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Changing reins: Immigrant farmhand-turned-manager to become owner of Hadley farm

  • Rosendo Santizo, an employee of Winter Moon Roots who will be buying the organization from founder, Michael Docter, moves carrots into storage units in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Docter works with Rosendo Santizo, an employee of Winter Moon Roots, to move carrots into a storage unit. Docter, the founder of the farm, is selling it to Santizo, a long-time employee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Docter works with Rosendo Santizo, an employee of Winter Moon Roots, to move carrots into a storage unit. Docter, the founder of the farm, is selling it to Santizo, a long-time employee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rosendo Santizo, an employee of Winter Moon Roots who will be buying the organization from founder, Michael Docter, moves carrots into storage units in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Docter works last month to move carrots into a storage unit at Winter Moon Roots in Hadley. Docter, the founder of the farm, is selling it to farm manager Rosendo Santizo, a longtime employee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rosendo Santizo, an employee of Winter Moon Roots who will be buying the organization from founder, Michael Docter, moves carrots into storage units in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Docter, left, founder of Winter Moon Roots in Hadley, works with longtime employee Rosendo Santizo to move carrots into a storage unit recently. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Docter works with Rosendo Santizo, an employee of Winter Moon Roots, to move carrots into a storage unit. Docter, the founder of the farm is selling to Santizo, a long time employee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Winter Moon Roots farm manager Rosendo Santizo, a native of Guatemala, is set to take over ownership of the Hadley farm from Michael Docter. Photographed on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Winter Moon Roots farm manager Rosendo Santizo, a native of Guatemala, is set to take over ownership of the Hadley farm from Michael Docter. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Winter Moon Roots farm manager Rosendo Santizo, a native of Guatemala, is set to take over ownership of the Hadley farm from Michael Docter. Photographed on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2021

HADLEY — A banner year for carrots, beets, turnips and rutabaga grown by Winter Moon Roots is not a matter of good fortune, but rather a demonstration of the experience that goes into producing the organic root vegetables.

“You need to know when to pick the carrots. You need to know the when and how,” says farm manager Rosendo Santizo.

“You also need to give a lot of love to your vegetables,” Santizo adds, explaining how he cares for each carrot while they are growing in the field, making sure they have the best chance to grow large and tasty.

Santizo, who came to the United States in 2005 from Guatemala and began his tenure as a farmhand at Winter Moon Roots more than a decade ago, will soon become the owner of the farm on Lawrence Plain Road.

“Everything will be the same when I take over,” Santizo said, noting that he learned about the opportunity to take over two years ago from longtime owner Michael Docter. “Whatever people are buying, I already grow that.”

For Docter, who founded Winter Moon Roots in 2008 after previously operating the Food Bank Farm, it is time for fresh blood and to step back from running the farm, which grows thousands of pounds of the vegetables on about 18 acres each year, and manages a total of 30 acres that are rotated.

“I’m hoping to give all reins to Rosendo over the next few years,” Docter said. “He is incredibly capable.”

The decision, in addition to giving Docter more time to devote to making Mi Terria Tortillas, is also about continuing what he sees as a rich tradition of immigrant ownership of farms in the Pioneer Valley. He said this can be traced to when the land of the Native Americans was taken by the first European settlers, to the 20th century as Irish arrived and then people from Poland, and finally the help of individuals, in recent decades, from Central and Latin America.

“This is the logical procession of waves of people who come here wanting to work hard,” Docter said.

Docter said he has been successful as he got into the local winter food marketplace before anyone else, and was one of the first farms to have a supply of the root vegetable produce available year-round.

“We have the best-tasting carrots, beets and radishes,” Docter said. “We focus really on the eating quality and people know they are ours.”

The loyal customer base includes people at River Valley Co-op in Northampton, where the carbon footprint is reduced by Docter’s own bicycling of the produce from Hadley.

Now doing about 80% of the work, Santizo said he came to the United States to give his mother a better life, being poor and having difficulty providing for her family. After starting in Florida and not enjoying the hot summers in the fields, he was invited by his brother Edvin and just worked the winter months at the farm initially, also spending time at the neighboring Next Barn Over and in Connecticut. As his responsibilities grew at Winter Moon Roots, Santizo got married and settled in Hadley.

Santizo said his expertise is in planting the crops in the spring and summer, tending to them and then knowing the right time to pull them. He has some nervousness not knowing much about marketing. But slowly he is learning more about the business, from printing invoices to ordering seeds and answering emails from customers.

As part of the arrangement, he will own all the equipment and assets, including the Lawrence Plain Road storage facility where the organic produce is stored using as little refrigeration as possible, meaning a minimal carbon footprint. This is done through a computerized fan and venting system that brings in cold winter air rather than energy-intensive conventional refrigerants.

Docter, though, will continue to own and rent the land.

Docter calls this a five-year transition where Santizo is getting the goodwill of the business.

It is important to preserve this, as the farm may soon be reaching out to the community for assistance to support aspects of the business.

“Michael is like my family, I’ve told him he’s like my dad,” Santizo said.

“I know a lot of people around here who will help me,” Santizo said. “And I thank everyone who supports the farm, and hope everyone will continue to support the farm.”