Valley Bounty: Sunset Farm
With summer field crops and flowers in full swing, Bill Gillen is hard at work offering a wide variety of products at his farm stand and at the Amherst Farmers’ Market. “It’s like theater, we’re on stage every Saturday, and strive to be able to offer something unique and exciting each week,” Gillen explains.
Bill Gillen is the owner and operator of Sunset Farm in Amherst. The 10-acre fruit, vegetable, and flower farm offers pick-your-own for all of their products. Pick-your-own is open 24/7 and operates on the honor system. “Come at 3am with a flashlight if you can’t sleep,” Gillen says with a laugh. “Help scare off the deer.”
Pick-your-own customers will find a list of currently available products attached to the side of the yellow farm stand out front, detailing price and which row each crop is located in.
Known for offering an incredible variety, Gillen explains, “It would be quicker to tell you what we don’t grow.” Currently, customers can find cantaloupes, okra, silver queen corn, tomatoes, kale, chard, peas, summer squash, onions, rhubarb, basil, dill, parsley, lettuce, and cilantro, with watermelons arriving later this month.
Flowers are currently at their peak on the farm as well. Find premade bouquets sold at Amherst Farmers’ Market, at Sunset Farm’s farm stand, or at Whole Foods. If you want to arrange your own bouquet, stop by for pick-your-own, and choose from an array of zinnias, delphiniums, sweet peas, straw flowers, snap dragons, peonies, marigolds, gladiolas, bells of Ireland, yarrow, lisianthus, decorative grasses, and more.
The flowers make a happy environment for the beehives kept on Sunset Farm by a local beekeeper. Honey is sold at the farm stand when available. This spring, Gillen got chicks which will start laying eggs for the farm stand hopefully sometime this August.
Gillen explains that his farm has seen quite a bit of change since its founding in the summer of 1972, including a name change. Originally called “No Book Farm” the name served as an antidote to the highly academic community of Amherst where they are located. “Like us, like the weather, like the government, everything is constantly in a state of change,” Gillen remarks. “After 20 years, I decided to change the name. In that time, I hoped that I would have learned something, no sense in being deliberately uneducated.”
The farm was started on a smaller section of their land, 100 x 100 square feet. Gillen contracted with the local pickle factory in South Deerfield to grow cucumbers. The factory would send them a tin can filled with cucumber seeds that Gillen would then shake over the soil. “They paid us $1 for the cucumbers they wanted, and $0.10 for the ones that grew too big to make relish out of,” Gillen explains.
Today, Sunset Farm has grown bigger both in size and in the variety of products offered. One of the greatest joys of farming for Gillen has been hearing from customers excited to find products that are not always available in supermarket such as okra – a vegetable native to Ethiopia and brought to the Americas asted, pickled, or used in soups and stews.
Gillen explains that the farm has seen more customers this year than in previous years, something he attributes to an effect of COVID-19. “I think one of the silver linings of the health crisis we’re in, is that it has encouraged people to look within their own communities and connect with local farmers,” Gillen remarks. “It’s very exciting, we always love seeing new faces out picking.”
In addition to selling products, Sunset Farm has been used as a scenic community space and park. From hosting kindergarten class picnics and farm tours, to serving as a UMass research site for on-farm pests, Sunset Farm makes the effort to connect with the surrounding community in any way they can.
You can visit Sunset Farm’s farm stand at 20 Brigham Lane in Amherst. To find other local farms near you, check out CISA’s Online Guide at buylocalfood.org/farmguide.
Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.