Rosaly Swann Bass, Wells College Class of 1958, has been selected to receive the Wells College Alumnae and Alumni Award for 2016. She is being honored for her life’s work as an organic farmer. In 1973 Rosaly founded Rosaly’s Garden in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Her “garden” is now the state’s oldest and largest Certified Organic Farm, with 25 acres under cultivation.
Her farming experience and philosophy took root on the farm she grew up on in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Her mother was a devoted organic gardener because she believed this approach was healthier for people and for the environment.
Rosaly attended Wells between 1954 and 1959, got married, had two children and settled in Francestown, NH. She divorced and took her children to New York City, where she taught fifth grade in a Harlem public school. “They had taken every bad kid out of the other fifth-grade classes and put them into one class, and gave it to me. They had gone through 13 teachers before I got them. And I survived,” Rosaly said about her teaching years.
Rosaly married Perkins Bass in 1973 and moved back to New Hampshire. They were married for 38 years, when Perkins died at the age of 99. Early in their marriage, Rosaly’s plan was to write fiction, children’s books and short stories. But ultimately, her writing led to her gardening and farming. Every time her writing was turned down, she made her garden larger. Eventually, she had so much produce that she started giving it away to extended family members. She still had a surplus, so she started selling it wholesale to local restaurants and businesses. Customers began lining up for her produce, so Rosaly built a farm stand, plowed another field and planted more.
What started out as a kitchen garden has grown into an organic farm that is still going strong more than forty years later. Today, the farm is known as Rosaly’s Garden (www.rosalysgarden.com). Although Rosaly started the farm, she can't take credit for naming it. She wanted to grow healthy food and beautiful flowers, and frankly didn't think a name was important. But it drove Perkins crazy – tiny slips of paper with scribbled notes, Rosaly making deliveries without formal invoices. "It's working fine," she told him. Not satisfied with her answer, one day when she came in from tilling the garden, Perkins presented his new bride with 3,000 invoices. "Rosaly's Garden" was prominently printed at the top of the invoices.
Rosaly’s aim has always been to grow organically, so when the state started issuing certification in 1989, she was one of the first in line. Only one other farm in the state was registered before her, but that farm has since closed. The farm was certified organic in 1989 by the US Dept. of Agriculture. Organic farms are now held to national standards first and then state standards.
After 40 years of organic farming, Rosaly put what she knows to paper—in her book, ORGANIC!—a Gardener's Handbook. “I figured it was time to write it all down, to show others how to garden without toxins. Everyone can grow organic. It's not without its challenges, but then—nothing is. I can't imagine gardening any other way.”
Everything grown at Rosaly's is organic—vegetables, herbs, flowers and berries. Ninety- percent of the produce is sold at the farm stand, and the rest to local restaurants, stores, several private schools, and a number of catering businesses.
Rosaly's Garden is dedicated to providing safe food and proving that organic farming is sustainable. Since those early days, Rosaly has learned how to do things better as well as to accept that there are many things she simply cannot control. However, she never stops learning and improving how she does things. Rosaly experimented and kept careful notes over the years. Many common organic practices today are the result of work done in her fields: black plastic mulch for potatoes and other crops; improved soil testing; high-tunnel tomatoes.
Hundreds of young and not-so-young workers helped make Rosaly's the success it is. Some have stayed one season and others have returned year after year. Many of her farmhands have gone on to start their own farms or manage other independent farms. Rosaly's Garden has been a kind of incubator, helping to educate others about organic growing.
Rosaly has served on the N.H. Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food Advisory Board. She has presented over the years to the New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Association, the Master Gardeners of N.H., Beaver Brook Association’s Accomplished Gardeners Program, and other groups. She has also implemented many agricultural experiments for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, several of which led to breakthroughs and improved organic practices that are now widely accepted as the best.
In January 2015, Rosaly was named Organic Gardener of the Year by the Northeast Organic Farming Association for the many years of hard work that she has devoted to organic farming and the important mentoring that she has done along the way.
Rosaly belongs to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire and the New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Association. Rosaly is a member of the Monadnock Buy Local organization, a network of locally-owned businesses, non-profits and citizens building a stronger local economy and a more vibrant community. The network includes 35 towns in the Monadnock Region of southwestern New Hampshire.