At one point in our history, agriculture was the life-blood of the American economy.
Farming was how most of the population earned their living in some way or another during the Colonial-era. And even up until the 1940's, the number of farmers in the United States was booming. But, eventually, breakthroughs in farming technology happened and along with our urge to urbanize, that thriving community was essentially wiped out.
Farmers in the Northeast cashed in on those development dollars as the housing expansion made its way outside of the big cities. Their existence slowly began to decline until some point the majority of farmers in the region had almost completely gone away. It's why, if you've ever been walking in the middle of the woods in New England, you're likely to have stumbled onto a stone wall that seems oddly out of place. These are in some way like the fossils of the New England farmer.
Luckily for us though, some fought through that cultural change and adapted. Volante Farms, in Needham, Massachusetts, is one of them.
Celebrating it's 100th year in business, the grounds of Volante have lived through more cultural change than most of us could experience in two lifetimes. But how did this local farm outlive and outlast so much transition and stay successful for an entire century?
For one, Volante Farms has been continuously family owned and operated for all of the 100 years they've been around. There's lots to be said about the shared passion and sense of tradition that family units instinctively hold onto, and this farm is proof of that. Four generations of Volante's deep, the current proprietors are three siblings (Dave, Teri, and Steve), the great-grandchildren of the farm's founder, and they are just as interested and dedicated to Volante's success as their earlier ancestors were.
Second, Volante has adapted. Not just in our time of this new century, but always. There were additions of road-side stands, new crop opportunities, and expansions, and all have occurred regularly since the farm opened in the early 1900's. They never stood still while the tide changed.
The family business was started by Peter Volante, an immigrant from Atina, Italy, who originally arrived in Boston in 1900. After finding work in different fields for many years, Peter was hired as a farm hand on the Stone Family Farm in the Oak Hill village of Newton, Massachusetts. Two years later, in 1917, when the younger generation Stones decided they weren't interested in taking over the business, Peter was given the opportunity to start something of his own. So he bought the property for himself.
And then, Volante Farms was born.
Peter and his wife Caterina proudly operated the farm, selling their yield at the legendary fruit and vegetable markets in Boston. They were quickly successful too, and their family, which by now included seven children, were thriving. Business was doing so well that eventually Peter was able to afford to send his equipment, tractors and all, by train down to Florida during the New England frost. This off-season for most Yankee farmers turned into a profit-making season for the Volantes.
That type of business intuition led to notable accomplishments by Peter and Caterina. They were always hopeful that their children would take an interest in their family farm as adults, but Peter was insistent that his children attend good colleges no matter what they intended for their own career path. And thanks to his and Caterina's hard work, they did. His three boys went off to MIT and Boston College, while the girls split between Wellesley and Regis College.
His daughter Margie noticed the shift in consumer trends after the war, and in an effort to make their brand more accessible opened up a roadside produce stand to accommodate the invasion of passing vehicles. When Peter died in 1953, his daughter Anne took over the farm with her husband, Ferdinand. They realized that a farm in Newton was becoming increasingly out of place, and when an opportunity to buy fifteen acres of land in Needham came up in 1962, the second generation Volantes jumped on it.
There, Anne and Ferdinand with their two children, Helen and Al (father of the current owners), would write the new chapter in Volante Farm's history.
Today, Volante Farms thrives despite our culture's reliance on the convenience of big business. They push forward, offering locals a wide range of homegrown fruits and vegetables that include New England favorites like beets, squash and parsnip. Their partnership with over one hundred small businesses in the region stocks their shelves with an even more diverse, locally-driven inventory. Another adaptation to cement their future success.
The other notable transformation that Volante Farms has gone through in it's modern age is the physical one. Since the farm moved to it's current Needham location, it has since added a craft beer and wine shop, a selection of locally butchered meat, event space, and most importantly a kitchen and deli.
Run by a unique culinary mind, Chef Todd Heberlein creates farm to table cuisine for Volante and offers it to visitors in the form of daily sandwich and soup specials. But the chef and his kitchen staff are also creating prepared, packaged meals for “heating and eating at home.” It's the perfect way to bring Volante Farms into the current cultural trend of eating quick, while providing a more delicious and healthier, less processed option.
For us, the modern farm has become more than just a place to buy your food. Today, it's a place that inspires and influences, and Volante has played into that role very well. If you've ever visited their farm, you'll know exactly what we mean. But even if you haven't, they've done something to celebrate their centennial that is sure to inspire everyone in, and out, of their reach: they wrote a cookbook.
The Volante Farms Cookbook: A Century of Growing is a beautiful guide to cooking modern, New England-style cuisine with New England-grown ingredients, along with heirloom recipes from the Volante's rich, generational experience in the region.
The book tells the story of the four generations that have run the farm, and separates its culinary sections based on season – something very important in New England cooking. Recipes include seasonal dishes like Early Fall Vegetable Curry and Southwestern Corn & Bacon Chowder to Roasted Beet Hummus and Grilled Cod with Radish Salad. Also incorporated are plenty of dessert and jam recipes, ranging from Rhubard & Thyme Jam to sweets like Concord Grape Tarts. There's even one artfully crafted cocktail recipe for each season of the cookbook; you absolutely have to check out the Hot Pepper Daiquiri recipe they've come up with for the fall.
It's not surprising to us that Volante Farms has been so successful for so long. They've done what a farm does best and they've done it well: they grew. And in more ways than one. They sowed the land they owned to grow crops that people of New England wanted and needed. But they also grew their business and crafted it to be something that locals have been excited to support for years to come.
They are a maker in the truest sense of the word.
We were lucky enough to stumble onto Volante Farms cookbook through a small, independent book publisher based in Boston, Union Park Press, that we've worked with for some time. Through them, we've become happily familiar with the Volante brand and we're thrilled to introduce more people to what they have to offer.
We are even more thrilled to be partnering with Volante Farms, along with Winepress Brookline, for a tasting event at our Coolidge Corner shop this Thursday, November 9th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The farm chef, Todd Heberlein, will be on hand, providing snacks he's made using recipes from the farm's cookbook as well as some adult beverages mixed with a parsnip syrup and a beet shrub he created using the homegrown produce from Volante.
Come by to meet the Volante team and enjoy some treats!
Make sure to get your own copy of The Volante Farms Cookbook: A Century of Growing. The book is available to purchase in our online store and hard copies are in stock at both our Coolidge Corner and Dedham locations.
- The Boston General Store Team
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Here at Boston General Store, we love spending time outdoors this time of year. The New England landscapes have so much to offer when it comes to outdoor activities, especially camping and hiking, and we like to take full advantage of that.
Today, some folks are opting for an upgraded kind of camping experience, called glamping, and while we understand lengthy stays out in the wild aren't everyone’s style, we definitely prefer to keep our excursions a little more unpolished. But, that also doesn’t mean we like heading into the woods empty handed.
We take what we need to get by and leave all the rest at home.
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