Local Hero Profile: Blossoming Acres

By Abby Getman and Margaret Christie
Published in CISA’s 2013 Annual Report

Lenita and Jeff Bober grow vegetables, bedding plants and cut flowers, and operate an on-farm bakery on 80 acres in Southwick, Massachusetts. Southwick sits in the jog in the Massachusetts border with Connecticut, just south of Westfield, where Blossoming Acres and several neighboring farms offer an oasis of farmland amid golf courses, shopping centers, and residential neighborhoods. The farm also operates expansive stands at the Lanesboro and Longmeadow farmers’ markets, and they are well known for their fall pumpkin patch and baked goods.

Lenita and Jeff farm in partnership with Jeff’s aunt and uncle, Lois and Bob Davis. The couple met at the University of Massachusetts’ Stockbridge School of Agriculture, and began farming on land owned by the Davis family. In 2006, the foursome bought the Putnam farm, which offered an historic barn and farm stand with bakery.

Lenita Bober is the primary farmer and she’s involved with everything from seed ordering to greenhouse work, brand design, marketing, and harvesting. Though her favorite place to be is in the field, she often manages by phone from the farmers’ market. “Business owners don’t always get to do what they want, and you can’t have people doing the things you wouldn’t do yourself,” she explains. Jeff works part-time off the farm, delivering oil. Lenita notes that staff retention is one key to the farm’s success. “We have some great people, and we treat them like family, so they come back year after year.”

Blossoming Acres strives to use as few chemicals as possible, and relies on advice from the University of Massachusetts Integrated Pest Management program. Lenita is forthright with her customers:  “I tell them, I’m not going to spray the crop to death. There might be a cabbage worm in the broccoli, but it’s fine–all it’s been eating is the broccoli!” She has also made a commitment not to use genetically modified seed. “I just don’t think it’s been time-tested,” she says.

Lenita attends every farmers’ market herself, running, with her staff, as many as four lines at the bustling Lanesboro markets, open two days a week from late April through November. “I’ve been at the markets so long now, I sell to people I remember as kids, who now have their own children!” Lenita’s customers know it’s worth waiting in line for her crops, which are selected for flavor and freshness. Sometimes, to get sweet corn on the truck for the farmers’ market, crews will be out with head lamps as early as 2am to get the bags on the truck for a 4:15am departure.

Baked goods are an important part of the farm’s business, and one the Bobers had to learn when they took over the Putnam Farm. “When we were in negotiations, they wanted to know how soon we could take over. Since all of my farmers’ markets end by the first of November, I thought that would be fine—but I forgot the holiday season!” Made from scratch, with fruit from local farms, pies from Blossoming Acres have a loyal following, and the bakery runs nearly 24 hours a day during Thanksgiving week, selling 2,500 pies.

Marketing has also been a learn-as-you-go experience. “I wish when I was at Stockbridge they had more marketing classes. When we first started, we knew how to grow things, but not how to sell them.” The Bobers are glad to be part of CISA’s Local Hero program. “CISA does a great job with marketing and building the interest in buying local,” Lenita says. High labor and fuel expenses are a big challenge for Blossoming Acres and many other farms, and improving the effectiveness of their marketing efforts can help to offset these costs. The Bobers have also made use of CISA’s Emergency Farm Loan Fund. When they lost three greenhouses in the bad snowstorm of February 2013, the farm applied for and received one of CISA’s Emergency Farm Loans. “It was a huge help. Fortunately, only the hoops were damaged, the heaters and benches were still good.” With the help of the loan, the Bobers replaced one greenhouse and rebuilt two others.

Lenita grew up farming hay and corn on her family’s land in Leicester, near Worcester.  “I just love farming. I love the seasons, I love the way time passes.”  In a steamy greenhouse in February, she excitedly shows off trays of geranium cuttings, taking root, and the steam germination chamber, filled with Lisianthus flower seedlings. The Bober’s winning combination of high quality production, customer service, and direct markets make it likely that their neighbors and customers will be able to enjoy their pies, flowers and vegetables for a long time to come.

To find more information about the farm, directions to it as well as products they supply, head over to their website here.

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