SOMERVILLE — Last year, Anil Roopchand got behind on shoveling out the goat pens in the barn at his family’s Hewett Road farm, on land that has been farmed by six generations of farmers, and he knew it.

So he put out a call for help to his fellow members of the Somerville Farmers Network, an informal group of local farmers organized by his wife Kelly Payson-Roopchand, three of whom showed up shortly thereafter to make quick work of the shoveling needed at their Pumpkin Vine Family Farm, a commercial goat dairy and farm.

In that situation, the farmers shared their labor, but they also often share knowledge, encouragement and the products and byproducts they produce with their farming neighbors.

“Just be good neighbors,” Roopchand, a native of Trinidad, said of the general idea of the network. “We help each other out.”

A short distance away at Alicia and Corey O’Connell’s Briggs Farm, named for Corey’s dad, they raise belted Galloway cows and pigs for meat, egg-laying chickens and produce and an apiary of honey bees.

The O’Connells use the whey produced by Pumpkin Vine Family Farm when making goat cheese to help feed their pigs at Briggs Farm.

But Alicia O’Connell said the group is as much about less tangible things as it is about sharing products or labor.

“It helped us meet other farmers, to learn from and help each other,” she said.

Sharon Reishus, a neighbor to Briggs Farm, said having a network of local farmers isn’t just good for the farmers, it’s a benefit to area residents.

Corey O’Connell, left, speaks Sunday with customer Jim Grenier at the Briggs Farm in Somerville. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

She said the previous owners of what is now Briggs Farm were “gentlemen farmers,” not producing items for the public.

“It’s great to have someone here working the farm,” Reishus said while visiting Sunday. “It’s good to have young farming families coming in. It’s great to see (the farmer’s network). It’s so nice to be able to shop hyper-local.”

While most of the farmers in the network are in Somerville, at least some are from surrounding towns, including Joel and Annalisa Miller’s Wild Miller Farm, a horse-powered farm growing organic produce just over the town line in Palermo.

Annalisa Miller said the Somerville Farmers Network helps provide a sense of community, share knowledge and offer encouragement to local farmers.

Wild Miller Farm sells some of its produce wholesale and has a contract to sell produce to the Good Shepherd Food Bank for distribution to people in need through the Mainers Feeding Mainers program.

Providing food to their neighbors is part of their mission, Annalisa Miller said.

Joel Miller drives his team into the barn Sunday at the Wild Miller Farm in Palermo. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“Some farmers want to sell what they grow in Portland or Boston, and that’s fine. But that’s not our personal mission, which is to keep it local,” she said. “Anything we can do to support local food is going to help keep our community sustainable.”

Wild Miller Farm, Annalisa Miller said, hadn’t been farmed for about 40 years when they started farming there five years ago. The family uses two hulking draft horses, Land and Luke, for outside ploughing and pulling carts of hay or manure around their 80 acres of land, which includes 27 open acres.

Joel Miller said he’s used the network to do “labor swaps,” where farmers with a big project can seek direct help from other network members. For their labor, sometimes they are paid money; sometimes they just figure they’ll get the labor back, some day, from the farmer who received help.

He said it can be hard for first-generation farmers, many of whom have jobs off the farm to help make ends meet, to find the time to network with each other in more traditional agricultural organizations, such as the Grange.

He credited Payson-Roopchand for putting in the time to coordinate the Somerville Farmers Network, which grew out of a farmers market held on Sundays at Pumpkin Vine Family Farm.

“Kelly has the ability to energize people,” Joel Miller said. “They’re great folks; we love them. I don’t have the energy for organizing like that.”

Payson-Roopchand, who has written a book about the family farm, which has been farmed since the early 1800s, said the usual farmer’s market at Pumpkin Valley Farm features pretty much the same farmers who were part of the network’s fourth annual Open Farm Day on Sunday.

She said people gather at the market to chat and have coffee and tea, joking that there isn’t much else to do in Somerville.

She said the network’s farmers range from homesteaders raising their own food to small farms offering products to the public.

“It gives us courage and practical support,” Payson-Roopchand said.

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