The Belfast Garden Club is delighted that, for the first time, the Chase Family Farm in Freedom will be open to the public on Friday, July 18, as part of the club’s annual Open Garden series.
The 500-acre farm is the heart of the family’s hugely popular enterprise in Belfast — Chase’s Daily restaurant, bakery, art gallery and the beloved indoor farmers market. Throughout the summer and fall, the market is the site of both a finely tuned theatrical performance and a frenetic feeding frenzy when locals and visitors gather to await the 11:00 am arrival of “The Truck” from the farm.
Addison and Penny Chase bought the property in 1970 and, for about 20 years, raised beef cattle and chickens, and grew produce for the wholesale market. Daughters Phoebe and Meg spent their summers growing vegetables and selling them at area farmers’ markets. Meg, now 38, says, “Farming is what I know. I was 13 when Phoebe and I started doing the farmers’ markets. Talk about on-the-job training!”
In the 1990s, Addison says that the family started to think about shifting their focus. “Phoebe wanted a small place for a bakery in Belfast and we wanted a small space for a market. We started looking for a little space and ended up buying the huge, four-story Odd Fellows Hall (1888) building. So we added a restaurant.” Chase’s Daily opened on Sunday, July 1, 2000. Addison says, “Phoebe had stayed up all night baking and we had a lot of produce to sell. We just opened the door and the place filled up. We opened the restaurant about a week later.”
Fourteen years later, the Chase family continues to operate as close-knit business unit. Addison and Meg manage the farm; Phoebe is in charge of all the baked goods; Penny is in charge of the flowers and the market’s display area, drives the truck from farm to market, and co-manages the kitchen with Ted LaFarge, Meg’s partner. In addition to co-managing the kitchen and its staff, Penny and Ted share cooking duties at different times during the week.
In the summer, work on the farm begins at 5:30 a.m. so all the of the goods can be picked, washed, arranged in galvanized tubs and wood crates, and loaded into the farm truck for the 10:15 am departure for Belfast. “It’s really tight. . .we’re always pushing the departure time,” Meg laughs. “We’re spread pretty thin in the summer and it’s crazy intense.”
Twenty acres of the farm are devoted to growing produce for both the market and the restaurant. A “short list” of the vegetables the family grows includes Swiss chard (Addison estimates that they sell approximately 400 pounds of chard monthly during the summer), kale, ornate cabbages, broccoli, melons, carrots, beets, radishes, lettuces (including the much-loved mesclun), beans, eggplants, onions, peppers, cauliflowers, and chilies. Production is extremely dependent on an intricate transplanting system and schedule. Seedlings, the majority of which are purchased from Johnny’s Seeds and FedCo, are planted in a greenhouse in late winter, then hardened off before being transplanted to raised beds that are covered with black plastic (to control the weeds). Seven thousand feet of buried irrigation lines lie under the beds and is replaced with each successive planting. In between the countless rows of raised beds are cover crops that serve as living mulch and improve the tilth of the heavy, clay soil.
This year, for the first time, the 60 or so varieties of tomatoes being grown are done so in one of three dedicated greenhouses. Meg and Addison explain that they are seeing a lot more yield per plant by protecting the tomatoes from the vagaries of weather, especially heavy rains that split the skins. (Visitors on July 18 won’t be able to step inside the tomato greenhouses, but the sides will be rolled up for easy visibility and photographing.)
Just beyond the tomato greenhouses is Penny’s domain – an acre of flowers. She picks flowers from among 50 or so varieties and arranges bouquets every morning to sell at the market. “I don’t think people have a sense of the scale of our property. For example, this isn’t a flower garden,” she explains, “it’s a flower production area. In the third week in July, the flowers should be at their peak.”
The Chase Family Farm is located at 623 North Palermo Road in Freedom. From Belfast, take Rte. 137 about 20 miles until Rte. 137 bends sharply to the right. At that bend, bear left onto North Palermo Road. Visitors should wear sturdy, closed shoes. None of the walking is strenuous, but this is a working farm with rutted, dirt roads. There are no nearby public restrooms, and smoking is strictly prohibited.
Anyone who’d like to learn a bit more about the Chase Family Farm in advance might check out two short videos that are available online: meetyourfarmer.org and insightme.com.
This is the third of eight Open Gardens, all of which are on Fridays, rain or shine.
The next, on July 25, is the Dow Garden (Belfast), which features hundreds of varieties of hostas planted in both sun and shade beds.
All Open Gardens can be visited by purchasing a $25 season pass with 8 garden admissions (available at The Good Table or Brambles on Main St. in Belfast, or at Scallions in Reny’s Plaza, or at Aubuchon Hardware on Rte. 1) or individually by making a $4 donation at each garden. For a complete schedule, visit belfastgardenclub.org or pick up a brochure at numerous retail businesses in and around Belfast. For more information about Open Gardens, call Martha Laitin (948-2815) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.