Town Farms

By Rachel Travers / Photos by Kristin Teig

Laurie and Ron Starcher, owners of Town Farm Gardens in Brookfield, Massachusetts, find themselves in a pickle many strive for. They began an artisanal food business using produce from their farm and, like an independent child, it has taken off running.

On a trip to the Wayland Farmers Market I found myself standing in from of their booth looking at jar after jar of pickled produce, jams, jellies, and relishes. In fact, they have over 50 items made from their own farm’s produce, augmented by ingredients from three neighboring farms who grow and plant specifically for them—Freeman Farm in Brimfield, Overlook Farm in Brookfield, and Petruzzi Farm in East Brookfield. Their most popular item is Grandma’s Bread and Butter Pickles, and they make 200 pounds a week. Their growth has exceeded the couple’s expectations. But this was not the life plan either of them envisioned.

The couple had each experienced a personal loss—Laurie’s husband died, Ron’s marriage dissolved. Twelve years prior, they had met professionally and had remained friends. Laurie was a glassmaker for Galileo Electro-optics—a solitary and exacting profession. Ron was the Vice President and General Manager of a scientific instrument company. Neither could have foreseen their future together.

About 20 years ago, Laurie bought a 200-year-old farmhouse on a lot of 19 acres, coincidentally on land that had once been owned by members of her family, the O’Days. When it became available, she purchased an adjoining 10-acre lot. So when she and Ron got together they moved into the old farmhouse, along with Laurie’s mother.

The plan was that Laurie would be a daylily hybridizer of high-end, unique, and pricey daylilies. “Laurie has always been a ‘dirty hands person’ since she was little,” says Ron, as he describes his wife’s love of planting, gardening, and growing. But Laurie’s mother needed constant care, so growing the daylilies was only a part-time job.

Their first foray into retailing their line of daylilies was at a stand at the West Brookfield Farmers Market. Soon vegetables and other plants joined the ranks with the daylilies. Laurie also started making jams and jellies, so Ron started doing research on what they had to do to build a licensed kitchen and get permits to sell the products at their stand.

Two and a half years ago Ron got a grant for putting a commercial kitchen in the farmhouse, and this is where they make everything, just the two of them. Everything is done by hand and they work in 12 jar batches, making their total of 12,000 jars sold last year an impressive count.

Using a combination of old family recipes and ones Laurie has recently developed, their repertoire has grown from Grandma’s Bread and Butter Pickles (a 100-year-old and proprietary family recipe) to their full repertoire today. Laurie likes to experiment and this year her pickled asparagus was an experiment that yielded another very popular item.

Many of the items they produce are “kicked up” by using peppers they grow. Their salsas are “sissy”, “psycho”, and “zesty”. Laurie has tried several times to grow the famous ghost pepper (known as the hottest pepper around), as well as Trinidad Scorpion plants. But before the peppers have even had a chance to show off their famous flavors, they have been besieged by rabbits who have eaten every last one.

“This was not my plan in life,” Laurie still protests. “It was just to have beautiful and unusual daylilies” and a world-wide clientele. But with land overflowing with 250 blueberry plants, quince, black, red, and white currents, elderberries, and red, purple, black, and yellow raspberries, jams became an obvious choice to produce. And once they had the commercial kitchen and proper licensing, pickles became their real bread and butter—all puns intended. Luckily, a debt-free living philosophy and their hard work has made the couple and their business sustainable from the start.

And what is in their future? “I think we’re really just winging it and will see where the business goes,” says Laurie. “We’re happy doing what we’re doing and that people like our stuff.”

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Town Farm Gardens townfarmgardens.com 508.499.6836

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Rachel Travers is a freelance food and lifestyle writer. She has been contributing to Edible Boston since the second issue and found many of her passions in that community. She has also written for the food pages of The Boston Globe for 21 years, and for the Sunday Globe Magazine. She is always looking for the new and delicious to share with friends and readers.