low soil
quality. This left few options for farming agricultural plants on a mass scale but haying was one option. Christmas tree farming became another option.
Unsure if they would like growing Christmas trees, in the early 1980s they decided to try, because it was the only alternative
which would allow them to keep the farm without selling any land. While awaiting the maturing Christmas trees, which take 8
years, Tom returned to his veterinary practice focusing on small animals to supplement their income. In 1989, they sold their
first Christmas trees mostly to wholesalers but were pleasantly surprised that they could make a living in this way. They found
they enjoyed the year round process of preparing trees and the concentrated selling period between Thanksgiving and
Christmas. They joined the National Association for Christmas Tree Growers. Their participation in the Association's national
competition of Christmas tree growers lead them to win in 2007, and at the national Convention they presented their Christmas
tree to Vice President Dick Cheney to be displayed in the Vice Presidential residence for the holidays.
In 1980, Cynthia and Tom enrolled in the Chapter 61 A program and created a forest management plan for their property. They
found that they were not in need of a forester's assessment of their property every decade. Instead, they are waiting for when
they are ready to cut in their forest to tap the expertise of a forester. In the meantime, Tom takes only enough trees from the
forest for fire wood purposes throughout the winter. They have 2 sons who help on the property and growing grandchildren
whom they hope one day to leave the farm to. Having seen the land use change from a sheep farm to dairy farm to now a
Christmas tree and hay farm, they have concern about limiting the possibilities for the future, so they have resisted placing a conservation easement on the property.
Cynthia and Tom say that what has made their land unique is "we have made it what it is." They have invested their hearts and
souls in the land for more than 30 years. The land and the changes that they have made have become a part of them. Today,
traveling along the dirt road, one will find no barbed wire fence or large aging trees along the roadside. The manure pile and silo
are gone, but the barn remains. The smell of pine invades the senses and this is the place they call home; "like an old shoe, it fits" they say.
From MassAcorn - December 2010