With joy, Kathleen Smedberg walks the sunny slopes of her 65-acre farm in Wilbraham. While her happiness stems from her ability to live and toil in the outdoors, today her delight is pointed at the hundreds of peaches that hang just above her head. This past spring she and other farms across the region were greeted with a canopy of vibrant pink blossoms, a relieving sight after a year with no peaches in 2016.
Kathy is preparing for a busy season at Green Acres Farm, a venture she entered into nearly thirty-two years ago. Purchased in 1985 with her aunt, uncle and then-husband, she initially oversaw the farm’s bookkeeping functions before establishing retail tasks and eventually taking over the agricultural operation. She now continues the business with her two sons, growing an abundance of fresh produce for local customers.
Kathy grows a staggering variety of vegetables and fruit for her year-round farm stand. Grown with low to no pesticides, she offers peaches, plums, apples, garden veggies, eggs from cage-free hens, raw honey, crafts, and custom-made pies. She offers a near full-diet CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for families and individuals, a task she says she’s honored to offer the community.
The ever-growing CSA program is a popular approach to receive seasonal food direct from a farmer. Members receive weekly boxes of produce and other farm goods, which vary from week to week depending on what’s in season. CSA programs are ideal for small farms like Green Acres Farm, not only is Kathy able to forecast what and how much to plant that season, commitments help produce needed income early in the season. While farmers’ markets are a wonderful means to build community and strengthen accessibility to local foods, having patrons come directly to the farm helps Kathy prioritize her time. People start signing up for Kathy’s CSA program in the spring, but says she will welcome anyone throughout the year and runs the program through Christmas.
While Kathy is a staunch farmer, she’s also incredibly knowledgeable in agricultural economics, the theory in optimizing production and distribution. Working as a near one-woman operation, she strictly budgets her time, scrutinizing her own systems to increase efficiency. She keeps her focus at the farm, by simply providing products at the Wilbraham Grown Farmers’ Market, for example, rather than physically attending. Similarly, fresh honey is returned by two beekeepers that maintain on-site hives and Sugar DL, a popular Wilbraham baker, prepares made-from-scratch orchard pies.
Kathy says, what’s more important to her, is offering local families access to farm fresh veggies. There’s a new interest and wave of kids being brought up eating and tasting things they haven’t in awhile. Kathy’s CSA features many standard favorites, but enjoys adding in [optional] obscure “zingers,” to expand her customers’ recipe medley. The program has also become a means for information sharing, often with members swapping recipes, ideas, tips and tricks.
“There’s definitely a trend for local products and I’m seeing a lot more people with young families that are introducing their kids to locally sourced foods,” says Kathy. “People are once again cooking, preserving, canning and freezing. It’s nice and very important.”
With 2016 being an “off year” plagued by drought and a decimated crop of stone fruits, she’s pretty optimistic about what this year has to offer. Most of all she’s anticipating excitement at the return of her peaches, a much missed fruit in the Northeast last year. There’s just no comparison when something is grown just down the road.
“Local, fresh peaches just taste different,” Kathy explains. “What you’re getting through a wholesale, or store, are peaches that are picked green [harvested early], refrigerated and then set to ripen. That’s the exact opposite of what you should do if you want a nice, flavorful juicy peach. It should get to almost that point, then picked and refrigerated – if it even makes it there before getting eaten.”
She says it takes a certain mentality to be a farmer, to be able to manage the ebb and flow of Mother Nature. “You can do it all right and be the best that there is, but then the weather will nail you.”
No matter what, Kathy wouldn’t have it any other way, she loves what she does and the people she meets.
“I love the diversity of what I do and working in the open space. It’s allowed me to raise my own family in a certain way, now my grandchildren,” says Kathy. “I get to be outside, grow wonderful crops and talk to customers – I meet so many nice people. Food is so much better when it’s fresh and when you can put a face to the food.”
Green Acres Farm is located at 868 Main Street in Wilbraham, Masschusetts and the farmstand is open to the public daily from 10am-5pm. For more information call (413) 596-3016 or visit facebook.com/GreenAcresFruitFarm