Walker’s Farm is our biggest local produce supplier to date. We have had the pleasure of dealing with them for decades now. Walker’s has felt like a second family to our produce manager, JD, and our current store manager, Matt Cummings, who was the produce manager at Lees for over 20 years. Here is an insight into our time spent at the farm that has become so familiar to us over the years…
You could tell it was the end of August. A cool breeze was trying its hardest to cut through the lingering humidity, but it wasn’t enough to feel refreshing just yet. Our usual crew, Matt Ponte, my fellow communications worker, JD, the Lees Market Produce Manager, and myself, Kelsey Cestodio, the journalist/photographer for the day crunched our shoes up past the farm stand and up to the farm.
I couldn’t help but notice how packed the farm stand was. There were people leisurely picking out fresh produce and eating at Wilma’s. They even had their own parking lot for customers. It was definitely not your typical backyard farmer.
JD led the way, and stopped a trucker in the driveway to say hi. They knew each other well because he delivered produce to us often. He smiled and waved as he pulled away.
We walked over to the tomato cleaning area, where there were hundreds of tomatoes all over the place, from the end of the cleaner, to the baskets full of them in the garage. It was a tomato lover’s dream. A guy was hand polishing them with a cloth, and loading them into baskets decked out in his Walker’s Farm t-shirt.
We were introduced to Coll, the owner of the farm and the man we have had the pleasure of dealing with for many years now. JD and him chatted about bug problems and tomato season, and Coll cracked some jokes. There was a watermelon freshly opened with a knife on the table, and we were offered a piece. A sliver was cut off and passed to each of us, and it had the original black seeds in it, which you never find these days. Oh, and it was the best tasting piece of watermelon I had ever had (I wish I could give you a piece right now so you would understand just how good, but I digress). The juice dripped all over my button down, but honestly, who cared? Watermelon’s totally worth it.
Coll’s son, Ian, shook our hands and was in charge of leading us around the farm. Coll waved him off, letting Ian take the reigns this time. He showed us the tomato greenhouse first, where rows and rows of perfectly lined tomatoes hung from their stems, some almost ready to be plucked.
As we walked over to the next field, I watched the birds swoop down into the bushes. When Ian mentioned that this is the raspberry field, I said that the birds always eat my grandmother’s blueberries. Ian laughed, made a really funny joke about throwing stones (not actually, of course), and mentioned that the birds are the worst with blueberries. They tend to dive in, steal some berries, and take off. Rascals.
At the next stop on our adventure, I ended up taking the most satisfying shot taken to date. The lettuce, herbs, and other crops all grew in perfectly uniform white lines as far as the eye could see. A cool breeze drifted up from the ocean, which you can see in the right corner of the picture below. It was a picturesque image.
The smell of fresh vegetables growing in the heat was amazing to my nose, and you could hear the summer bugs singing their song among the trees. It was certainly a peaceful little piece of land snug in the fields of Little Compton.
People love, and I mean LOVE, Walker’s Butter and Sugar Corn. They go crazy for it. So it was fun to see Ian invested in the well-being of that particular crop. With disappointment in his eyes, he mentions that the worms have been really difficult to deal with this year. Sadness laced into his voice as he showed us the parts of the husk top where the worms had eaten through. Problems like this can cost a family-run farm thousands of dollars in crops. But Ian was confident that they had finally gotten rid of them, and that the corn will be alright.
JD and Ian walked ahead of us, as JD mentioned that other farms were dealing with a similar problem, “you’re not the only one’s you know, Orr’s was having a worm problem too…and Shirley, from Paradise Hill”. It was amazing how in tune JD was with the local farmers, he was like a living almanac. Ian just smiled, “everything wants a piece of what we got”.
We walked up to one of the barns where some tractors were stored, and passed by a really cool looking Leyland tractor, whose back wheels were as tall as me.
Inside the barn were some really awesome vintage tractors. Ian put his hand on the hood of the red one, “these tractors are actually my grandfathers tractors, this one right here is from the 1940’s believe it or not”. You could tell he was excited to talk about the tractors, and was surprised that we were curious about them. You could hear the memories attached to them as Ian told us stories about them.
Now that our tour of the present grounds was over, Ian asked if we wanted to see them pack up the tomatoes and the land down the road that they farm on as well. Of course we did!
Coll waved us over and asked what took so long, smiling as we walked over. JD cracked a joke back, and we watched as Coll carefully wiped and placed each washed tomato into the baskets. “These are all going on your shipment ya know” Coll mentioned to JD.
Some of the tomatoes were almost the size of my head, and Cole noted my comparison and said, “I would never pick that one out if I was grocery shopping” but his son Ian just laughed and replied “are you kidding? The big ones are perfect for sandwiches. Just cut it and slap it on, it’s the perfect size.” It was certainly a debate worth thinking about (I think the big ones are better myself, but to each his own).
We hopped into our car and followed Ian’s truck to the property only a mile away. It was in front of a burned down mansion, a waterfront property with impeccably kept lawns, and well-taken care of farm animals in the back. When Ian got out of his truck, he mentioned that they farm on the land, but it’s owned by a neighbor who visits at certain times of the year. We were ready to move in, that’s for sure.
JD got lost in the zucchini plants, and we couldn’t get over how large some of the veggies were, “these things are like baseball bats” JD said, laughing. Ian mentioned that this is one of only a handful of properties in the area with land that runs from the road to the waterfront, “this used to be a huge mansion, we would play in it as kids”. It was certainly one of the most beautiful pieces of land I had ever been on.
When we got back to the Walker Farm main site, Ian gave us a tour of the stand. We got some really interesting stares from customers who weren’t sure what to make of these people in fancy clothes and tons of camera equipment, but it was cool to see so many people shopping there, or eating at Wilma’s.
I was really impressed by the giant wheels the berries were sitting on, and Ian mentioned that these are “nearly impossible to come by. They used to wrap electrical wire in these, but now they all come in plastic and you can’t find the wood one’s anywhere.” So if anyone has some old wooden electrical wheels lying around, Walker’s would love to take them.
As we waited for Coll to come over for a family photo, JD couldn’t help but escape into the tomato greenhouse again. I didn’t blame him, really, it was like a living jungle in there.
We walked across the street, and hopped over to the other side of the sign. As they put their arms around one another, I couldn’t help but smile. Coll was a fiery man, full of spunk, and Ian was so different, chill and laid back, but they made the perfect team. When I was almost done taking the picture, Coll yelled out “how many more pictures, I can’t hold this cheese for much longer”, and we all laughed.
They have so much pride and love for the farm, and truly care about the people who work for them and the produce they grow. As we were talking to them before leaving, Coll mentioned that we are the biggest retailer they sell to, and have been for decades. This farmer relationship dates past me, (I’m 23 after all), and it’s special to see a farm span generations like Walker’s has. You can’t walk through the fields without feeling that sense of history in the soil.
If you haven’t been paying attention to our farm signs, make sure you do next time you stop at Lees. You can’t turn very far in the produce section without seeing something from Walker’s Farm.
As we were leaving, JD asked if we could add a few different fruits and veggies we had not brought in before to the order, and that’s the easy-going kind of relationship that makes our connection to local farms so special. Ian replied “of course”, and we all shook hands.
Until next time, at your favorite local farm,
Kelsey of Lees and Clements’ Market