New crop takes over family farm


Friday, May 2, 2014

SUNDERLAND — For the first time in its 20-year history, Charlie Smiarowski says, his Route 47 farmstand won’t have freshly picked asparagus for its opening day this first weekend in May.

Beyond that effect of a cool spring, however, the real news at Smiarowski Farmstand this season will be its new owner, Charlie’s younger second cousin, 21-year-old Teddy.

If that seems young to be running a farmstand, consider that it’s the fourth generation of Smiarowskis, starting with Alex Smiarowski in Montague, where Charlie Smiarowski lived in his youth until his parents bought their Sunderland farm in 1959 to grow tobacco, potatoes, pickling cumbers, geraniums and other wholesale crops.

A former Sunderland police chief, Charlie Smiarowski started farming 50 acres there in 1985 with his wife, Karen, selling some of their vegetables and plants from a wagon in front of their house. Ten years later, they added a complete farm market, to which an ice cream stand was later attached, and the farm gradually moved more to selling retail.

“It’s changed over the past 10 years or so, now that everyone wants farm fresh, so they’re buying straight from the farm,” said Smiarowski, 62. “When I was a kid growing up, there weren’t many farmstands, and mostly everybody was selling wholesale produce, pickles for Cain’s, or tobacco. Now you have lots more farmstands, but a lot don’t make it because they don’t generate enough business.”

Only about 5 percent of the farm’s business is now wholesale, he said, including asparagus sold to Foster’s Super Market and other local stores. While the farmstand had 20 crates of fresh asparagus available last year for opening, Smiarowski recalls, this year’s crop has been delayed by prolonged wintery weather. He expects his nine acres of asparagus may begin to be harvested next week.

Many of the farmstands that do pop up today concentrate on selling organic produce, Smiarowski says, but his farm concentrates on conventional, low-spray crops.

The older Smiarowskis will continue to work at the Sunderland farmstand, which they are selling to Teddy Smiarowski as well as leasing him the 50-acre farm. But, said Charlie Smiarowski, they find that farming gets a little harder as they get older, and they began looking for someone to sell to.

Teddy Smiarowski III has been working on the 600-acre Hatfield farm started in 1950 by his grandfather, Teddy, since he was 10. That farm grows potatoes, strawberries and asparagus, selling mostly wholesale.

“This is retail, and it’s going to be a very big change for me,” said the recent UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture graduate, like his parents, his grandfather, his cousins and his uncle before him. “I’m learning a lot. My uncle (Dan, in Hatfield) concentrated on four crops; now I’m going to a farm with 50 different crops: an acre of summer squash, an acre of this, an acre of that, so I’ll have to know the different timing of 50 different crops. And I’m learning to make ice cream.”

Teddy Smiarowski said he also moved about six months ago to Sunderland, “from the other side of the river,” so that’s a change as well.