by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff
HAMPDEN — All day long traffic rushes by Calkins Farm Stand on Route 1A in Hampden. But when drivers slow down and turn into the farm stand parking area, they discover that time moves more slowly.
In the spring, the farm stand customers browse tables, indoors and outdoors, laden with the garden staples plant lovers seek — impatiens, pansies, petunias, marigolds, tuberous begonias, geraniums and many other flower annuals and perennials; and tomato, green pepper, squash, cucumber and lots of other vegetable seedlings. No one hurries the shoppers; they can take their time making selections, ask advice or just pass the time of day with members of the Calkins family who run the farm stand.
John Calkins and his sisters Janice Calkins Minson and Betty Calkins Nelson now co-own the farm stand since the death in April of their father, Howard “Burpee” Calkins at age 97. Burpee was synonymous with the operations of the farm stand until he was in his early 90s. Many recall his greeting of “Hello, neighbor.”
In the years that Burpee Calkins operated the farm stand, he was assisted by his wife Jessie Calkins, who was born and raised and Australia, and came to Hampden as a “war bride” shortly after World War II.
The Calkins siblings are the third generation to run the farm stand. It was established in 1924 by their grandfather Jeremiah “Jerry” Calkins, who, like many farmers of the time, set up a little stand by the road to sell farm produce such as eggs and vegetables. He also kept cows, sheep and chickens
“Every little farm had a table or a self-serve stand out by the road,” said John Calkins, who holds a degree in agriculture from the University of Maine. “People paid by putting money in a box. It was all done on the honor system.” He said his grandfather also made extra cash by hitching his team of horses to the the bumpers of cars that sometimes got stuck in the mud of the unpaved Route 1A of the 1920s.
Today, the Calkins farm operation, which includes the farm stand, consists of 30 acres, several out-buildings, greenhouses, and an additional 10 acres of apple orchards. “We grow mainly MacIntosh and Cortland apples, but other varieties, too,” Calkins said.
At this time of year, the farm stand glows with color — round orange pumpkins; pots of mums in shades of dark red, russet, yellow and purple; dark green squash; red apples; and the amber of honey harvested from the 10 beehives on Calkins property. The bees pollinate the apples and other crops the Calkins’ grow.
“The Bee Whisperer — Pete Cowin [of Hampden] — harvests the honey and puts it into jars for us,” Calkins said. Each jar of honey bears the Calkins Farm Stand paper label.
Also in jars are jams and jellies, glowing like red and yellow jewels, made by sister Janice Minson in the kitchen of the house adjacent to the stand,where the Calkins siblings were born and raised.
Several years ago, Calkins said, the farm stand got a renovation when his sister Betty Nelson’s husband, Kevin Nelson, and their son, Ben, replaced the farm stand roof with greenhouse poly to admit more light, and built a pergola in front of the house for the display of hanging baskets and other plants. As part of the farm stand facelift, Janice Minson, gave the farm stand a fresh coat of paint.
Ben Nelson, a freshman at Unity College where he is studying agriculture, is the fourth generation of the Calkins family to have a hand in the farm stand operation. During his summer vacations, from the time he was old enough to take an interest, Ben often helped out at the farm stand, waiting on customers. Now, Ben lives in a dorm that once was a chicken house owned by a man who, many years ago, used to come to Burpee Calkins to buy hatching eggs which produced chicks raised in the chicken house, Calkins said. Full circle.
Because the farm stand has been around for nearly 90 years, it is a landmark in that part of Hampden known in years past as “the lower neighborhood.” For many people in the neighborhood, the town of Hampden and surrounding towns, it is a rite of spring and fall to stop at Calkins Farm Stand to purchase flower and vegetable seedlings and to buy farm products.
“We get people here from all 50 states,” Calkins said. “And internationally. It’s very common to have people here speaking a language other than English.”
The farm stand operates three seasons of the year, opening by Mother’s Day in May and running through December when the farm stand has Christmas trees and wreaths available for purchase.
The farm stand is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily until Christmas, when it closes for the winter. For information, call 862-3246 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit calkinsfarmstand.com.