It was a damp drizzly day, but contestants, judges and onlookers alike huddled under the apple tent for a battle of baking. There were children and adults, veterans and rookies, and even a husband and wife pitted against each other …
History of Volante Farms
During the 1890’s, amid the wave of Italian immigrants to the United States, Peter and Catarina Volante arrived in the country hoping to start anew; building a business from the ground up in agriculture, which had been their lifeblood in the old country. They worked various jobs until they earned enough capital to purchase a farm at 391 Dedham St. in Newton, MA, in 1917. The original farm occupied more than 30 acres. A neighboring farm of more than 20 acres was leased to create a 55 acre farm. As early as 1920, all 55 acres were irrigated, a feat which was unique in the early 20th century. Volante Farms in Newton was predominately a truck farm, delivering every morning to the Boston Produce Market, which was located at Fanueil Hall. The produce was also sold off of the truck throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, at various high traffic areas in and around Boston.
The primary crops that were grown on location were broccoli, tomatoes, and of course celery. In fact, Peter Volante developed and bred his own pascal celery seed for which he obtained a patent .
Other than the major field crops, there were a handful of apple trees, seckle pear trees and peach trees, as well as a few chickens for eggs. At its’ peak as a truck farm during 1930’s and 1940’s the farm expanded, with the help Peter and Catarina’s sons and daughters, to start farms in both Florida and Rhode Island.
Shortly after WWII, Peter and Catarina’s daughter Margie opened the first farm stand in front of the family’s home on Dedham St. This original retail area was a tent structure. However it soon expanded into a small aluminum roofed building. By the end of the 1950’s the stand was the primary source of income for the farm. Produce market revenues were declining, as imports from California became more feasible, and cost effective for the Boston Market. To replace this revenue void, the farm stand began to carry annuals and perennials in Vitabands (individual tar paper packets).
In 1962, Ferdinand and Anne Volante moved their family from the farm in Newton to Needham and purchased the 14 acre Fletcher Farm at the corner of Central Avenue and Forest Street. The farm had been in constant agricultural production since pre colonial times. At the beginning of Volante Farms in Needham, many of the same crops were grown as are today, however the methods and varieties are constantly changing.
Ferdinand’s brother Eugenio also brought his experience and work ethic to the Needham farmland. Together, Ferdinand, Anne and Eugenio ran the farm successfully until 1973 when Al, Ferdinand and Anne’s son, was given the responsibility of the everyday operations. During the 1970’s, the While still studying at Babson College, Al was able to incorporate the farm in 1975.
This is when the modernization of the farm started to take its’ true shape. The hot beds and cold frames were removed and replaced by several plastic covered hoop framed greenhouses, which remain to this day. In 1981, the current farm stand was built on the old site. In 1989, Greenhouse 14 was constructed as an attachment to the farm stand, and the parking lot was expanded.
In addition to the main farm site, there are two additional parcels of land that are used to grow the wide variety of vegetables available for sale at the farm stand. Starting in 1976, crops were raised on leased land at the Greenway’s farm on Charles River St., Needham. In 1991, the Standish Road Field was purchased from the estate of George Winslow. This parcel consisted of over 50 acres, of which over 25 acres were donated to the town of Needham; this land has been in constant agricultural production for at least 75 years. Winslow’s Nurseries had used the land to breed nursery stock for the nearby Great Plain Ave retail location. The current farmable 15 acres has been an enormous asset, and has consistently produced bumper yields of high quality crops for sale in the farm stand.
In July of 2002, both Ferdinand and Eugenio passed away, leaving behind a noticeable and influential legacy of unparalleled hard work and passion for the land. Together, the Volante brothers built the foundation for what is now a successful business operation; their work and overwhelming spirit will always be present on the farm.
In 2007 the new “green” greenhouse was opened. This dutch style greenhouse is 16,132 sq ft, all under glass, which is the ideal roofing material for plant development.
The structure is heated by 2 high efficiency condensing boilers, which operate at over 90% efficiency. The building also contains many natural resource conservation efforts, including a rain water capturing system which can gather approximately 10,000 gallons of water. We also utilize ebb and flow benches, which recycle all of the water and nutrients that the plants do not use for growth. For more detailed info and pictures about the greenhouse, just click here.
On March 31, 2012, after years of planning and months of hard construction work, we opened our brand new farmstand to the public. The new building has the space to expand our existing products, but also enough space to add in some brand new items. We now have a full service deli, bakery, ice cream stand, and farm kitchen. Our talented crew of deli clerks, bakers and cooks are able to use our homegrown ingredients to make truly unique items. Our new farmstand also has two things that the previous building did not: heat and air conditioning, which will enable us to be open year round!
Volante Farms is still owned and operated by the Volante family, and continues to thrive at its Needham location. However, it also takes a large and dedicated staff to keep the farm running efficiently, and without the contributions of all of the employees, past and present, the farm would not be in nearly as admirable shape as it currently is. Please come in, and find out why Volante Farms is truly “A Place for All Seasons.”
For additional information of our History, read this blog post.