by M. Dakin
It’s winter, it’s cold, and it seems like a long way away from summer. The days are getting a little longer but unless you have a Happy Light or take mini-vacations in a tanning booth it’s hard to get the fresh summer fix we love. That is, until you step through the doors of the Whittier Farms retail farm store. If the warm friendly atmosphere of this family owned and operated business wasn’t enough, the large assortment of fresh, locally produced products reminds you of what’s good about summer farm stands. For a moment you can forget about the snow and take in the sights and scents of fresh food done right.
The Whittier family and staff spend a lot of effort in providing the best available local produce, products, and prepared food, so you don’t have to. Mary Whittier explains how she started making prepared meatballs and lasagna dinners at the request of her customers. They came in to purchase the grass-fed, non- steroid beef and wouldn’t know what to do with it or how to prepare it properly. The country store now features many ready-to-heat meals, perfect for cold winter nights: turn on the oven, relax, and a little while later, voila, dinner is served. To end your meal with a little something sweet there are also in-store-prepared fruit pies and apple crisp, made from this year’s local fruits, with no chemical preservatives.
Part of the Whittier Farms mission is to provide good, locally sourced products from nearby vendors, farmers and growers. Local items available in the store include a full line of cheese products from the Cabot Creamery Cooperative of Vermont, honey products from Hebert Honey in Oxford, fresh breads and pastry from Helen’s Bakery in Worcester, ice cream and Ice Cream Pizza from Bliss Ice Cream in Attleboro, turkey and chicken pot pies from Aristocrat in Upton, fudge and candy from Eaton Farms in Sutton, and maple syrup from the Warren Farms and Sugarhouse of North Brookfield. The store also carries Vermont-based Bove’s All Natural Pasta Sauces, Harvard’s Carlson Orchards items for all things apple, Wellesley’s Captain Marden’s Seafood prepared seafood dinners, and Connecticut’s The Farmer’s Place dips, sauces, and marinades.
When asked by a customer in January if the tomatoes were fresh picked, Mary realized the importance of educating her customers about where and when her produce is sourced. Although it’s winter and the ”fresh picked” fruit and vegetable season is long over, Mary continues to provide high quality produce, keeping a sharp eye on the availability of locally grown items. Many of the fruit products come from Carlson Orchards and in the winter they are supplemented with produce from Russo’s of Watertown.
One of the first things you see when you come into the store is the display of fresh bread and coffee rolls. Locally baked in Helen’s Bakery Shop, all the baked goods are made without preservatives and harmful ingredients. As a changeup from the grass-fed beef grown right at the farm, there is the alternative of premade turkey or chicken pies, crafted by Aristocrat Pies. Slow cooked, using only the purest ingredients and no fillers, these pies are filled with whole fresh chickens or turkeys and actual chicken broth, and no chemicals.
Another harbinger of the summer is the honey bee. At the back end of the Whittier Farms store you will find the natural sweets, honey, and maple syrup. Hebert Honey provides a number of bee-related items, all adding healthy choices to our diets. The honey is minimally processed and totally free of additives, important because it still contains all the pollen needed to build antibodies for fighting allergies. It also contains Royal Jelly, propalis and other important enzymes and antioxidants found only in natural, local honey.
Have you ever tried bee pollen? It’s a great source of high quality protein. It has more protein per ounce than any other natural food and it’s lower in calories. Olympic and other athletes use it for a quick but sustained source of energy. Add some to your next shake for added energy and protein. Hebert Honey also has a 100% natural Pet Balm that treats dry, rough, cracked pads and noses for our furry friends.
Mid-February is the beginning of the maple syrup season and Warren Farms and Sugarhouse is busy tapping the trees, harvesting its first crop of the season. You can find their attractive display on the back wall of the farm stand. Be sure to check out the pretty shaped bottles, perfect for gift giving. There are leaf-shaped ones, log cabin shapes and even one that shows Massachusetts on it. What’s inside is even better: pure, unadulterated maple sugar. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, recent research suggests that the darker syrup is richer in beneficial antioxidants. If you like flavor-infused maple syrup you can find cinnamon, blueberry, vanilla bean, and cranberry. Maple sugar confections and maple sugar covered nuts are a particular seasonal favorite. Have you ever tried maple sugar crystals as an alternative to regular sugar?
The Farmer’s Plate products are also carried at the Whittier Farms country store. They have a wide assortment of delicious dips, sauces, marinades, and gourmet food in jars. In addition, The Farmer’s Plate represents more than 50 small, local gourmet, gift, and convenience businesses, helping them distribute their products throughout New England.
The Eaton Farm Confections display in the farm stand is a very popular place, enticing you to try some of their 15 flavors of fudge and four flavors of bark.
Now that you’ve taken a moment in time and know where you can find a little bit of summer, be sure to come and check out The Whittier Farms retail store at 90 Douglas Rd. Sutton, MA, 508 865-1053, open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; email [email protected]. The web address is www.whittiers.com.