New @ 95: Still a Family Farm
New @ 95: week 1, Still a Family Farm
It goes without saying that our farm has changed quite a bit from its origin nearly 100 years ago. As we put the finishing touches on our new farmstand, I can’t help but reflect back on our roots. As a fourth generation Volante, I respect our history and feel the need to recognize those that have made this expansion a possibility. The following passage will serve as a snapshot of our past, a nod to our present, and a look to the future of our family business.
It all started with my great-grandparents Peter and Catarina. In the 1890s they left Italy, bound for a better life and a vision of opportunity in America. They purchased a plot of land on Dedham Street in Newton in 1917 and began growing celery, tomatoes and broccoli among other produce. In its infancy, Volante Farms operated as a truck farm delivering fresh hand-picked produce to the Boston Market every morning.
After World War II California’s produce export industry grew, and the need for Boston area truck farmers started to decline. In order to bridge this growing revenue gap, my great-great-aunt Margie opened the first roadside farmstand on the Newton Farm. In addition to produce, Margie started to sell annuals and perennials for the home gardener. While Margie’s retail farmstand was nothing more than a tent, it became the farm’s primary source of income by the end of the 1950s. Margie’s farmstand marked the beginning of the multi-generational push toward improvement and efficiency throughout our business history.
In 1962 my grandparents Ferdinand and Anne moved the farm to its current location in Needham, purchasing Arthur Fletcher’s farmland which had been in constant agricultural production since pre-colonial times. In this rich, fertile soil my grandfather expanded his crop offerings and constructed hot beds and cold frames in which to grow flower and vegetable plants. With his innovation came another farmstand, a green open-air wooden building. My grandfather ran the farm alongside his brother Eugenio while my grandmother Anne took care of the book work.
Only eleven years later, in 1973, my father Al took over everyday operations on the farm. Over the next fifteen years he built the farm that my brothers and I grew up with. He replaced my grandfather’s hot beds and cold frames with multiple hoop houses running along the edge of the farm like vertebrae. After marrying Melodie in 1976 our parents worked as a team to further improve their growing business. In 1981 they built the beloved farmstand that served as the face of the farm for the next thirty years. The stand’s updated barn-like structure brought greater efficiency while still remaining rustic and inviting. Eight years later, Greenhouse 14 was added as the last piece of the puzzle, serving as a retail greenhouse attached to the farmstand in an effort to make shopping easier.
My brothers and I make up the fourth generation of Volantes. We have worked on the farm since we were kids. After college, all three of us found ourselves back at the farm with the same common thread pushing us each day: the pride and drive of a multi-generational family business. We certainly weren’t going to let the tradition stop with us. With all three of us ready to take over the business, it was clear that expansion was in the near future. Together with our parents we started to envision the future of our business. We began by replacing our father’s hoop houses with a new energy-efficient, eco-friendly greenhouse. Opening in the spring of 2008, our new glass greenhouse once again changed the look of the farm and improved the overall shopping experience while conserving many natural resources.
The second step to our plan has been in the works for many years: a farmstand expansion. There were countless reasons to expand. For example, with our new farmstand we will finally be able to remain open year-round, fulfilling our customers’ most common request. By doing this, we’ll also be able to extend our growing season and offer homegrown produce for a longer period of time. We have also noticed a strong customer desire for ready-to-eat snacks and meals, thus pushing us to add a deli, bakery and ice cream shop to the new farmstand. Our aim is to serve our customers something they can’t find anywhere else: a delicious sandwich or salad made with homegrown ingredients picked right outside in our fields.
Today our parents still remain as vital members of our everyday operations. Our father Al helps daily by giving us valuable advice and his honest opinion. Our mother Melodie works in the office with Dave’s wife Katie to keep the heart of our business beating. One thing is for certain; our family business would not be nearly the same without the contributions of our extended farm family. This includes our key employees who have been with us for years – some upwards of 20 years. Theirs are the familiar faces our customers enjoy seeing when they stop in to pick up fresh corn. Some of these relationships have proved to be multi-generational, too. Prior employees will often seek employment for their children to learn what they deem as “solid work experience”. These relationships take the definition of family farming to the next level. We realize that it’s not just our family farm, but others’ as well, and we’re privileged to have a hand in making those connections happen.
When I think of our predecessors and their success it can be quite daunting, but it breathes passion and pride into everything my brothers and I do each day at work. With the new farmstand comes new responsibility and learning experiences. As always, we appreciate our customers’ feedback. We know we’ll have to adapt and make changes along the way. While one could consider this farmstand to be our generation’s contribution to the long lineup of previous farmstands, that wouldn’t entirely be the case. This farmstand is a culmination of the support of our predecessors, past and present employees, and faithful customers. To us, it represents hope and growth in an ever-changing world. Our new farmstand stands as both a tribute and a clear reflection of one Italian’s humble hope for the American Dream.
**for more information, visit the history page of our blog…**