CHARLESTOWN – The Little Red Farm Stand at Quonnie Farms, right on West Beach Road in Charlestown, just off Rte. 1 – which for years stood on its own, offering lovely fresh flowers, corn and tomatoes in the summer months only – has turned into a bustling mini mecca for fresh produce lovers which is open all the year and was joined by two new, much larger structures.
One such structure is a huge heated greenhouse framed by posts and beams, now filled with trays of herb, flower and vegetable seedlings, and hanging baskets being prepared for Mother’s Day.
Another is a stunning new 2,400 square foot post and beam barn that was filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread on a recent morning as customers came in and out, picking up freshly baked croissants and loaves of bread and were chatting with Kat Jackson, the farmer who runs the place with her husband, Blake Holland.
As they walked around the farm, checking out the new drip system heard in the greenhouse, talking with systems manager Pete Houchens, examining Swiss chard seedlings and chatting with customers, Jackson and Holland chatted the evolution of Quonnie Farms and plans. for the future.
As they walked by a small fire pit with wooden benches hand-hewn by a friend, they said they hoped to hold events – like oyster shucking demonstrations and cheese tastings and of olive oil – once the summer season is in full swing. For now, they are still getting used to the newness of it all.
“It seems a bit surreal,” Jackson, 31, a South Kingstown native and second-generation farmer who grew up spending summers working at her parents’ old farm stand – The Farmer’s Wagon – told a few kilometers away.
But customer feedback has all been positive, she said with a smile, plus they have a great team in place and lots of friendly and reliable vendors. Soon around 30,000 tulips will be blooming in their ‘pick your own’ beds, then zinnias, and of course there will also be an abundance of vegetables and their legendary sweet corn.
“It’s our number one draw,” Jackson said. “We are probably the largest sweet corn grower in Rhode Island that still hand picks corn. My dad was known for that and we will continue.”
When her parents, John and Vikki Jackson, who owned and operated Burnside Acres, their 20-acre farm in Green Hill, decided to retire after 35 years, she and Holland took over, Jackson said.
Then, in 2011, when Woody and Nicole Wooding — friends of his parents who originally owned the Quonnie property also decided to retire — passed the stand on to them, Jackson and Holland moved the operation to the West Beach Road location.
Some of the produce and all the flowers are grown on the West Beach Road farm, but most of the produce is grown on the family farm in Green Hill.
“The first year we worked on both stands,” said Holland, 33, a New Mexico native who met Jackson when they were students at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. “It’s a much better place.”
The husband and wife duo said they not only love working outdoors, but they love working together and taking on the challenge of figuring out what works best.
“We use a combination of organic and conventional farming methods,” Jackson said, noting that they are “constantly expanding our field of blueberries, which we maintain 100% chemical free.”
More than 200 varieties of “highest quality” vegetables and herbs grown in “successive small plantings of a varied variety of crops” are grown for planting from May until frost.
The U-pick flower garden is open to the public for spring tulips and summer annuals such as zinnias, sunflowers, dahlias and snapdragons and the farm stand is stocked daily with bouquets fresh from the market cut during the summer season. Jackson is in charge of the bouquets.
Inside the retail barn on a recent morning, an arrangement of ‘Kat’s bouquets’ was artfully displayed at the entrance while staples like eggs, butter, vegetables and fruit filled shelves, bins and refrigerated cases alongside an abundance of “farm-to-table prepared foods”, interesting cheeses, “culinary necessities” and other tasteful items.
At the back of the store, trays of freshly baked croissants were lined up on trays in front of the large open and visible kitchen ‘from scratch’, while a coffee section, with locally roasted Seaworthy coffee, was tucked away in one corner, and a huge ice-filled Plexiglas container filled with Quonny Rocks oysters stood in another.
In the kitchen, chef Dan Hultquist was chatting with baker Ian Cappelano, who was kneading dough at a large table.
“It’s a chef’s dream,” said Hultquist, who makes soups from scratch every day. “I can be creative and try things…experiment.”
Hultquist, who grew up in South Kingstown and played cello in the high school orchestra alongside Jackson, said a big part of the appeal of working with Quonnie’s team is the camaraderie and shared philosophies. .
“I have the ability to use the products,” he said. “We have almost zero waste…we use as much as possible.”
“I think our big problem is that we’re a scratch kitchen,” Hultquist said.
One of the most popular dishes these days is a sandwich called the PBDL: grilled meatloaf, smoked gouda, caramelized onions, homemade BBQ sauce, served on Quonnie Farms ciabatta, freshly made by Cappelano, the staff baker .
“I’m a bread guy,” said a smiling Cappelano, who worked for years at the award-winning Seven Stars Bakery in Providence.
“That’s great,” he said, wiping his hands on his apron and looking around the huge barn. “We’re back to simplicity.”
Cappelano, who lives in Hopkinton, said he regularly bakes loaves of Italian bread, French baguettes and ciabatta as well as the rapidly gaining notoriety ‘Roman style’ pizza, as well as croissants and other bakery treats .
Cappelano, 40, is also in charge of the cheese selections that are catching the attention of local cheese lovers.
Clare Williams of Charlestown, a loyal Quonnie Farms customer who has followed the development of the farm property over the years, is particularly fond of a “semi-soft blue cheddar cheese with an orange rind,” which she recently purchased, which was delicious and “a big hit” with his family.
“I love what Kat and Blake have built at Quonnie Farms,” Williams said. “It’s very exciting to have such quality on your doorstep.”
Williams, who speaks in a soft Welsh accent, said when she lived in Westerly she always made a point of stopping at the farm stall in the summer to buy fresh flowers and vegetables on the way to walking her dogs around of Watchaug Pond.
Before becoming a full-time resident, she said, she “stocked up on fresh berries, vegetables and flowers to bring back to New York.”
“When I saw they innovated and heard Kat and Blake were growing, I reached out to Instagram to find out more,” said Williams, who loved the fresh bread, pies, assortment of cheeses unusual and other unique items offered at Quonnie Farms. “It’s a brilliant idea.”
“I’m so proud to be part of Quonnie Farms,” said Jenna Hetzell, owner of Seaworthy Coffee Roasters in West Kingston, where she slowly roasts small amounts of her beans and supplies the farm shop with coffee. “They are fully committed and do not compromise.”
Soon, she says, she plans to set up an espresso bar at Quonnie Farms and is excited about the expansion of their partnership.
“These are exactly the kind of people you want to work with,” Hetzell added.
“I can’t say enough about all of them,” said Jeffrey Allen, the former Charlestown Police Department chief who worked for Stephen Peet, one of the principal owners of Quonnie Farms and the Boulders. Cottages nearby. “The bread is excellent and the pizza too. It’s a very nice place.”
“The real story is about Kat Jackson and Blake Holland,” Peet said in a recent email. “In order to keep farming alive – and as a career – they had to find a way to make the business sustainable all year round.”
With that in mind, Peet said, the “farm store concept” was developed and “built.”
“Not only does the new facility extend shoulder seasons for produce,” he added, but with the kitchen and bakery, Quonnie Farms can offer baked goods and ready meals year-round.”
“And we’re hiring,” Jackson added.
Quonnie Farms is located at 16 West Beach Road, Charlestown, and is open Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit quonniefarms.net for updated hours and times.