It’s strawberry season in the Valley. Maybe the earliest in recent memory, and certainly one of the most prolific if early signs can be believed. But this story actually starts in the blueberry patch.
“That’s where my husband Gene and I met,” says Sue Kosinski, now co-owner (with Gene) of Kosinski Farms and Kosinski’s Farm Stand in Westfield. “He and I both come from farm families. In fact, we lived on the same street growing up. But we met when I went to work for his father picking blueberries.”
A knack for growing good berries seems to run in the Kosinski family. “Gene is a phenomenal blueberry grower,” says Kosinski. “This man could take any blueberry bush and produce the most berries you’ve ever seen on it.”
The couple went on to start Kosinski Farms in 1983 and Kosinski’s Farm Stand at their main location in Westfield in 1999. They still grow blueberries on about 50 of their 150 acres to sell at their stand and wholesale throughout the Valley. But they do a lot more than that, reflecting their belief that a successful local agriculture business is one that can diversify and create meaningful experiences for people.
“The more that you can present your product in different ways, the better your business is,” says Kosinski. “We found that out back when we opened our farm stand. People will call us and say, ‘what do you have for my family to do this week?’ They’re looking for agritourism, like hayrides and pick-your-own, and for new ways to try what you’re growing, like in wine or baked goods.”
Kosinski Farms offer all those things. Their primary farm stand carries theirs and other local farms’ products, sells garden plants, and has a full production bakery. As strawberry season commences, “We’ll start making our fresh strawberry cream pie and strawberry shortcake, which we can’t keep on the shelf,” says Kosinski.
The farm stand also serves as a pick-up point for their summer CSA shares, for which they grow a variety of different veggies. Out back are pick-your-own blueberry fields and apple groves. Blueberry season starts in July. Come fall, hayrides and a sunflower maze will accompany any apple picking adventure.
Directly next door, the farm’s Raven Hollow Winery produces fruit wines, often using fruit straight from the farm. “These are 100% fruit wines, meaning that we don’t just use grape wine as a base and add fruit to flavor it,” Kosinski explains. “Our most popular is strawberry rhubarb. Blueberry explosion is right behind, along with our apple wines.”
The winery is their newest endeavor, and the most impacted by COVID. They’ve kept making wine, but Kosinski says they’ve put most public events at the winery building on hold for 2021, though wine tasting may return in the coming months depending on regulations. In the meantime, their wine continues to be sold at the adjacent farm stand.
Let the picking begin
Further south on Shaker Road in Westfield is their smaller satellite farm stand and pick-your-own strawberry field, which will begin welcoming happy pickers in the next few days. Check the farm’s website (kosinskifarms.net/home) or Facebook page for updates.
“We offer the same traditional pick-your-own experience as when I was a kid,” says Kosinski. “You get your containers, go pick as much as you want, come back, weigh them, and maybe pick up a couple of shortcakes so you can make strawberry shortcake when you get home.”
“Last year we had a lot of COVID safety protocols to follow,” she explains. “This year as they loosen up a little, I think the experience will be more relaxed.” They will still encourage social distancing, but no one will need to wear masks while picking.
This year promises no shortage of the bright red berries. “They’re early this year,” says Kosinski, “and the crop looks bigger than normal. When it bloomed, that field was just solid white with flowers, and we don’t normally see that many. Maybe it was just our turn here in New England to see heavy production. Mother Nature has her own opinion of things.”
Paying attention to Mother Nature and working with her is a key part of the Kosinski’s sustainable farming practices. “We look at how we impact our ecosystem, and make sure any inputs we use have no lasting effect on the environment,” says Kosinski.
For example, they grow corn using no-till methods, and for years have practiced integrated pest management, or IPM, which values nature-based interventions over chemical ones.
When farming and running a business, striving for diversity can sometimes breed what looks like chaos, but Kosinski enjoys the dimension that brings to her life.
“I’m retired now, but I taught for 31 years — mostly chemistry,” she shares. “I used to tell my students the reason I chose chemistry is because another word for chemistry is chaos. Nothing is ever the same two days in a row. Now I look around and I think that must be why I farm too. There’s never a day without chaos, but it keeps you on your toes.”
Amid that lively chaos, there’s also beauty.
“We live at the farm,” says Kosinski, “and it’s wonderful to wake up in the morning, look out and see all our blueberries and apple trees and everything else, and know that I had a part in it. It’s hard for me to express sometimes how I feel when I look out the window — feeling from head to toe that I’m happy to be alive.”
Find more pick-your-own experiences for strawberries and other summer crops at buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally. Just select “pick-your-own farms” under business type.