Farm educator makes big leap into small-scale agriculture

Toni Hall is a farmer hoping to turn some heads. A diminutive plant known as spilanthes, with edible flowers called buzz buttons, is helping get people’s attention. “When I give out samples at the farmers market, people make these crazy sounds and faces, and then others start to come over,” said Hall, owner of Song Sparrow Farm in Florence. “Who knew you could get a rush you’ve never had in your life from a local farm that’s also addressing the climate crisis?”

The mouth-numbing experience of buzz buttons, which deliver a strong tingling sensation and go on to cool the throat, is the hook. The hope is that some tantalized tasters will stay to enjoy other food Song Sparrow Farm grows. And at a deeper level, Hall hopes that the farm’s success might demonstrate how small-scale farmers who don’t own land can still succeed, given the right kind of community support and determination.

Song Sparrow Farm is a diversified produce farm occupying three-quarters of an acre at the Grow Food Northampton Community Farm on Meadow Street. Hall took the reins at the farm just over a year ago, yet says, “I’ve known that growing plants was part of my path in life for a while.” After years of working as a farm and sustainability educator, the entrepreneurial challenge of managing a commercial farm felt right.

The initial plan was to grow a business up from a garden-scale, focusing on just a few crops. Then Hall met Diego Irizarry-Gerould, the previous owner of Song Sparrow Farm, who was selling the business, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to leapfrog past the startup stage.


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