Valley Bounty: Twin Oaks Farm
Nestled in Hadley sits Twin Oaks Farm, a third-generation diversified vegetable farm owned by Linda Kingsley and Edwin Matzuko with the help of their son, Josef. Twin Oaks Farm started as a family homestead, growing onions and potatoes, over 100 years ago. In the 60s, Edwin’s parents rented out the land to shade-grown tobacco farmers. Today, Twin Oaks Farm uses the 30 acres they own plus an additional 20 acres of rented land to grow a variety of crops including leeks, butternut squash, beets, cabbage, zucchini and ornamental corn and mini pumpkins.
“This year was rough for us, both because of the weather and the changes brought on by COVID,” explains Kingsley. The drought decreased yields for their leeks and required extra staff time spent irrigating. Severe winds knocked down most of the ornamental corn, causing them to lose 60% of their yield. Lastly, early frosts killed the last of their peppers and eggplants.
This year, COVID presented a new challenge for marketing their products. As a wholesale farm, a lot of Twin Oaks customers act as middlemen – the terminal markets in Boston, for example, which then sell to institutions and schools. When schools and other institutions shut down due to COVID, the companies that had been supplying food to those institutions had to reinvent themselves, and in doing so, the market became more competitive. “You still have the same number of people who need to eat, it’s just that the way we are distributing food has changed,” remarks Kingsley.
To manage pests, Twin Oaks Farm uses Integrated Pest Management methods, particularly for their ornamental corn and bell peppers. By purchasing trichogramma wasps, and releasing them into their fields throughout the season, the wasps attack the larvae of European Corn Borers, a moth that can desiccate corn, peppers, and other crops early in the growing season.
Twin Oaks Farm is most well known for their leeks, growing three acres per season. The leeks start off in the greenhouse in March and stay there until they’ve had the chance to size up. Moving outside in June, a mechanical transplanter is used to space them about five inches apart in the ground. Once the leeks are in the ground, they need to be hand-weeded frequently to prevent weeds from crowding the leeks out or bringing in unwanted pests. Additionally, a tractor is used to hill up the soil, so that more of the leek is covered. This helps ensure that the white, edible shank of the leek is as long as possible.
The leeks are harvested to order, by hand. Employees use a knife to help loosen the dirt and cut the complex root system. Once harvested, the roots and tops are trimmed to be uniform. While the tops are not eaten, they remain attached for presentation.
Next, depending on the size, three to five leeks will be bundled together with a rubber band, washed and packed, stored in the cooler, then sent off to the market.
Kingsley explains that her family’s favorite way to eat leeks is in potato leek soup. To make enough for her family (4-6 servings), she recommends using three leeks. Slice the white and very light green parts of the leek into ¼ inch slices, and sauté over medium to low heat in two tablespoons of butter, until leeks are softened (about 10 minutes). Add four cups of water (or vegetable or chicken broth), 2lbs (about 6 medium-sized) peeled and diced potatoes, and a pinch of salt. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through. Add a bit of cornstarch if you want to thicken the soup. Kingsley recommends adding some milk or light cream to the soup at the end as well. If you would like, you can blend the soup, or leave chunky. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy.
You can find leeks and other Twin Oaks Farm products at Big Y in Hadley, Atkins, and Marty’s Local.
To find more local farms near you, please visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide
Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.