It’s so nice to get something in the mail that isn’t a circular or a bill, which is why a few weeks ago I was so excited to find, amongst many circulars and bills, an invitation from Amanda to dinner at Small Farm in Stow.
Small Farm is owned by Barbara and Dwight Sipler… who also happen to be Amanda’s parents’ cousins, so my friend has had the enviable pleasure of visiting, working on and reaping the benefits of the farm for most of her life. In fact, after everyone arrived and mingled a bit late Sunday afternoon, Amanda herded us into a circle and spoke briefly about her Small Farm memories; she then asked Barbara and Dwight to talk about their history as farmers.
The farm, Barbara told us, started out as a hobby. “So be careful of your hobbies,” she said gravely, looking each one of us in the eye. She then informed us that, over the years, she and Dwight have come to think of the farm as “a ministry,” which I found utterly fascinating. What a wonderful way to describe something you love, don’t you think?
Dwight provided us with a few interesting facts. There are, for example, over 3000 other small farms in Massachusetts, meaning they fit the USDA’s definition of such based on their gross sales below $250,000. Middlesex County is is ranked first in the state for direct sales of farm produce to consumers, a tidbit that made me feel very fancy and important. Something else that made me feel fancy and important was the fact that Keith and I didn’t get lost on the way to the farm (even though I was navigating), a feat I proudly announced when Amanda asked us each to share something that we were grateful for.
While many people rightfully said that they were thankful to be at the farm that day, I’ve got to confess I agreed the most with Chris‘s statement: “I’m grateful for tomatoes.”
Small Farm grows a ridiculous amount of tomato varietals, many of which are planted in a “maze garden.” Types include the Sun Cherry and the Wapsipinicon Peach, the name of which we all had to ask Dwight to repeat several times before we could manage it ourselves. I love tomatoes — one summer, Darlington gifted me with thumbnail-sized orange tomatoes that she had picked from the farm; after one taste, I immediately ate them all. They were like tomato-flavored candy.
It was a bit too early in the season for tomatoes to make an appearance on either our dinner menu or the vine, but it didn’t stop many of us from traipsing through the still-growing maze. Sure, we could all see over the tops of the leaves and stakes, but it was easy to imagine what the plants will look like in a few weeks’ time. Even if the tomatoes don’t grow to be six feet tall, it doesn’t matter; the maze is geared towards young children — who, I’m told, are shorter than me. They’ll do just fine in the maze (though Heather did suggest I shuffle through on my knees for a more authentic maze experience).
After we all expressed what we were appreciative of (seasons, friendship, sunny days, film), Amanda quickly described what it was we would be eating for dinner. As the meal was meant to be a celebration of the summer ahead of us, she had picked numerous pints of strawberries — which I personally consider to be the summeriest of summer berries — and turned it all into a sweet chilled soup, into which she directed us to drop a dollop of sour cream.* We also had several different kinds of salads, (one of which also featured strawberries). Most of the greens came from Small Farm’s lettuce beds, though I can’t say the same about the two delicious and colorful pasta salads, or the hearty salmon/asparagus/peapod salad Amanda provided for additional protein.
Oh, and you can’t tell from the photos here, but my plate was much fuller than it seems. I didn’t think to take a shot from the side. Had I thought of it, the picture would have looked like a veritable mountain of edible green. It’s taller than it appears.
Our dessert was equally strawberry-centric; Amanda had set aside a large bowl of berries for us to spoon atop vanilla ice cream from Erikson’s Dairy up the road. For our huge group, I think we had something like ten gallons. I may be overestimating here, but I honestly doubt it. Regardless, most of it — if not all — was eaten.
Aside from the strawberries and (ice) cream, there were also chocolate treats: two different kinds of cookies** and the densest, richest, most perfect little brownies I have ever eaten. I went for seconds, which means that one of Amanda’s other guests probably missed out because of my gluttony.
I should take a moment here to note that this would have been a bad photo for the side-view angle; my bowl was extremely shallow, so anything would have appeared monstrous from the side.
That may or may not be a cover-up for my ravenousness.
Prior to our eating, Barbara explained that the day before the dinner had been Small Farm’s 2009 opening day, which was why the crops “still look so pretty.” She then kindly said to us all, “Today, Small Farm is yours,” and encouraged us to pick flowers, fruit and vegetables to take home.
While I wanted to make a run for the fields, I showed restraint and held back; Keith and I have a weekly CSA box, after all, and besides, I’m looking forward to returning to the farm as a paying customer. I’ve got to do my part as a Middlesex County resident, haven’t I?
I instead ambled towards the assorted herbs, plants and vegetables, brushing my hands in the thyme creeping along the ground and fingering the downy fuzz of as many sage leaves I could. I thought about stretching out under the morning glory teepee but worried about mudstains and impropriety; instead I pointed out to Keith where the amaranth would come in, in time, and where the blackberry patch was, brambles and bees and all.
At one point, we debated over this funny little figure living in the middle of the cherry tomato maze. I think it’s a hippo; Keith and Melissa think it’s a polar bear. I’ll take a gander and say that no matter its species, it’s pretty damn cute.
Small Farm is now open for the 2009 growing and harvesting season. While the farm does not offer a CSA program, it does have a farmstand; hours are from ten in the morning until six in the evening. There you can purchase whatever produce Dwight and Barbara have chosen to grow, as well as pick your own flowers.
Like many of the nation’s other small farms, Small Farm is an uncertified organic farm; this means that while Barbara and Dwight have always followed organic farming practices as defined by the USDA’s National Organic Program, they have opted not to apply for certification. To do so would mean to pay a not-insignificant series of fees, which would result not only in a certificate from the NOP but also in an equally not-insignificant increase in prices for the consumer… something Small Farm isn’t interested in. Should you have any questions about Small Farm’s method of growing their produce, feel free to email them here.
Certification or no, take my advice: make the trip out to Stow and stop by the Siplers’ farm. You’re bound to love it.
Need more convincing? Check out the photographs I’ve taken during my visits at Small Farm here, and some far more impressive photographs Dwight has snapped over the years here, including of the party itself.
184 Gleasondale Road
Stow, Massachusetts 01775
* Amanda doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to give me the recipe.
** One of which I baked. I hate going to parties empty-handed.