Clarkdale Centennial Celebration

The Recorder, July 19th, 2015, by Chris Curtis

The stand won’t open until August, but Clarkdale Fruit Farms was busy Sunday as the Clark family celebrated 100 years in the apple business with cake and last autumn’s cider.

Visitors shared memories of the business after speeches by state and federal officials.

Clark neighbor Kathy Hartshorn, there with her granddaughter, said her father Norman Carme remembers picking cherries at Clarkdale for movie ticket money: 20 cents per quart basket and 20 baskets bought two tickets. As a neighbor for 40 years, Hartshorn said she loves waking up to the tractors in the orchard.

Walter and Marian Boyd of Greenfield said they know the Clarks and have been customers for 37 years, buying apples, peaches and cider. “We’re really happy to see Ben carrying on,” Marian Boyd said.

The orchard began across the street in 1915, when Greenfield physician Dr. Webster K. Clark and his wife Margaret planted the first apple trees, likely engendering endless apple/doctor jokes.
Webster bought land on Upper Road after meeting the owners on a house call and the orchard has expanded and thrived under four generations.

Tom Clark, the third generation, and his son, Ben, now run the business, cultivating 50 of more than 250 acres. Ben and Lori Clark’s son Emerson, now 21/2 years old, and the baby they are expecting represent a possible fifth generation of family ownership.

Lori Clark said that will be up to them. “Every generation has had the freedom to leave but they always come back,” she said. Then again, she adds that Emerson is really into dinosaurs right now; maybe he’ll be a paleontologist instead.

Greeting friends and customers with a tray of cupcakes topped with frosting apples, Tom Clark said he never thought about celebrating a centennial.

“Didn’t think about it,” he said, “There’s years you have hail and you have frost and you have bad market conditions, but as time goes on that stuff gets better,” he said. Improved pest control, irrigation and crop insurance have helped.

He also never expected to come back to the farm after leaving for college. The Vietnam War changed his mind. “I didn’t want to go. I fought being drafted, and then I came back, didn’t get drafted and stayed on the farm,” he said. “Worked out. I didn’t want to be a farmer growing up, I didn’t have the desire to come back and work with my father, but it worked out.”

Like his father, Ben Clark left the farm for college. He met Lori while working in theater in Rhode Island, and moved back to Clarkdale after his grandfather’s death in 2005 got him thinking about the direction of the farm. He finds the weight of a hundred years comforting.

“We’ve been here for so long, we have strong connections with the community. I’m the fourth generation, but we have customers who are fourth and fifth generation, people who have been coming since they came with their grandparents and now they’re bringing their grandkids,” Ben Clark said.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, state Rep. Stephen Kulik and state Sen. Stan Rosenberg praised the Clark family for maintaining the business for a century, and Kulik and Rosenberg presented the Clarks with a resolution recognizing the accomplishment.

The speakers, including Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture director Phil Korman, made much of the family’s community involvement and the orchard’s locally oriented business model.
From a largely wholesale operation, the farm now sells 70 percent of its produce from the farm stand at 303 Upper Road, Korman said.

John Lebeaux, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, said his own family farm didn’t quite make it to 100 years, and he knows how hard it is to bring a crop to market year after year. Clarkdale’s shift to selling locally is symbolic of the Massachusetts farm economy, he said.

“That’s how our farms are succeeding in Massachusetts now, selling direct to the consumer, and as small as we are as a state in size we are the fifth largest in the nation for direct sales from farm to consumer,” Lebeaux said, and a dense population means customers.

Kulik also pointed to what the farm no longer has: a line of balloons marking the proposed pathway of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline through the center of the orchard. The path has changed, sparing the orchard. Ben Clark said the family continues to fight it although they personally have dodged the bullet.