by Kristen Levine
Meadowbrook Orchards, a family-owned orchard that has operated since 1970, is putting in
foundational work to reduce their carbon footprint impact in Sterling. Many small steps make for
greater strides: Kathy Chandler, current owner of the orchard, cites her efforts to make Meadowbrook
more carbon-friendly as baby steps.
“That’s how I see it,” she said. “We’re looking into electric trucks and [electric] tools rather than gas-
powered; baby steps, but they’re going the right way.”
Carbon footprints, a term coined by oil and natural gas company British Petroleum, has a loaded
and sometimes controversial history. While BP made the term as a way of shifting public attention
from corporate influence on environmental impact, it is still valid in personal practice; rather than
shifting blame, it can be incorporated as a call to action into more environmentally sound practices. A
simple definition, as provided by The Nature Conservancy, of carbon footprints states it as “A carbon
footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gasses (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are
generated by our actions”. Meadowbrook Orchard takes this commitment to reduction seriously, as it
has both immediate and long-term benefits not just for the orchard, but for Sterling as a whole.
“It’s to help us be a better business in town and help us grow in the right direction,” Chandler said.
“By becoming more ecologically conscious of our environment, we’re also looking for ways to keep
costs in line as best we can.”
With inflation of goods and services still increasing in a post-pandemic economy, with supply still
working to catch up to demand, Chandler notes it is difficult for farms to track and keep an even hand
“It’s a time-consuming job to try and figure out what’s going to work best for us and our customers,”
she said. “We’re tracking what we do: costs is the biggest thing we do, and keeping an eye on what
we’re doing with the land. In retail operations we’re working with neighboring farmers in the area
Joining with other farms in Sterling, such as Sunnycrest Farm and Deershorn Farm, provides means
of reducing carbon: produce is grown both on the neighboring farms and on land provided by
Meadowbrook, utilizing arable land efficiently and providing a centralized point for produce sales.
Chandler, who in the summer attends multiple farmer’s markets each week, brings produce provided
by the growing network of farms with her for sale. Farms out of Sterling such as Mossy Hill Farm in
Berlin have also been contributing, adding to Meadowbrook’s web of farm connections.
“At the height of the season there’s eight markets a week. It’s about supporting other farmers, not
competing with them,” Chandler said. “We reach out into the community this way, helping build
business. It’s very much a part of the work and our culture, [this] network of farms.”
Mutual support of farms creates a strong local network that benefits not just the farms and public,
but a reduction of transport carbon footprint. As cited from Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for
Sustainable Agriculture, in a paper titled Checking The Food Odometer, produce can travel an
average 1500 miles from farm to table. This travel is termed food miles: a mile measuring the fuel
consumption to take produce from point A to point B.
Local food miles are being slowly but surely reduced, due to partnerships like Meadowbrook
Orchards’ support and selling of locally-grown produce. Chandler’s transportation of produce to sell at
farmer’s markets as well as Meadowbrook’s own retail location reduces multiple trips to the same
location for a market to one, which in turn reduces emissions from multiple transport vehicles down to
a more controlled level.
Chandler notes that the impact of carbon footprint reduction practices has already shown promise
for the orchard.
“We’re able to work with farmers, we’re buying their product to sell at retail stands and farmers
markets,” she said. “We’re working with Deershorn Farm with land that we have open and available for
them to grow vegetables; [Meadowbrook] doesn’t grow a lot of vegetables but they do and they’re very
good at it. It lets us support them by helping them and buying their stuff, and we work out deals using
Support for local farms, while always crucial, has definite need in this growing season. A frost in
February killed the entirety of Massachusetts’ peach crop for the year; any peaches available are from
out of state, and likely priced to match for the cost of long-haul transport.
“[The temperature] went below zero, went back up and killed the entire peach crop,” Chandler
confirmed. “We try to keep our food local, so [Meadowbrook] has none for sale this year. There will be
next year, we just all have to wait.”
The loss of the peach crop impacted one of Meadowbrook’s produce providers, Sunnycrest Farm,
who supplies the popular fruit to the orchard. Meadowbrook continues to purchase types of apples not
grown on the orchard’s own property, and provides support during a tough season.
Banding together to build business connections and means of efficient transport and sale of goods
isn’t the only result Chandler hopes for.
“We’re hoping to become a more profitable business, as simple as that,” she said. “It’s not looking to
get rich, but it is looking to make money. It’s really hard for everybody; we all work hard in agriculture,
and it’s hurtful when we can’t make money out of as hard as we try, but we carry on and figure it out.
My son David and I said to each other, “how are we going to do this, how do we start making some
money?”, and he’s gotten involved in creating a disc golf course [on the property]. It’s another avenue
to build business and use the land for recreation rather than agriculture.”
Disc golf, a sport that has gained immense popularity over the last several years, provides local
residents a chance to enjoy vigorous activity and scenic views without having to travel long-distance in
search of recreation. As a more rural town, Sterling’s offerings for recreation focus more on the
natural, and a disc golf course brings local attention and funding to the orchard. Meadowbrook has
also tilted in a more green direction with packaging and waste.
“There continues to be more waste than we’d like,” Chandler said. “We continue to use paper plates
and such because we don’t have a dishwasher, but we’ve changed from styrofoam to compostable
paper products like bags when going to farmers markets. We started it because we had to, to do a
market in east Boston, they only accept compostable packaging, and now we use them a lot. It’s that
kind of thing, trying to be more conscious of the materials we’re using.”
While Chandler has stated that, “Agriculture is very hard nowadays; how can we in the
business continue to keep the land in agriculture, and grow?”, the steps taken by
Meadowbrook Orchard show that the farm, and other local agriculture providers, are looking
in the right direction. Reduction starts with one person at a time looking for the most beneficial
routes, not the easiest, to benefit a community as a whole.