Farm share: A bevy of blueberries at Quonquont Farm
The Greenfield Recorder, July 25, 2017, by Tinky Weisblat
The first thing one notices when visiting Quonquont Farm is its sheer gorgeousness. This 150-acre farm on North Street in Whately is studded with historic buildings, landscaped flowers, fruit trees, and a sense of beauty.
I sat down last week with farm manager Leslie Harris and Harris’ spouse, Allison Bell, who co-owns the farm with longtime friend Ann Barker. We talked about the farm’s crops, about its diverse landscape and wildlife, and about the sense of stewardship the two feel for the land.
Leslie Harris joined the Quonquont team two years ago after retiring as executive director of Dakin Humane Society, where she had worked for 20 years. “It’s a very hard-working retirement,” she said with a laugh.
She wouldn’t have it any other way, however. “I love working outside. I love growing food and working with the customers,” she explained. “It’s an honor to be taking care of (the farm).”
Harris is in charge of the orchard and farm stand; other managers handle the flower gardens and special events. Many couples choose to marry either on the property or in Quonquont’s event space, a converted tobacco barn.
Quonquont is in the full flush of blueberry season. The farm offers pick-your-own fruit as well as berries to buy in its farm stand. Photographer Paul Franz and I followed Harris out into the orchard to pick blueberries. I ended up eating more on the spot than I picked!
When blueberry season ends, Harris expects to be offering pick-your-own peaches, followed by apples. Harris and Bell noted that they are happy to see this year’s peach crop looking good after last year’s dearth of peaches in our area.
“The moral of that story is, don’t take (crops) for granted,” noted Bell.
Quonquont has been in business for decades. In the 1920s it served as a dairy and stock farm. It then featured a milk-bottle-shaped dairy bar that became a well-known local attraction. (The milk bottle is now owned by Whately’s historical society and lives at the town offices.)
In the 1970s, the previous owners, the Hoxies, planted the orchard and created the pick-your-own business that is Quonquont’s mainstay. The event business started about five years ago, Bell told me, in response to customers’ requests to hold their weddings on the property.
This year, the farmers have added a new feature to their enterprise: pick-your-own flowers.
Bell observed that business has done nothing but get better since she and Barker acquired Quonquont in 2000, noting that 17 years ago the local-food movement “was not such a big thing.” Today, in contrast, Franklin County residents savor their connections to local agriculture.
“We feel that we’re very fortunate to live in an area where people can make a link to where their food comes from and who makes it happen,” said Bell.
Much of Bell’s work centers around maintaining and conserving Quonquont’s diverse ecosystem. The farm’s animal population is particularly popular with customers. The wildlife is documented weekly on the “Wildlife Wednesday” feature of Quonquont’s Facebook page.
Bell called Wildlife Wednesday “a nice way of saying without saying that here are people who care about the land that they farm.”
To show off her produce, Harris baked huge, blueberry-studded muffins. The recipe she used is adapted from the farm’s website and provided by Chelsea Colbath, a food blogger who got married at Quonquont Farm and offered to supply recipes to the farmers.
Quonquont Farm blueberry muffins
⅓ cup maple syrup
⅓ cup melted butter
¾ cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
1-½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh Quonquont Farm blueberries
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners or grease it with nonstick spray. Set it aside. (Leslie Harris used a large muffin tin and made 6 big muffins; you may also use a smaller tin and end up with 12 muffins.)
Combine the maple syrup, the melted butter, the eggs, the sour cream, the vanilla, and the lemon zest. Whisk to blend them. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and then the blueberries. Stir with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula just until combined. A few small lumps are okay; just don’t over-mix the batter.
Use a ⅓-cup measuring cup (⅔ cup for large muffins) to divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. They will be almost full to the top.
Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until golden and cooked through. A toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins should come out clean, and the muffins should spring back when touched gently with a finger.
Cool the muffins slightly in their pan; then remove them to a rack and let them cool completely. Store the muffins in an airtight container for up to 2 days; they spoil quickly because of the moisture in the blueberries. These freeze well.
Makes 6 large or 12 medium muffins.