Influential farmer to be recognized for community involvement

By Angie Hilsman | May 01, 2017
Photo by: Angie Hilsman Eva Sommaripa stands in her garden after pruning her apple tree.

Seventy-five-year-old Eva Sommaripa didn’t stop moving once during a one-hour interview. Clothed in a raincoat, she harvested 17 pounds of parsnips; washed produce; weighed, bagged, and boxed; entered the walk in freezer, left the walkin freezer; taught a little girl about worms, and then ran off to tai chi.

Sommaripa is the owner of the renowned, 2.5-acre Eva’s Garden. Not only is she the subject of Didi Emmons’ “Wild Flavors,” but she’s a teacher for much of Dartmouth’s agricultural community, and will receive a citizenship award from the Dartmouth Grange on May 2.

Mostly, Sommaripa is known for her work in culinary herbs and organics. She started her farm 45 years ago, as a side-gig while she lived in Cambridge.

“I started this just as a family garden. It was always organic because I wanted my children to feel safe about being able to pick and eat things without being poisoned,” she said, while digging up parsnips in the rain.

Sommaripa’s story, however, started long before she acquired her garden. She was first introduced to the Dartmouth area while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design as a ceramics student. Her friend John Powel — owner of Salt Marsh Pottery on Russells Mills Road — hosted a tour of his hometown.

“We went out and looked at Allens Pond, and I totally fell in love with it,” recalled Sommaripa. It was through Powel that she met her first gardening mentor, his mother Dody Powel. Dody taught the young Sommaripa about growing and foraging, lessons she would put to use later on.

Sommaripa also befriended Noelie Houle, also known as Dartmouth’s Goat Lady. She’d trade her herbs for goat’s milk and information. As her crops grew, she began looking for stores and restaurants around Cambridge that wanted to buy her fresh herbs. Those chefs became another source of information.

“I learned most of what I know from the chefs I sell to,” said Sommaripa. “Some people like discovering other countries. I like discovering different foods.”

Sommaripa tied her culinary fascination with her interest in nutritious foods. She narrowed her focus to foods that were easily accessible.

“I’ve been foraging a lot of wild dandelions,” she said. She listed pea greens, chickweed, and purslane as other uncommon, but nutritious vegetables. “There’s people going hungry, and there’s so much free stuff around that’s very nutritious,” she added.

Since expanding, Sommaripa has been able to turn the tables, teaching chefs about the new and interesting vegetables that she’s growing, and working with them to incorporate the plants into their menus. While many of her crops go to the same Cambridge storefronts that she started with 45 years ago, she also sells to Farm & Coast Market, Bayside Restaurant, Little Moss, New Bedford Yacht Club, How on Earth, D&B Burgers, and sometimes to No Problemo.

To keep her business going strong, Sommaripa is up and working by 6 a.m., and there are days she won’t return to her little blue house — despite it being on the same property — until 5 p.m.

“I spend a lot of time on the phone, finding out what [chefs] want, the non-hands side of it,” said Sommaripa, quick to add that she’d rather be in the garden. She has found a way to get out into the dirt, however.

“After work, late, sometimes in the early evening, there’s not so much to do on the phone and computers, and I have the garden all to myself,” she said.

Each year, Sommaripa grows about 20,000 pounds of produce. She donates to the Dorchester-based Daily Table and Haley House — a soup kitchen and live-in community in Boston’s south end. South Coast organizations also receive donations, but that’s not the reason Sommaripa has been nominated, said the Grange’s Sarah Cogswell.

"She lives gently on the land, but extracts a huge amount from it. More importantly, she teaches others how to do that," said Cogswell.

Sommaripa was growing chemical- and insecticide-free before there was an organic certification. She creates her own compost. She forages mushrooms and other crops from her woodlot, and she’s always smiling and willing to give information, added Cogswell.

“Off the top of my head, there’s five or six people who have left Eva’s farm and started their own farm, all under 40 [years old],” said Cogswell.

Sommaripa will receive the Grange’s annual Community Citizen Award on Tuesday, May 2, at 7:30 p.m. The Grange is located at 1133 Fisher Road.

Farm Manager Jeff Hake harvests tatsoi, a relative of bok choy. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Fig tree in greenhouse no. 6. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Volunteer Katie Funk cuts baby kale. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Eva Sommaripa harvests parsnips in the rain. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Eva Sommaripa collects eggs from her chicken coop. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Comments (2)
Posted by: | May 01, 2017 18:43

My wife and I "won" and silent auction prize at the 2015 DNRT Barn Bash. It was to help Eva pick for the Open Table. Well, after about 4 months of weekly picking and weeding, I told her that I was more than will to come back next year but I would NOT pay her to pick. She is a wonderful person and deserves the award. P.S., I will pick for her again this summer (she has already called)

Posted by: | May 01, 2017 18:48

I stand corrected as my wife just informed me that we paid for picking for us and not Open Table.She made sure that we had an abundant supply of veggies, greens and flowers every week. However, it was really great to be able to add to her donation to Open Table.

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