Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School graphics department seniors Kiana Cintron, left, and Jenelle Remy show off their SkillsUSA medals and the graphic designs that got them there. Fitchburg resident Cintron was first in the Massachusetts SkillsUSA 2023 National T-shirt Design Challenge and Remy, from Sterling, took first in the Massachusetts SkillsUSA 2023 State Pin Design Challenge (top right graphic) and second place in the national t-shirt design category. Next up is the annual SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference in Atlanta in June, where the young women will receive gold awards.
Westminster writer releasing ‘Prayer Can Be Anything’ poetry collection
WESTMINSTER — Compiling her new poetry collection was cathartic for author Karen Elizabeth Sharpe, providing the opportunity to focus on and showcase not only her creativity but her spiritual journey.
“Prayer Can Be Anything” from Finishing Line Press has been a long time coming. The former journalist and newspaper editor published her first book of poetry, “This Late Afternoon,” nearly 20 years ago but her relationship with poetry began well before that.
“I’ve been writing and publishing poetry since I was a child,” Sharpe said. “I had an upbringing that had no formal religion and I learned about the various organized religions through osmosis and later, by intentionally wanting to learn more. From there, I settled into my own understanding of spirituality and my connection to life and the world. Prayer, in my view, can be anything, any act of faith, of reverie, of honoring, of supplication, of truth-telling, and of hope. It can be the act of writing, of focusing on a minute detail, a meditation, or a commitment.”
The Central Mass. native grew up in Shrewsbury and lived in Sterling for many years before moving to Westminster. She attended Holy Cross in Worcester right after high school but dropped out, got married and had two children. She went back and finished her undergraduate degree in English at Clark University, also in Worcester, and later earned a master’s degree in communication at Fitchburg State University.
Sharpe has been writing for most of her life. She was a journalist early in her career and the editor of the former Times & Courier and MotherTown Monthly and has been a contributing writer to Worcester Magazine, The Boston Globe, and a variety of higher ed publications. She is the Assistant Vice President for Leadership Giving at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a job she is deeply dedicated to.
“I work to build long-term relationships with alumni donors to guide their philanthropy in meaningful ways, to enable students to succeed through scholarships, research funds, and more,” Sharpe said.
Her love for poetry began at a young age and “was nurtured through a rough childhood by several wonderful teachers” in the Shrewsbury public schools, most notably retired educator Patricia Pennucci, whom Sharpe said she is “still fondly connected to.”
Sharpe revealed that after her father died when she was a girl it was Pennucci who introduced her “to a number of the great poets that are accessible to children” — Frost, Dickinson, and others, like Anne Sexton, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams.
“I write poetry because it is the vehicle through which I find valuable creative expression and a means to capture and understand the moments of the world around me,” she said.
The title of her latest work comes from the final poem in it, “The Surety of This Late Winter Night,” which she said, “is about finding faith in difficult circumstances.”
“Prayer can be a pile of roadside stones, beseeching / The quicksand sorrow invokes / The hemlock across the lake / supplicant in thin-needled halo light. It doesn’t have to be / text, wafer, or baptism / two hands pressed, rosary clicking,” the first several lines of the deeply profound poem read.
Sharpe regularly publishes individual poems of hers in literary journals from across the country.
“It’s an exceptionally competitive art form with a tiny audience,” she said. “When I transitioned to a career in higher education, I originally worked in communications and wrote for, edited, and managed a number of college publications, marketing materials, and alumni magazines. Now, though I focus on my poetry.”
Asked about her writing process and how she overcomes challenges such as writer’s block, the prolific poet admits she has “terrible, terrible dry spells, years of them.”
“My creativity has been deeply affected by stress and, to be honest, an imposter syndrome that kept me hamstrung at times,” she said. “One of the things I’ve learned over the years, though, is that everything you want is on the other side of fear. I wanted to get over my imposter syndrome and keep writing and so I found ways to do it and made myself do it. It’s like exercise and athletics. You can’t get better by not practicing. So now I practice, like yoga, so it’s a muscle I keep in shape.”
She workshops poems with “a tremendous group” of Boston-based poets almost weekly and said that they are all working on some level of publishing whether it be putting together manuscripts or getting the fruits of their labor out there. While it can be challenging to keep up the creative flow, Sharpe is fully committed to continually honing her skills.
“I go in and out of a daily morning practice of writing and lately have been trying to fit it in small moments here and there in afternoons, weekends, nights,” she said. “It’s not an easy craft.”
Sharpe is a poetry editor at The Worcester Review literary journal, a former member of the board of the Worcester County Poetry Association and also on the steering committee of the inaugural National Baseball Poetry Festival to be held April 28-30 in Worcester.
She is lining up and participating in a number of poetry readings this spring and summer, including two in Worcester — Poet-Pourri, an evening of poets, storytellers, and humorists on May 18 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the Worcester County Poetry Association Boardroom at the Salisbury House, 61 Harvard St.; and Arts in the Garden with musical performers Chuck & Mud on June 29 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at The Community Teaching Garden, 3 West Boylston Dr.
With it being National Poetry Month and ahead of “Prayer Can Be Anything” launching in print in July, Sharpe said she is available for interviews, readings, phone calls, “and of course book sales.”
“Most people don’t realize that when you publish a book the hard work continues right up until it’s published,” she shared. “Right now, my book is in what’s called pre-sales, the period of advanced orders which the publisher uses to determine how big the press run will be,” Sharpe said. “Selling is not generally in the poet’s wheelhouse, but we need to pre-sell books in order to be successful. It’s kind of like a GoFundMe, except that you get my book instead of making a charitable contribution.”
Sharpe said her family, friends, “poet peers and colleagues are of course thrilled” about her new offering.
“Some were a little surprised too,” she said. “I don’t generally talk about what I’m working on outside of my poet-circle. While some people knew I had been publishing for a while, not all knew I had worked out a manuscript.”
A link to the book, individual poems and some audio and video readings of her work are available on her website at karenelizabethsharpe.com.
Harper’s Farm offering early produce bumper crop
Flowers are blooming and trees are beginning to bud, sure signs of spring along with farms across the region beginning to offer the fruits of their labor.
Harper’s Farm in Lancaster has been open every weekend this month and added Tuesdays starting this week. In addition to high tunnel greenhouse harvests including spinach, carrots, scallions, arugula, radish, onions, lettuce mix and micro greens they also have lettuce, beet, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower starter plugs available.
“I always really look forward to starting the farm up again in the spring,” said fourth-generation farmer Dave Harper, adding that although he enjoys “a little rest in the winter” he’s not a fan of the colder months.
Harper oversees his family’s over 100 acres multigenerational farm located at 1539 N. Main Street, which includes a farm stand that is filled with an abundance of farm fresh goodness throughout the season. He said early strawberries, beets, peas, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli rabe and turnips are coming soon — the result of the high tunnels, unheated greenhouses in the field that they “started experimenting with during the pandemic.”
“We are able to plant some crops in November and have them ready in March and we are able to plant greens starting in February to harvest all spring,” Harper shared. “We will also be able to plant early tomatoes and cucumbers in the tunnels in a couple weeks to have an early crop.”
They now have three high tunnels, two that are 14 by 100 feet and one larger one that is 30 by 100 feet that they received grant money to build.
“I especially love the tunnels because I can walk into them in February and it’s 70 degrees inside with the sun and it feels like spring in the middle of winter,” Harper said. “We don’t usually open until the first week of May when the asparagus is ready, so this has been the earliest we have had fresh veggies available.”
The warmer weather has enabled them to plant a lot of crops outside last week and this week, including sweet corn, “but they will still need covering to protect them as we still can have some cold days and nights ahead,” Harper conveyed. He went on to say that they appreciate people “supporting local agriculture” and that they still have some CSAs shares available.
Their farm stand will be open more days and hours beginning in May and other farms in the area will be following suit.
Hollis Hills Farm in Fitchburg, which was open weekends in March for maple syrup season, will be reopening for the season in May along with Wildwood Farm in Lunenburg.
After hosting a few weddings and events in the past, Gretchen Foster, who owns and operates 117-acre Wildwood along with her husband and their three children, said that in addition to the farm stand, horseback riding lessons and boarding, meats, cordwood, and more, they “decided to go all in” and will be offering “beautiful, tented weddings” on the farm May through October.
“So many exciting things happening at Wildwood Farm this year,” Foster said. “We absolutely love sharing our property with others that love and appreciate the farm as much as we do.”
They purchased a 40 by 80 feet tent capable of hosting events up to 200 people “and all the amenities to make a farm wedding absolutely magical.” Foster said they “have partnered with the best of the best in the area” when it comes to vendors and will be holding Veils & Cocktails on May 21 from noon to 4 p.m., an open house and wedding expo “to showcase all that the farm has to offer” and more information can be found on their website at wildwoodfarmllc.com.
“Taking this next step was an absolute no brainer for us,” Foster said. “Hosting events is just such a fun way to share our farm and we hope to see everyone on the farm this spring and summer.”
In other farm news
Community owned and operated Sholan Farms in Leominster has their 22nd annual Apple Blossom Festival & Craft Fair set for May 20. The popular family friendly event showcases the beautiful pink hued blooms and features over 40 crafters, kids activities, a scavenger hunt, free wagon rides, a gift basket silent auction, food trucks, and more. For more information, visit bit.ly/3mu1CGz.
Several ice cream stands are also officially open for the season including Cherry Hill Ice Cream and Conrad’s Ice Cream Shop in Lunenburg and in Sterling, Rota Spring Farm and Sterling Ice Cream.
Photos: Two baby lambs born just in time for Easter
Just in time for Easter, two adorable lambs were born at Davis Farmland on Saturday.
PHOTOS: Ice formations on the Central Mass Rail Trail
Ice formations seen from the Sterling section of the Central Mass Rail Trail makes for beautiful winter scenery.
The Joseph and Leslie Carr Foundation carrying on family’s giving back legacy
LANCASTER — The Carr siblings are continuing their mission to do good in the community through the foundation they created in their late parents’ names as a way to carry on their giving back and selfless legacies.
Since they launched The Joseph and Leslie Carr Foundation, Inc. in 2019 the four siblings — BethAnne Arnold of Shirley, David Carr of Lancaster, Joseph Carr of Lowell, and Michelle Harris of Sterling — along with a legion of dedicated volunteers have packed and distributed 1,250 holiday food baskets to those in need in the greater region.
“Like any siblings, we have our moments, but there isn’t anyone else I’d want to work alongside with our spouses and children,” David Carr said of his family and their altruistic efforts.
One hundred volunteers of all ages lent a helping hand at the Dec. 17 food baskets assembly at the Leominster Eagles Club and another 100 volunteers delivered the 600 baskets, which included a full turkey dinner with all the sides, to people in 21 towns and cities across Worcester and Middlesex counties — up from 350 baskets last year, 200 in 2020, the year they officially became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and 100 the first year.
Two hundred of the December baskets went to Clinton, Leominster and Fitchburg. On Dec. 18, 100 volunteers participated in assembling another 50 food baskets and delivered them across the Merrimack Valley out of Butler Middle School in Lowell.
“There are always some hiccups but generally speaking we’ve got it down to a science, and that is why we felt comfortable expanding to a second location this year in Lowell,” David Carr said of how this season’s efforts went, adding that their family grew up in Tewksbury so they “wanted an opportunity to expand in that area.”
Their father Joseph Carr started a similar food baskets program with the Medford Rotary Club more than 40 years ago that still operates today, “so there is some legacy in there for us,” he said of what inspires them.
“There are a half million people in Massachusetts that don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, including one out of every 11 children,” David Carr shared about some staggering statistics. “That resonates with each of us. More than half of the families in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck. So many of us are one accident or diagnosis or job loss away from not being able to cover basic costs, so providing food allows folks to spend money in other areas.”
When asked what the reaction typically is from recipients of the food baskets, David Carr said that they were “overwhelmed by the responses this year,” which came via email, Facebook message, and mail.
“We received more this year than in all the other years combined,” he said. “We don’t do this for the reaction, but it sure is nice to hear we’re doing the right thing.”
Beyond the 600 food baskets for Christmas, this year the foundation sponsored over 30 meals at WHEAT in Clinton, supported food banks in Clinton and Chelmsford, donated thousands of diapers to a diaper bank in Lowell, provided car seats and pack n plays for shelters in Lawrence and backpacks for children in Leominster, and scholarships to students in Lancaster, Sterling, and Shirley.
“We are only able to do to his because of the kindness and generosity of friends, neighbors and strangers alike,” David Carr humbly said. “We are excited for what happens in 2023.”
When it comes to the future plans and goals for the foundation, he said that they plan to continue supporting those in need across Worcester and Middlesex counties. One of the ways they fundraise in order to do that is through a yearly 5K that has grown exponentially since the first one in 2020.
Last year’s race sold out in three weeks and as of press time, over 230 runners are already registered for the 3rd Annual Joseph and Leslie Carr Foundation Shamrock 5K on March 11 at Sterling Street Brewery in Clinton. Registration before Feb. 1 is $35, before March 1 is $40, and $45 on or after March 1.
Each runner will receive a branded gift from the Carr Foundation, a free beer after the race, will be eligible for randomly drawn raffle prizes, and there will be cash prizes for the winners in each age bracket and best costume.
They also have two other big fundraisers later this year – the 2nd Annual Nashoba Rock N Brewfest at the Lancaster Fairgrounds in June and the 4th annual Joseph and Leslie Carr Foundation Golf Tournament in September, which is typically held at Trull Brook Golf Course in Tewksbury.
David Carr said those events last year plus their “relationship” with Christmas on Runaway in Lancaster, which collects funds for the Carr Foundation at their popular lights display and show, made 2022 their “best year of fundraising yet,” enabling them to distribute more baskets and expand their reach.
“We have been very lucky to feel the love from friends, neighbors, and strangers alike via donations of both time and financial support,” David Carr said. “We will continue to fundraise to support those efforts.”
When asked how he thinks their parents would feel about he and his siblings’ efforts carried out in their names and what they would say, he didn’t hesitate to share that “our parents were already proud of us.”
“They were good people, we like to think they raised good people. It seems cliché, but our parents hoped that we one day would leave our homes, communities, and world a better place. This is our attempt to try.”