A serene visit to Quonquont Farm
Pat Leuchtman, The Recorder, February 15, 2020
Last September, I got to visit Quonquont Farm in Whately with other members of the Greenfield Garden Club. I had no idea what to expect. The apple orchard and blueberry fields were unexpected delights, but I learned there was a lot more to Quonquont than apples and blueberries.
Quonquont Farm has been in business, one way or another since 1759 when a roadside tavern was built. Later, a tannery was set up there and by 1860 it was a farm we would recognize today with milk cows, beef cattle and tobacco. Of course, dairy and tobacco farms have changed a lot since then.
Ann Barker and Allison Bell bought the farm in 2000. The orchards and blueberries were their main concern. Then, 10 years later, they started arranging things to host special events. Eight years ago, they renovated the big barn and were ready.
The Garden Club toured the apple orchard, which includes 17 types of apples that ripen over a long season. There are familiar apples like Northern Spy and McIntosh and the less familiar Mollie Delicious. There is also a peach orchard, and plums were recently added (remember that next fall when you visit to pick or buy fruit). Quonquont also has its own farmers market on site.
I love berries and walking through the 2 acres of blueberries gave me a thrill. I also got some advice about pruning blueberries. I am the kind of person who worries about removing too much of a plant, but I can understand that a 7-year-old bush can welcome some revitalization — but not too much at one time.
It was cold the day I visited the Whately farm again a few weeks ago. I was glad that pruning 2 acres of blueberries in this season was not my responsibility.
Maida Goodwin, horticulture manager, and Leslie Harris, farm manager, met me at the small barn with warm smiles. They ushered me into an office space, but we kept on our jackets. Did I say it was a cold day?
We all sat down and Goodwin told me that she went to the University of Massachusetts and earned a degree in plant and soil science. She then went on to work for 10 years at Blue Meadow Farm, which is known for its beautiful and unusual flowers. There were other horticultural endeavors, but in 2017, she arrived at Quonquont to add flowers to the fruit menu. The flowers are now an important part of the business and the special events that are now held there.
Goodwin created a flower garden of perennials and annuals where visitors can pick and buy their own flowers for bouquets.
“I love working with the flowers. I feel rich when I put a bouquet together,” she said.
Goodwin told me that, over the growing season, more than 200 different flowers come into bloom. There is everything from large brilliant Mexican sunflowers and funny ‘balloon plants’ to amaranth and dahlias. The cutting garden is arranged in narrow rows that make cutting easy.
A once a month from June to September, a “flower night” is held. Goodwin is there to help and give suggestions.
“People don’t always think about all the different things that can go into a floral bouquet like vines and foliage to make it more interesting,” Goodwin said. “Sometimes, people will stop and buy some flowers after they have finished picking their fruit.”
She also told me about friends and wedding party participants that enjoy putting table bouquets together the day before a wedding. “It is a festive time to enjoy time together,” she said.
Leslie Harris came to Quonquont five years ago. After spending 25 years working in non-profit animal shelters, she made a big and happy change, quickly learning to ride the tractor and use the other necessary equipment.
“Everyone has been really helpful — from the (University of Massachusetts Amherst) Extension Service and other growers,” she said. “I even know how to fix the equipment these days, but there is always someone to advise me when I get stuck.”
Harris and Goodwin said that because there are so many special events on the grounds they are always thinking about the sightlines. Do all the grounds look beautiful and cared for? Is all equipment neatly tucked away at the end of day?
They told me that many kinds of events are held every year. Of course, there are weddings. A new pavilion has been erected to offer shade and shelter from the rain. Weddings can be small or large but the event team is ready to care for 200 attendees. They will also hold the Valley Wed event on May 17 from noon to 2 p.m. Wedding professionals will be on hand to provide information for those making their wedding plans.
Weddings are a very important life event, but we can’t forget birthdays, retirements and memorials. Goodwin and Harris also reeled off a list of fundraisers held at the farm by area organizations including Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, Dakin Humane Society, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and many others.
Quonquont has a great website, quonquont.com, which provides more information about fruit and events.
Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: commonweeder. com.