Farm stands a way to supplement income
By ANITA FRITZ, Staff Writer, The Recorder, September 17, 2019
Drive along many of the major routes and back roads of Franklin County and you’re bound to run into a farm stand or ice cream/food stand.
Many of the farmers who run them with the help of their families will tell you they do it to supplement their income because they just don’t make enough farming.
Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture Communications Manager Claire Morenon said farming is a “very risky” business. She said farmers’ livelihoods depend on variables like weather and markets, both of which they can’t control.
“It’s great when they can add something where they can sell directly to consumers,” Morenon said. “Ice cream, for instance, has a high (profit) margin and it appeals to people, so it anchors the rest of the business and draws people in so that they’ll buy the farmer’s other products.”
Morenon said it’s always a good idea for a farmer to diversify, so if one product fails, there’s something to fall back on.
“Farmers also have to think about how much of their family is involved,” she said. “And if the next generation does want to be involved, a farmer has to think about what he or she can do, like ice cream, to support more members.”
Beata Bielicki, who has been managing and cooking for 5J Creamee and Pasiecnik Farmstand in South Deerfield for the past seven years, said about 15 years ago, farmer James Pasiecnik’s wife and daughters opened the field-to-table stand to make a few extra dollars.
“That was when the farm was much smaller,” Bielicki said. “They were selling ice cream, strawberries and a few vegetables like asparagus.”
Bielicki said both the farm stand and the farm have grown since then, and Pa s i e c n i k’s wife and daughters have moved on with their lives, leaving her in charge.
She said the stand is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from May to the end of October. Customers can find everything from soft and hard ice cream, to Greek and cucumber salads, to hot dogs, hamburgers and Polish food — Bielicki is Polish and uses many of her own recipes. The stand now sells berries, when in season, corn, pickles, honey, pottery and more.
Bielicki said Pasiecnik has been selling his potatoes, most recently to Utz, to make potato chips and has a much bigger operation, so it’s not so much about a supplemental income any longer.
But that’s not true for everyone.
Hager’s Farm Market
Albert “Chip” Hager had been farming for years, milking, raising beef cows and sugaring, when in 2009, he and his family decided to buy what today is known as Hager’s Farm Market. On the Mohawk Trail in Shelburne, the market offers everything from ice cream, fried dough with Hager’s homemade maple cream, fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, homemade canned sauces, vegetables and jams, homemade baked goods, and a hearty breakfast and lunch menu.
Hager’s daughter, Kim, wanted to run the market that started out selling just a few items, like beef and maple syrup, and then she decided to sell ice cream to try making a bigger profit.
“It was good for Kim — she could bring her young children there while she worked — and it was good for the farm,” Hager said. “I looked at renting the place, but the bank and Franklin Land Trust thought it would be better for me to own it.”
So after a lot of thought and research, Hager purchased the property.
“I knew there’d be a lot of traffic going by being on the trail,” he said.
Hager said the main reason he decided to buy the market was because dairy farmers spend a lot of time and money on their trade without a lot of return.
“You have to find creative ways to keep food on the table,” he said. “The world dairy market has been volatile for a long time. You have to come up with more milk with fewer cows. It’s tough.”
Hager said farmers don’t make a lot of money milking cows, and the price fluctuates from day to day.
“I tried different things, trying to find what would work best,” he said. “I finally stopped doing dairy four years ago in March.”
He said now, the farm raises meat, fruit and vegetables, and relies on the market for some of its income, but the margins are tight when it comes to serving food. He said the maple business is doing pretty well, and that his daughter and her husband, his wife and his daughter-in-law all help out.
“Giving up dairy was bittersweet,” he said. “It’s just impossible to do it unless it’s profitable — and that’s not likely in most instances. It was sad for me, because it was a lifetime business and I had to walk away from it. There was no pot of gold.”
Hager said the good news is that people keep coming through the doors of the market. Open year-round, it operates seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It’s pretty busy all year, except maybe January,” he said.
Hager said when farmers do walk away from dairy farming, they often find themselves burdened with debt. Hager was one of the lucky ones who was not.
“We’ll just keep moving forward and keep our options open,” he said.
Anita Fritz is senior reporter at the Greenfield Recorder. She began working there in 2002. She can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.