In the heart of the Connecticut River Valley, Picadilly Farm, in Winchester, NH, has been growing and serving fresh, organic and local produce for the Monadnock region for almost two decades. Owners Bruce and Jenny Wooster have made it their mission to grow sustainable, wholesome food for their surrounding community from their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce operation.
CSAs are a popular way for anyone to receive fresh and local produce and connect with their area farmers. They come in various business models, but Picadilly Farm has strategically set itself apart from others in the Monadnock area. Throughout their years of farming in southwest New Hampshire, they’ve paid attention to the needs and concerns of their customers and have created a system that works for everyone. They do their best to cater to the shareholders and remove barriers for them to come to the farm. Their pickup schedule offers multiple days a week and times to go to the farm, making it convenient for schedules of all kinds. The weekly produce shares are customizable, and members can select what vegetables they would like to take home from a long list of over 40 crops throughout the growing season.
Most importantly, they make a point to be clear with their shareholders about what their farm can and cannot offer. Jenny pointed out that they know their land and soil well, and some popular types of produce simply don’t grow well or aren’t profitable for them to grow. Their shareholders have come to know this over the past 15 years.
The farm reaches over 700 CSA shareholders, accounting for 65% of their crops. In addition to the CSA, Picadilly Farm sells 35% of their produce wholesale to area co-ops. The wholesale orders have come to be specialized for what the specific store location needs. Sweet potatoes, carrots and salad greens are popular orders. Bruce and Jenny have set a goal to keep their produce as local as possible to stay a small, local farm that focuses on its strengths.
“When someone sees ‘Picadilly carrots,’ we want that to mean something to them,” said Jenny.
Their produce can be found at co-ops in Keene, NH, Brattleboro VT, and Greenfield, MA, all within a half-hour of the farm. For their business model, they have found that direct sales are more successful than using a food distributor. By doing this, the farm is able to maintain a wide variety of crops and mitigate demand during unpredictable growing seasons.
While in New Hampshire, the growing season is mainly during the summer months, managing Picadilly Farm is a year-round venture. During autumn Bruce and Jenny take inventory and order any supplies they need for the following growing season. In winter, they plan and prepare for their growing season. The CSA operates for six months of the year and the other six months are dedicated to wholesale. They take advantage of hoop houses to grow when the weather is cooler and keep root vegetables in storage to be able to constantly provide food to their community.
Every type of farmer faces hurdles in their sector of agriculture, and labor retention continues to affect vegetable producers like Picadilly. During the growing season, the farm employs 20 employees, but when the warm weather ends, so do most of the full-time positions. A better part of a year passes before the farm is ready to re-hire the seasonal labor, and many of the previous year’s employees do not return. It’s a common misconception that anyone can do farm labor, but the work takes attention to detail and skill that not every person has. In vegetable production, the list of training becomes especially long because of diverse crop production. Each crop has its own set of growing requirements, harvesting methods and field specifications, so teaching a new employee those criteria for 40-plus crops becomes especially time-consuming. The battle to find dependable help during the growing season continues to evolve in operations like Picadilly Farm.
Bruce and Jenny have always been community-oriented since the start of the farm and today are well involved with several community organizations such as Food Connects, Cheshire County Conservation District and Granite State Market Match. When Picadilly Farm was purchased, previous owners Albert and Judy Hudson of Windale Dairy Farm made it a goal to find like-minded individuals to take over their land. They made it a priority that their farm stay in agricultural use, and Bruce and Jenny plan to continue in that mindset.
Their long-term goals are to continue farming in the methods they have been and provide food to their community. When it is time to retire, they would like to have the whole property under a conservation easement. By doing this, they will have done their part to make sure the land stays in agricultural use and the next owners can affordably farm. Throughout their almost 20 years of farming in New Hampshire, Picadilly Farm continues to be at the forefront of removing barriers for the public to engage in agriculture.
by Hannah Majewski