On a recent hot July day I traveled with a group of Co-op staff to Winchester, NH to get to know Jenny and Bruce Wooster and the rest of the Picadilly Farm family — one of the amazing local farms that grow delicious fruits and veggies for your Co-op. In their organic practices, their care for their land and their team, and their love of growing great food, Picadilly is an exemplary operation, and visiting them reminded us why we are committed to supporting our local producers. From vegetable farmers, to cheese makers, to soap makers, we love hearing their stories and being able to share it with Shareholders and shoppers. The Co-op’s investment in local farmers, producers, and vendors is one of the main reasons we love working here, and they’re a vitally important part of our local community and economy.
The story of Picadilly Farm began when Jenny and Bruce met at the summer Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) conference in Massachusetts many years ago. They both had a passion for farming: for Jenny it began at the Waltham Fields Community Farm in Massachusetts, and for Bruce at the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. Once they connected over their passions for life, love and farming, they moved to Ipswich, MA to start a CSA at Appleton Farms. After that got off the ground, they married and had their first child, Beckley, who is now 11 years old. They also have a 7-year-old son, Jesse. In 2006, Bruce and Jenny moved to Winchester, NH and purchased some land from dairy farmers Albert and Judy Hudson. They transitioned the farm to become certified organic in just three years, and have been growing steadily ever since.
So where did the name Picadilly Farm come from? Bruce said they just “chanced upon it,” with inspiration coming from the “hustle and bustle” of London’s Piccadilly Circus, and loving that it had a bit of “levity.” The farm house on the property, which they live in, dates back to 1865. The three storage barns were built at four different times over the years since, most recently in 1980—some of the folks that live nearby even remember when it was built. During our visit we heard stories that in the 1970’s there were upwards of five dairy farms on their road; now there are none. Jenny and Bruce are extremely proud that they farm in a manner that gives back to the community and preserves the land, in a continuation of age-old Winchester tradition. And right around the corner are Wingate Farm and Manning Hill Farm, both of which produce products that are also carried at the Co-op—eggs and milk, respectively. The farms sit in a fertile area of Cheshire County, and we are all very fortunate to have them in our back yard.
Picadilly is a 71 acre farm, with 40 acres dedicated to growing fruits and veggies. The crop mix is quite diverse, and includes, but is not limited to, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, scallions, herbs, tomatoes, kale, flowers, cantaloupes, and watermelons. One notable crop this year will be potatoes, which will yield about 20,000 pounds. The soil at the farm is quite sandy, which lends itself to growing amazing root vegetables in addition to all of their other great crops. Many of those root vegetables are sold here at the Co-op, even through the winter months. Picadilly crops are certified organic, and while this means higher costs, it is aligned with their philosophy, and it allows them to get a bit more money for their produce. Growing organically is also safer for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members, staff and family. Bruce and Jenny said they have always grown their fruits and veggies organically, as it allows them to focus on the whole eco-system of the farm, and makes them better stewards of their land. They use fish emulsion to feed their crops and soil, along with dry fertilizer blends that come from natural sources. And they have a diverse crop rotation, including cover crops like summer buckwheat on many areas of their acreage, which helps to ensure healthy soil, to thwart disease, and to break up pest cycles. On the horizon are new federal regulations regarding food safety, so they are adapting current practices to meet the regulations and to reduce contamination risks from seed, to greenhouse, to field, and all the way to the end consumer. The farm is currently in its third year of accreditation in the Community Accreditation for Produce Safety program of the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association.
Jenny and Bruce work hard on hiring and training their employees and aim to have a great team each and every year. In the summer months they employ 25 people who work to seed, plant, weed, irrigate, and maintain their 40 acres. Of those employees, many are local to the area. It is important to Jenny and Bruce that conditions are fair and flexible. They strive to pay good wages, and take great care in training. Employees work at the farm approximately 6am–5pm. during the spring, summer and fall months. These are long days, so they work hard to ensure that no one works late, or works too much on the weekends. They also make sure the crew can take five full weekends off every summer, because they know it’s important for everyone to get away.
Picadilly Farm produce is distributed in a few different ways—some goes to the Monadnock Food Co-op or our Co-op here in Brattleboro, a large amount goes to the Boston area through a 500+ person CSA, and about 425 CSA members pick up shares at the farm. CSA folks can choose from a wide range of harvested veggies, and can pick their own flowers, tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, and more. Also, food pantries in our region stop by the farm to pick up Picadilly’s extra produce, which Jenny and Bruce donate. At the mention of extra produce, I wondered out loud what their plans for growth are. Bruce laughed and said that they actually want to get a “little smaller.” Their growth over the past ten years has enabled successful business establishment, and now thoughts can turn more toward the long term. As they have gotten bigger they have spent more time in the office and less time in the field, though they both want to keep their hands dirty! Coincidentally, market demand near Boston is shrinking, which may make this a good time to pair down their crops, to focus more exclusively on their delivery to co-ops, and to growing their local area CSA in new ways. They also said the future will bring a focus on improved efficiency within all aspects of their operation, especially irrigation, weeding, and distribution.
It was an amazing afternoon spent at Picadilly Farm and we welcome you to try their beautiful, fresh veggies when you next shop at the Co-op.
Come meet the team from Picadilly Farm on September 12th from 4 to 6pm.
By Jon Megas-Russell