Old farm stand gets new life in Hadley

By SCOTT MERZBACH, Staff Writer, Daily Hampshire Gazette, September 16, 2019

HADLEY — A former farm stand and ice cream shop that has been shuttered for more than 25 years is being brought back to life by business partners who envision it becoming a place for people to get locally grown produce, meats and cheeses, and enjoy a cafe featuring breakfast and lunch sandwiches and regionally roasted coffee.

Shannon Rice-Nichols of Amherst and Colin Seger of Northampton recently purchased the 10 Rocky Hill Road site, once the Rocky Hill Farm and Ice Cream Parlor, from the Gnatek family.

“I’ve been thinking of some kind of place for a while,” said Rice-Nichols, who has run the Farmer and The Cheese wholesale operation from two sites on Bay Road in Hadley. “I’ve wanted a retail space to sell my cheese, meat, produce and fruits and other items, so this made sense.”

Though they only got the keys to the site this month, Rice-Nichols and Seger have already made progress on clearing out what might have been mistaken by passersby for an antique store and roofing business.

She said that the farm stand side of the building was filled floor to ceiling with baskets, sleighs, silverware, glasses and plates and huge pinecones, while the former ice cream stand still has numerous gutters, shingles and other similar supplies inside it.

“Anyone who wants to start a roofing company, we can set them up,” Rice-Nichols said.

Reopening the farm stand, which was built in 1983 and last in business around 1991 – as evidenced by the rotary telephone on a wall near the cash register –  is the first phase of the project, with the second phase getting the breakfast and lunch spot up and running.

Large display cases already feature acorn squash, butternut squash, delicata squash, kobacha squash, sugar pumpkins, tomatoes and sweet corn, much of it grown on the land Rice-Nichols harvests. She said corn stalks and small straw bales will soon be added.

A variety of cheese products from the milk produced by her 22-dual purpose cows, which include Devon bulls and Kerry cows, will be sold once the coolers are set up.

Rice-Nichols is an expert in making cheese. “Cheese is my deal,” Rice-Nichols said.

Heritage breed meat products using some of her cows will also be on site.

To make the project work and meet the requirements of the agricultural zoned land, 25 percent of the product at the farm stand needs to be grown and produced in Hadley.

This will be easy to do, she said, but will also mean bringing in products from surrounding towns, such as mums. “We will be super localvores,” Rice-Nichols said.

Sometime in 2020 the site will have soft-serve ice cream using milk from her cows.

Seger, of Northampton, who has experience in local coffee shops, said the restaurant is tentatively to be called The Swift Rabbit Cafe. He will be using the original ice cream parlor but creating a new kitchen, as well as finishing off a large seating area that was never completed, and which still has a dirt floor and heavy plastic over the window openings.

Seger isn’t sure how soon he can get this ready, but will begin selling coffee and other items at the farm stand once the cheese is ready for sale. “I may start a small coffee program with the cheese during the buildout,” Seger said.

He will introduce Barrington Coffee from Great Barrington and have a number of baked goods made with local ingredients, such as peaches, plums and apples. Grab-and-go sandwiches and soups will also be sold.

With 1.6 acres of land, Rice-Nichols said she will use some of the land to grow crops, and hopes to put in two high tunnels to raise greens, pea shoots and cut flowers. Rice-Nichols said a washing station that will be in view of the cafe will be located near these greenhouses.

“Customers will be able to see the farm products washed and readied,” Rice-Nichols said.

They are optimistic that the site is a good location for the enterprise, with significant commuter traffic in the morning and afternoon to the University of Massachusetts.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at