Roadside Heaven

By Michelle Koch | July 13, 2010
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local farm stands sell fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables

Crumb pies oozing purple goo. Scarlet Big Boys sporting a few lime blotches. Zingy zinnias plopped into jars.

A little shopping by the side of the road reminds us why farm stands endure as a beloved summer ritual. Meet some of the passionate folks who sustain the tradition of stocking these humble carts, sheds and cabins.

I learned from my father who is still working, and my son is now the fourth generation on this land.” Paul Crowell, Crow Farm

Paul Crowell’s family farm roots go back nearly a century to 1917, when his grandparents began working the Sandwich soil. Initially his predecessors raised produce for Boston area families, but once the Great Depression hit, transportation costs spiked, “so they opened the stand instead,” says Crowell. “They had chickens and eggs then, and up until the 1940s there were four or five dairy cows too, for milk and cheese.” A greenhouse was erected in the 1970s and Crowell continues to add high tunnels to the property each year. These unheated greenhouses, also known as hoop houses, help farmers extend their growing season. The added warmth gives Crowell’s seedlings a jump start. “I get a much earlier eggplant and tomato plant,” says Crowell.  Assorted bread and pies, baked daily by his wife Jean, and honey, collected on the property, are also for sale.

Crowell loves all aspects of working the 40-acre farm he oversees, the only exception being when he must spray his trees. “For some things,” says Crowell “there’s just no way around it, it’s hard enough growing apples and peaches.” Some seasonal offerings include container gardens for spring, arrays of summer bedding plants and herbs and ornamental cabbages and mums for autumn. Finances govern other choices. “We made the decision not to do potatoes because we get a larger profit from other things. The harvesting machine just has a hard time telling a potato from a rock.”

“People either live here or are on vacation and it’s summer on Cape Cod. Nobody’s crabby. It’s just great fun!” Anita Anderson, Satucket Farms

There has been a farmstand on the Brewster property Anita Anderson purchased 15 years ago for over 100 years. Anderson, a real estate agent, and her husband, a retired police detective, had five minutes to decide on the property. “We had no idea what we were doing,” says Anita of their decision to purchase Satucket Farms, an open-air stand located on land that was originally a working farm.  “It’s all families, the regulars,” says Anderson. “I have to hire at least one very tall teenager every summer just to tack up the old photos all over the walls. People come back and have their pictures taken here.  They remember.”

“We stay open Memorial Day to Labor Day, because we’re really busy those weeks and we like to keep the stand fully stocked. As much as possible we offer New England or New York State-raised produce.  Our blueberries are from Brewster, and our corn is Massachusetts grown.” Anderson supports eight or nine local bakers who create muffins, breads, cookies and pies, and offers private label all natural jams and cheese spreads created for Satucket Farms. She raises the flowers for all of their bouquets and grows all their culinary herbs, which are cut on the spot when a customer makes a selection.  A few things are gone, such as the cider mill, which closed when pasteurization laws were established. The old barn was rebuilt over the past year because it was no longer structurally safe. Remaining, though, is the desire to avoid what is high tech. “People walk the gardens, they visit with Annie, our third yellow lab, and sit down and have a coffee. It’s a little destination right in the midst of Brewster.”

“Nothing jazzy. Just a living thing. Everyone should have a little sprig on their dining table.” Kathy Whitelaw, Orleans Flower Cart

Thirty years ago dancer Kathy Whitelaw painted the lavender flower cart that borders her driveway so she could offer people nosegays, potted plants and organic rhubarb. “I think people should have flowers,” says Whitelaw. She began selling to the summer visitors who came on holiday to her Orleans neighborhood.

After winter, sometime in early March, Whitelaw watches for those first flowers of spring. “I gave my mother buttercups that I picked for her for nearly 35 years,” she says, “and I think she still knows I’ve got a little bouquet of them out for her. The buttercups, the wildflowers, they’re survivors. Next it’s the white flowers of the beach plums, like a wedding, and then the lilacs. Then you know it’s time to put out the oranges for the orioles.”

Whitelaw built flower gardens with composted horse manure from the original Quanset Sailing Camp because “I didn’t like looking out at just vegetables.” She points out brilliant primroses, exotic hellebores and a massive trail of lacy wisteria dripping pale lavender blossoms across her porch. “I’ve just always done it. It’s the sharing, the cuttings and the interesting people.” Everything Whitelaw sells, including organic rhubarb, potted plants and bouquets, is three dollars.  “Sometimes they leave more, I don’t care. It’s fun to do. People leave me lovely jars and notes. Darling notes,” says Whitelaw. “I save every one.”

“My last tiller was over thirty years old, so I bought a new one and gave it to myself.” Jean Iversen, Kelly Farm

“My father was a dairy farmer in Rochester. New York,” says Jean Iversen “but he was getting tired from all the cows and all. I saw an ad for a real farm on Cape Cod and I urged him to go see it. It took two days to get here in 1947, and he didn’t want to lose his cash crop, which was cucumbers that year. Finally he got his nephew to watch his cows and those pickles so he could visit the farm and then he bought it.”

In 1981, after three decades running a music store with her first husband, Iversen decided to help her mother and sister run the family farmstand. Although her mother sold all but a small parcel of the original acreage to a local golf course before her death in 1986, Iversen retained the farmstand, the original homestead and enough land to situate her own 140 by 80-foot vegetable plot. “I’ve still got a little piece of their farm,” says Iversen. She founded the Cape Cod Organic Gardeners Club in 1984, which at last count had 120 members. By 1989 Iversen received organic certification following a rigorous assessment of her land and growing methodology to ensure that she met the National Organic Standards. Kelly Farm has maintained this coveted rating, which is rechecked every third year. Presently there are fewer than 100 certified organic farms in Massachusetts. Iversen’s arsenal of best practices includes cozying up her seed trays to the wood stove, sowing fall cover crops, battling the woodchucks with portable electric fencing and tending plantings of bee-attracting catnip and bee balm to foster pollination.

Five mornings a week, from June through October, Iversen picks chard, spinach, kale, collards, lettuce and onions, and hauls them by pushcart to her stand, selling out between 10:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M.  After a 30-minute nap, she’s back to the field until dusk to pick again for the next day, except at this time of day, it’s beans and tomatoes. At 88, Iversen’s work ethic is outmatched only by her love of community.  The Kelly Farm stand is a haven for a few other farmer and baker friends, who display their vegetables, flowers, baked goods and jellies.  Iversen’s homestead is also the venue for the Organic Gardeners’ spring plant sale as well as their annual potluck supper. “It’s always pleasant. I love meeting people. It’s about being humble. And no negativity,” adds Iversen.

“I even have one woman I can set my clock to. She comes in for a single ear of corn, exact change, in and out, every day.” Jeff Putnam, Log Cabin Farm

The Log Cabin Farm property has deep roots. Jeff Putnam notes that with several on the Mayflower roster, his relatives “were the first tourists to Cape Cod in 1620.” By 1644, they joined with five families to settle near Jeremiah’s Gutter, now the Orleans/Eastham rotary.  Flash forward more than a few generations and Putnam’s grandparents are dedicating their newly-built log cabin home in Eastham during the total solar eclipse of 1932. Born in 1930, Putnam’s father Joe got to experience a Cape Cod boyhood when his parents moved full-time to the Cape to start a nursery in Eastham. Beginning with blueberries, they began selling to friends using the honor system. The berry bushes grew well in the sandy soil for picking and to sell as plants, but the Putnam’s attempts to hybridize the beach plum, a wild plant, failed.

Undeterred, Joe Putnam earned a Master in Pomology, the study of fruit, and set to work planting an orchard each of peach and apple trees. Finally ripe with harvestable fruit, a hurricane took down all the plantings. This time Joe added other summer vegetables to the family farm, and during the 1950s they located a shed to the present location on Route 6. The best thing that happened, says Jeff Putnam, “was that little road grew and grew to where it now handles millions of cars every summer.” To this day the Putnam family uses the same old fishing box for their change drawer.

Out behind the stand only a sole acre remains of the original Log Cabin farmland. Like his father, Jeff Putnam keeps his hands in the dirt, raising tomatoes, squash and cucumbers for market. He sources the other veggies and fruit close to home, like corn picked daily from Rochester, Massachusetts. Putnam says, “More than the local produce it is the experience, the step back in time. We all do it; get up, start the day, get the kids going off to school, go to work, kids to band, to sports, get the groceries, visit the doctors, the gym, come home and sit in front of the TV. Get up and start it all over.”

Putnam says, “Take the time to stop and dwell. This is the part of our culture we miss, myself included. But, this is what I do; sit on the side of the road, put out my catch of the day and see who I can catch.  They become part of the family. And I enjoy seeing that family grow.”


FARMSTAND DIRECTORY

Crow Farm
192 Route 6A, Sandwich
508-888-0690

Flowers by Kathy Whitelaw
Mayflower Point area, Orleans
Most days spring through early fall

Kelly Farm Stand
Corner of Rt. 6A and Marston Lane, Cummaquid
10:00 A.M.–2:00 P.M. Tuesday through Saturday
July to Mid-October

Log Cabin Farm
535 Route 6, South Eastham
July through September
9:00 A.M.–5:30 P.M.

Satucket Farm
76 Harwich Road, Brewster
Memorial Day through Labor Day
7:30 A.M.–4:30 P.M.


Freelance writer Michelle Koch can imagine no better shop than a roadside stand or an open air market. She dreams of growing the jumbled masses of sweet peas like the ones she’s seen tumbling out of cans in the Pacific Northwest. Find her working with the Nauset Middle School eighth grade, doing art, hiking, digging in her garden, or on an adventure somewhere. She lives with her two daughters and Woof in Orleans.

Article from Edible Cape Cod at http://ediblecapecod.ediblecommunities.com/shop/roadside-heaven
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