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Back to the farm

Bay State leads nation's ag growth

Dick Caouette shoos his two goats out of the barn so he can close it. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
April 22, 2010
he Bay State has the stereotype of being a place where the primary crop is rocks. But in the last several years, more people have opted to challenge that concept by becoming farmers than anywhere else in the nation.

According to US Department of Agriculture data, between 2002 and 2007, the number of farms grew 27 percent here, compared to just 4 percent nationwide. That's despite a slight drop in the actual acreage under cultivation.

Among them are a lot of very small places, some that are cropping less than the five acres required to be protected as a farm (although many own more).

Southbridge's Dick Caouette isn't actually planting anything on his seven acres on Route 169, nor is he a newcomer to farming, but otherwise he fits the bill. Over the course of 30 years there, he has tried raising a variety of animals, including chickens, turkeys and rabbits, but has had goats and sheep for most of that time. Today, he has just two goats and sheep each, but keeps himself busy with various projects, many of them involving the small sawmill he built himself in a barn.

"This was a challenge," he said of the sawmill. "I had motorcycle parts, over head door parts" and even surplus sign posts, and he welded it all together.

"My kid told me, 'Dad, this freakin' MacGyver will never work," but it does: Caouette uses it to create the boards he's needed to build most of the side buildings on his property, and even sells some.

Like many current newcomers, when he started he had no farming experience. He was a carpenter who liked the idea of getting farther away from downtown to a quieter area. He said he got his first goats shortly thereafter to help keep the property clear of undergrowth, since they eat almost anything.

See Friday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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