by Magda Dakin
NORTHBRIDGE - A wild riot of color greets you when you walk into Foppema's Farm fruit and vegetable store at 1605 Hill St, Northbridge. The scent of summer and the brilliant colors confirm what you already know, summer is in full swing and all the glorious fresh fruits and vegetables are here for your enjoyment. After an incredible strawberry season, “the best in 10 years,” according to owner Ken Foppema, “and we are now looking forward to the blueberries and then the corn in a week or two.” The Foppema Farm facebook page shows past crops with blueberries as big as your thumbnail.
The OPEN sign is a welcome sight for those who have discovered Foppema's Farm and look forward to it all winter. It’s much more fun than shopping at a big chain store and the freshness, quality and variety can’t be beat. For example, where else can you go and find three kinds of beets that were still in the ground this morning, yellow, green and white cauliflower, Asian spinach, Dinosaur Kale and Red Russian Kale, red Romaine lettuce, red and white kohlrabi, exotic shapes and colors of peppers and when we get a little further into the summer, more than a dozen kinds of tomatoes? Each visit you can find something new to try. Co-owner Lisa Foppema, says the farm stand is a family affair and, ”one of the boys loves to find and grow new and exotic versions of your favorites vegetables and fruits.”
Even though the farm stand is only open for about five months of the year, getting it all ready takes most of the rest of the year. Planting begins in February in the three large greenhouses located directly behind the farm store. Everything is started from seed every year and carefully planned so the harvest can be picked all summer long. Lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, and even corn, is carefully nurtured and planted at different times to maximize the time that the produce is available. There are over 80 acres of cultivated land behind the stand, at the orchards in Sutton, and near Sutton center, all supporting the produce stand. In addition there are 25 acres of apples, over six acres of stone fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, apricots and nectarines, as well as a newly-added three acres of pluots (plum and apricot blend) at the Keown Orchard site in Sutton.
When Ken and Lisa Foppema acquired the Keown Orchards to enhance their fruit offerings they soon found out that the bounty from the orchards needed an additional outlet. Their son Jesse picked up the ball and now spends most of his days at local and not-so-local farmers markets. The Foppema produce is available at The Greenway Farmers Market in Boston on Monday and Wednesday, Copley Plaza Farmers Market in Boston on Tuesday and Friday, Grafton Center Farmers Market on Thursday and Natick Commons Farmer Market on Saturday.
A true family affair, Ken runs the outside field operations, Lisa runs the farm stand end of the operation. Sons Evan and Lucas are actively involved in all aspects of the farm life: planting, cultivating, maintenance and repair, while Jesse does the farmers markets circuit. Much of the staff working at the stand and in the fields are other extended family members, friends and friend of friends. Ken and Lisa say that family help is an integral part of their success and are deeply appreciative. “We’ve been blessed and gifted in every aspect of our adventure from the very beginning. From the availability of the property when we needed it to acquiring the orchards, to the continuous patronage of our customers.”
Ken’s early interest and education was in animal studies but he soon found out that wasn’t for him. He went back to school at UMass and focused on the land, soil and plantings. With the general shift of land use in New England going from dairy farms to produce farms, Ken was perfectly poised to take advantage of it. They purchased the original farm land and buildings, former Szerlag and Adams dairy fields, in 1986 and have grown continuously since then. The newest addition to the farm stand was finished in 2006.
In addition to an incredible array of fruits and vegetables the stand also has in impressive number of items in jars created especially for the farm. You can find honey, salsa, pretzel and cheese dip, olives, garlic, pickles, beets just to name a few. At the far end of the building you will find a small country gift store and an interesting assortment of kitchen novelty items like corn huskers and tiny garlic graters. In the coolers and freezers you will find some prepared foods, meats, pies and dairy items to complete your shopping experience.
“You just can’t beat the incredible flavor of fresh picked produce, ripened on the vine, and grown with love,” says Lisa.