BY DEBBIE HOVANASIAN, Valley Dispatch Correspondent
DRACUT — Farms that have remained in one family for several generations are a rarity in this area today, particularly those from which its owners derive their primary income.
Also rare in this time of skyrocketing property values and a high demand for buildable land are farms not being sold for commercial or residential development.
Tucked away from view off Wheeler Road, Taplin Farm is not as well known as other working farms in Dracut, said owner Dana Taplin, whose grandfather, Hallie Taplin, bought the land in 1915 and operated a small dairy farm. “But I prefer it that way,” smiled the 39-year-old.
The farm’s income is derived from the sale of hay to horse farms in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Thirty of the farm’s 96 acres are planted as hay fields, yet that comprises just a small percentage of the hay sold by the farm, said Taplin. The remainder of the hay sold is cultivated from other hay fields in the area.
Taplin’s hay bales are also sold for construction use — including the Big Dig — and for ornamental purposes, particularly during September to mid-October, Taplin added.
The tranquility of the Taplin property is balanced by the high energy of a family that clearly works well as a team and enjoys doing so. During a two-hour visit, several family members came in and out, telephoned, or received instructions from Taplin on matters that needed immediate attention.
“Without my family, I couldn’t get this done,” said Taplin, a graduate of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture and the University of Massachuetts Amherst. Pointing toward his mother, Norma Taplin, he added: “She’s the one you should be talking to.”
Today, the family members all live nearby and continue to pitch in on the farm. Norma’s grandchildren, the fourth generation, ages 10 through 13, enjoy the open recreational space, Norma said. “They are all less than a half hour away,” she smiled.
Living on a farm in Dracut for more than 50 years has agreed with Norma. “I never get bored,” she said, gesturing toward the rolling green fields surrounded by hundreds of sunlit autumn trees. “I have no cravings to go to the beaches and mountains. I walk out my door and I’m already in the country.”
Yet Norma does enjoy traveling and has visited several other countries, she added. “The kids are old enough to carry on now. I don’t need to stick around.”
Originally studying to be an architect, Dana said he realized early on that he wasn’t meant for an office.
“I always knew I didn’t want to work for someone else. I wanted to call my own shots.”
After graduating with degrees in animal science and resource economics, Dana was a tenant farmer in Topsfield for eight years. Eventually, he came home to Dracut.
“This is a lifestyle versus a job,” he said. “I enjoy the benefits and perks that the farm offers, and I’ve always had it in my blood.”
Dana says he is not fazed by the hard work, long hours, hot temperatures and not being able to travel in the summer. “I was brought up that if there is a job to do, you just get it done,” he said.
The Taplin family is also gratified to play a part in a community that is preserving farms and open space. “Dracut is making a good faith, honest effort and I applaud that,” said Dana. The family hopes to keep the farm as is “for the benefit of the family and the neighborhood,” said Dana. “The more open space preserved, the better for everyone.”
And while he acknowledges that there are fewer farmers now in the neighborhood, “we are still blessed by good neighbors,” he stressed.