Written by Gigi Stowe, 3rd generation owner of Pine Ridge Farm
Looking back, I think my love of flowers began with my Grandmother. We spent many hours together in her garden. I remember from an early age, learning about her creeping phlox , the hens and chicks in the rock garden in her backyard, and the wild Mayflowers at the reservoir. I have vivid memories of the old fashion Foxglove, Hollyhock and Delphinium peering over her stonewall along the roadside, and remember pressing pansies between wax paper in the pages of the phonebook. As with any passionate gardener, she was always digging and dividing perennials and sending me home with pieces of ‘this and that’. To this day,I am still battling a hunk of Trumpet Vine she gave me 40 years ago, that I planted right in the middle my mother’s garden.
My Grandparents lived in Boylston, on family owned property, next door to my great grandmother, Jean Tiemeyer. She lived in a small house with her son Jim Tiemeyer, until her death in 1973. It was around that time, Uncle Jim moved to the packing house at Pine Ridge Farm. The packing house is where all the apples picked from the orchard on the farm were stored and processed for sale and to make cider. The cellar of the packing house was built into the side of a hill and this design was for perfect for maintaining the apples because it was cool. Uncle Jim’s apartment was actually located on the upper level of the packing house and by the time he had moved in, Chester Greene had died and the farm had been left to my Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim worked at Pine Ridge Farm as a child, picking apples for owner, Chester Greene. Chester and his wife lived in the farmhouse located across the street from the packing house. They moved to Boylston in the early 1900’s before the Great Depression. They farmed the land, raised livestock and planted an orchard. During that time, they sold primarily apples and peaches from the side of an old trolley car. In 1934 a new building was constructed and more gardens were planted. Small fruits, blueberries, strawberries and vegetables were grown and harvested to be sold at the farm stand. Today the Pine Ridge Farm, roadside stand, still exists on the corner of Cross St and Rt 70 in Boylston, and is considered one of the oldest fruit and vegetable stands in Worcester County.
During the time between Chester Greene’s death and Uncle Jim taking ownership of the farm, the original farm house was sold. I believe this is why Uncle Jim moved to the packing house instead of the main house. I remember visiting him there as a child and was in awe of its contents. From the day Jim moved in, until his death in 1994…nothing had changed. It was just as Chester had left it when he lived there. It was like stepping into another era in time. All of Chester Greene’s life decorated it’s wall. From floor to ceiling were muskets, tools, old fishing poles and horse tackle. In the center of the room was a beautiful vintage billiard table, walls of cue sticks, books, an old victrola, and ashtrays filled with pipes & tobacco. It was the original “Man Cave”. Yet Uncle Jim seemed oblivious to all of it. On his night stand were seed catalogs, grafting manuals and books on composting. That was his life.
Uncle Jim’s passion was farming. He lived alone, had little desire or time to socialize, and spent most of his free time out in the field. He was employed full time during the day, for the town of Boylston, on the Highway Dept. When one job ended,the rest of his day was spent at Pine Ridge Farm, working the land. Everyday, something needed to be done. Plowing, seeding, mowing, baling, pruning and harvesting; everyday was different. He lived a simple life, and he lived a hard life. He continued to educate himself on the newest trends in farming, the current methods of pest control ,and most popular varieties available in the business. He was active and up to date with cultural practices concerning the environment and made responsible decisions with what he had to work with. He prided himself on his signature Silver Queen corn, what is now referred to as ‘heirloom’ variety Butter and Sugar corn and his Early Girl tomatoes. He grew June strawberries and ever bearing varieties, summer squash, zucchini, winter squash, cucumbers, beans, Indian corn and pumpkins. For each season Uncle Jim would open the three walls of the farm stand building to display his produce. This was not only a great way to advertise his vegetables but also created an awning for shade, a countertop for sales and provided a constance breeze for his customers. He would put out his A-frame sign advertising what was “fresh picked” and available that day, and when it was gone, he would close up and go home.
Through the years, Jim relied on help and companionship from my father, George Stowe. My father worked at the farm through his childhood and loved to share stories from those days. Some of the stories were about Jim, others were about farming and apple picking, but the best were about the adventures they had in the old Ford Model A, fruit truck. I have heard different versions of “the stories” from other people... maybe who were there too? Or maybe just stories to help to keep the legends and folktale alive…But they all make me smile when someone starts a story and we travel down memory lane. The Model A is still in service today. It makes a yearly drive, in the annual Boylston Memorial Day Parade, travels to family reunions and appears at several local events.
My father shared Uncle Jim’s love and appreciation for the farm. When he was not working construction, he would be found at the farm. Uncle Jim and Dad spent hours discussing ideas and future plans: crop rotation, conservation planning, propagation and diversity. Learning about the soil through maps and testing, working with the topography and wetlands, haying and mowing the fields, Dad was there every weekend. The farm was a place family and friends would always gather. Many Sunday afternoons began with a day of cutting brush or baling hay. Not long after, my mother would come by with lunch and cold drinks. Soon friends, family, eventually grandchildren and more, would stop by and most would get involved. It was not alway easy work, but it was always a good day. My father would always say at the end of the day, “The family that Hays Together, Stays Together!” He said that many, many times.
Uncle Jim had a set income, any extra money he had, went into the farm. He was known for his corn….ALL the corn he planted. I remember him picking corn with a canvas bag strapped to his chest and he would hand pick the ears of corn with the black silk tassel. This meant it was ready to be eaten. He would stack the corn side by side in the bag and unhook the flap at the bottom to empty all his bounty into the back of the truck...then go back and pick some more. He was often accused of over planting the corn. Always much more than he would ever be able to harvest or sell. I think he did this because he knew he shared the field with the wildlife that surrounded him. I know he battled the raccoon and remember the damage they had caused in the corn field. Yet, for all the acres he planted, I remember only 1 or 2 “have-a-heart traps” and I don’t remember they were very successful. There were never any critters in them. I think in his world, ‘there was plenty for all.’
My father shared that same kindred spirit, and when Uncle Jim died in 1994, he left the farm to Dad. He knew my father would not sell the farm for house lots. He knew my father would continue to work the land and he knew how important it was to preserve this legacy of the farm. Uncle Jim knew my father had the best of intentions.
In 1982, I graduated from Tahanto High School. I left Boylston and went to Bangor Maine, to study Agriculture. I decided I wanted to be part of the Pine Ridge Farm dream. We had always had animals growing up. I loved that part of farming. Mom had her garden and Dad had his chickens. Through the years we’ve had sheep, rabbits, ducks and geese and for 1 day...a goat. My junior year in high school, one of my happiest memories, was when I got my first horse, Santana. It was about that same time, my mother got her first Jersey Cow. We were officially farmers now.
The animals have always been my favorite part of the farm. However, by the end of freshman year at UMO, I found myself more interested in growing plants than I was with poultry management. I switched my major from Agriculture to study plant production. I graduated in 1984 with Associates degree in Plant and Soil Science. I transferred to University of Maryland, College Park second semester, my junior year and continued to study Horticulture. In 1987, I graduated UMCP with a Bachelor’s degree in Horticulture, with a concentration in Ornamental Plant Material and Landscape Design. I had always enjoyed art, and design in High School and with my work experience at Bigelow Nursery, it seemed to be the natural fit to combine the two and begin my career as a Landscape Designer.
After graduating college, I returned home to Boylston and took my first job as landscape designer for Shrewsbury Nursery. I learned hands on, residential design and commercial design, retail sales and landscape installation. The economy was booming, housing development was on the rise and there was a big need for landscape services. I learned a lot during these years and soon realized how short the New England growing season really was. Spring always hits hard. Lots of flowers to sell, yards to clean up and planting to be done. But in this industry, so much depends on the weather. Rain, wind, drought and snow can easily put you behind schedule and can ruin a planting season. Time and money management are a constant challenge and there is nothing you can do about it. It all depends on Mother Nature.
The early 90’s I found myself very busy working on my own landscape jobs. I cut my hours with the Nursery, started designing for a few local landscapers and committed to regular hours at Pine Ridge Farm. These days were challenging, juggling family and career. But I was fortunate and had good support between family and friends. We were able to all work together. We managed to keep the farm stand open to sell flowers and vegetables, made sure the kids were cared for and got the jobs done. Like the old saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child”.
I started my flowers shop in the old farm stand, still located on the corner of Cross St. and Rt 70. My father had made heavy duty benches on wheels, that I would put in the front of the stand during the day and wheel in at night. Then, I would put out “MY” A-frame sign...just like Uncle Jim... and advertise what I had for sale that day. I sold seasonal flowers, herbs, vegetable plants, potted containers and more. I took special orders for Memorial baskets and did many patio pots and window boxes for customers. At Christmas we sold wreaths and cemetery baskets. Christmas was a time for family and tradition at Pine Ridge Farm. My mother and I used to work together to make princess pine wreaths from material we gathered in the woods. We wired the greens onto a coat hanger, and then decorated them. They were beautiful but a lot of work. When I opened the farm stand for Christmas in 1993, I assumed the wreath making tradition. I switched to a 12” plain balsam wreath and added my own fresh picked greens. The wreaths were bigger, had more color and texture and sold quickly.
Today we sell dozens of plain and decorated wreaths, offer several popular and fun holiday wreath workshops and sell the fresh cut Christmas trees from Maine. As Pine Ridge Farm business has grown, we have expanded our sales area. We added a lath house, with benches, irrigation and shade. We created seating areas, focal points of interest and landscaped the hillside with gardens. Garden Art and sculpture was added in certain area and soon the garden itself, has become an area for retail flowers sales. The gardens are a showcase for our style of design and landscape work. One seems to compliment the other.
In 2003, my father and I took an Agricultural business course sponsored by the Ma Dept of Agriculture. Together we developed a new business plan. The concept was to create a unique outdoor shopping experience. We began to implement this vision in 2005, when we put up a new Morton building. The new stand was quite a bit larger and set back from the road, leaving plenty of room for parking. There was easier access in and out from Rt 70 and it was set at the edge of the hay field with room to add animals and more gardens.
Fifteen years later, we continue to work on “the long term plan”. We continue to work the land, cultivate the gardens, and strive to improve the hay fields and orchard. We work to enhance the natural beauty of the farm’s landscape by adding native and cultivated plant material which in turn, helps us to advertise our landscape business.
We specialize in creating outdoor living space and have added an outdoor patio, fire pit and several seating areas designed for our customers to come and enjoy an experience for the senses. We offer seasonal food and drink throughout the year, and encourage people to stop by and see what’s is new. We have extended our petting zoo and love when people stop by to visit with the animals.
Every year in garden gift shop we add new products. We carry farm fresh eggs, local honey, homemade jams, jellies, soap and lotions. We are always creating new floral arrangements and combining antiques with plantings in unexpected places. The farm stand and it’s venue continue to evolve. We are always changing with the season and have many new ideas for the future.
Many things have changed in the last ten years. We lost my Dad in 2011. He died on the farm...bulldozing. It was my mother who found him. She was bringing him lunch and his cold drink. I know he was doing what he loved and was where he wanted to be. Soon after, we lost our mother, Kewpie, in 2014, as expectantly as Dad. In 2013, I reconnected with an ol' friend, Jimmy O'Toole. Several years prior to that, Jimmy had walked into Pine Ridge Farm as the owner of All Green Hydroseeding and Shamrock Landscape. He was looking to hire a new landscape designer for a development he was involved with nearby. I got the job and we worked together for a few years until he moved to Maine. When I saw him again, years later, he was driving through Massachusetts in a big 18-wheeler and stopped by the farm. I was surprised to see him again after all that time and with him was a beautiful black labrador he named, Onyx. My heart skipped a beat when I saw him and Onyx & I connected immediately. Deep down I knew he was destined to be a farm dog. :)
Today Jimmy and I work together on the farm. We share a common goal and work daily to make improvements inside the building and outside. We are committed to stay true to our goal, farm the land, remain eco-friendly and environmentally conscious. We want our story to be about farm fresh, locally grown and nature inspired. We work with and support our fellow farmers in and around surrounding towns, choose to offer handmade and handcrafted items from local artisans , believe in small business and hard work. We are happy to have been involved in the introduction of the Agricultural Commission and the Right To Farm by law for the town of Boylston, MA.
The farm now is the responsibility of my brothers and I. I am confident I know what Dad wanted, and what Uncle Jim wanted to happen to the farm. I know, we all want, to preserve the beauty and integrity of the farm. We want to protect the open space, the wildlife and wetlands. We want to improve the viability of the farm and I want it to be successful. I want people to enjoy all that it has to offer.
Our love for animals has brought many new friends to our family including goats, llama, alpaca, bunnies, Edgar the goose, a mini horse, Duncan the donkey and my favorite cat, Taco. (Taco is no longer with us but 3 years later customers still come and ask about that lovable cat).
But the best to join us is definitely, Onyx “the greeter”. He loves everybody and does his job well. Cheap labor too, he works for treats!
For my closing story, I would like to share this “tail” with you: We have always had a black Labs growing up and for some reason they were always named Sam? Many years ago, one of the ‘Sams’ was sire to a new litter of Straw Hollow puppies. My father got to choose the pick of the litter and gave the puppy to Uncle Jim. Jim was overwhelmed with emotion from this surprise and he named the dog Samson (Sam’s-son). Samson was Uncle Jim’s loyal companion for many years. He was the tallest black Labrador I have ever seen. His legs were as tall as a Great Dane and he had that big block head known for the Straw Hollow dogs. However, I don‘t remember that he was a real smart dog. He would always cross the busy Rt 70 road and end up at the High School. All the kids knew him by name and in those days, the bus driver would just let him on the bus and dropped him off at the packing house whenever he needed a ride home. I love that we have come full circle, and Pine Ridge Farm still has its black Lab. I know my father and Onyx would have been the best of friends.
We hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into the history of our farm and we hope to see you soon! ~Gigi
Uncle Jim with Sam-son
Pine Ridge Farm is open April through December
Our seasonal workshops fill up fast, be sure to register online to guarantee your spot.
1158 Main Street, Boylston, Massachusetts 01505, United States
Opening Wednesday, March 20, 2019