Reporting at Springdell Farm
“Where are you going?” – said a portly, grey-haired man driving a trailer with a golden shepherd dog by his side. He stopped his vehicle near the intersection next to the railroad and sticked his head out of the vehicle when seeing me wandering near the Littleton Station, about 40 miles west of downtown Boston.
I looked at him in silence for awhile because I was surprised at such a question. I didn’t expect to be asked like this in the United States. His question reminded me of motorcycle drivers in my country, who tend to follow you and ask about your destinations. I sometimes feel bothered by such inviting questions when I was home.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because I want to know.”
“I… am going to Springdell Farm in Great Road.”
“How do you get there?”
“Someone will come to pick me up.”
“Do you know their phone number?”
“I already called them. They’re on their way.”
“Are you working now?” – He asked when seeing me keep taking photos.
“Yes, have a good day,” – I wanted to end the chatter.
I felt relieved when that guy drove away to the right because I couldn’t tell whether he wanted to care of a newcomer like me or he meant something else.
I arrived in Littleton, a town of 8,900 people, around 10:50 a.m. on Thursday after more than one hour on the commuter rail from Porter Square in Cambridge. Today’s weather in the town, which was originally named “Lyttleton”, seemed unwelcoming to me. It was so murky and humid while the roads were still wet, presumbly as a result of the early morning rain. Except for some vehicles driving by and some workers repairing the railroad afar, everything surrounding looked quite empty. Nobody was at the station after waiting passengers boarded an inbound train to Boston.
Some minutes prior when I just got off the outbound train, I pulled out a notebook from my backpack to get a list of local taxi phone numbers.
“This number is out of service,” – that was what I got when I called the first number.
I tried a second one.
“Hello… What can I help you?” said a friendly woman from the other end of the line.
“Hello. Can I have a cab please?”
“Where are you?”
“I’m at Littleton Station.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to 571 Great Road, Littleton.”
“Okay. Let me see. It’s $25.”
“Oh. You mean $25 for just 2 miles away from here.”
“I know but we are five miles away from Littleton.”
“Let me think for awhile because I didn’t expect to pay that much for a short trip. Can I call you back if I want your cab?”
“Sure. If you want a cab, just call us.”
“Okay, I will. Thanks.”
I turned to the third number.
“Where are you now and where are you going?” said a male voice.
“I’m going to 571 Great Road in Littleton.”
“We’re sorry we don’t have a cab available right now” – the man hung up right after said that as if he were afraid that he couldn’t say “no” to a short trip.
I gave up and tried to find another way. I approached a well-built man sitting with his bag on a bench and asked if he is a local resident and if he can recommend a local cab taxi.
“I’m not familiar with this area. Sorry I can’t help.”
I kept seeking for help from a woman sitting a few steps away from the man.
“We don’t have any taxi here. You’ve to call a taxi from a neighboring town of Ayer and have to pay for an additional $20.”
“Okay. I see.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to Springdell Farm. It’s not far away from here and I don’t want to pay $25 for two miles.”
“I know it’s not far. Why don’t you call the farm and let them know that you can’t find a taxi to see if they can offer some help?”
I called back the woman who phoned me when I was the train and asked if I still needed help with the direction to her farm.
“Are you at the station now?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Please give me some minutes. Someone will come to pick you up.”
I met the man with a shepherd dog above while I’m waiting for a pick-up. I killed the waiting time by ambling on the roads around the station and I couldn’t help photographing the beautiful foliage.
Whenever there was a vehicle turning into the station, I always stared at it to see if it was from the farm. One, two, three… cars came but none stopped. I shuttled between the station and the path nearby because it got colder and was about to rain again. Ten minutes, twenty minutes passed, I was still all alone at the little station.
Eventually, a big, black sedan stopped. I run to it and a smiling woman opened the right door and said hi to me.
“Hello. Thanks for coming. You must be Jamie,” – I asked after getting on her car which is much higher than normal sedans.
We talked a lot on the way to her farm because I wanted to get to know her as quickly as I could. I told her that I ‘d like to interview her, her retail manager, her farmers and some customers, take some photos and take a tour in her 80-acre farm because it’s hard for me to envision it. “Today is a busy day at our farm but you can do whatever you want.”
Jamie said she is the fourth generation of the family who has owned and operated the Springdell Farm since 1931, and now she and her mother Paula manage the farm. She said her farm was in lower season in compared with the past August to prepared for the winter when she would move her farming to the three greenhouses.
I was quite disappointed when seeing the rain falling on her vehicle because I was afraid that it would keep customers from shopping at the farm. But I was wrong.
After about ten minutes, she stopped her car in front of an autumn-decorated, two-compartment house. I saw the name “Springdell Farm” near the top front. I didn’t expect to enjoy such a beautiful scene. The spacious front of her farm stand looks fairy-tale. It shines with hundreds of orange pumpkins mingled with pots of yellow chrysanthemums. It was the first time I saw so many kinds of pumpkins in different sizes, shapes and colors.
Jamie asked me to feel free to do my job at her farm and let her know if I need help. Before she returned to her work, she asked if I want to have fruits or milk which was available in the fridge. “Serve yourself,” – she said before walking toward the front.
Today was a lucky day. I had everything I needed for my story. I could do as much reporting as I wanted. But I needed to make some substantial changes after seeing her farm stand and witnessed customers kept flocking to it despite the rain. When I made an outline at home, I planned to describe how her farm prepared for the Sunday’s Boston Local Food Festival at the beginning. I intended to interview her and her people first and talked to some customers. But now I changed my plan because there were so many customers coming while Jamie was busying herself displaying the produce at the front and her retail manager, Heidi was busy at the check-out counter. I began interviewing customers after going around the stand which is displayed neatly and nicely like in a supermarket.
Because of the rain, people seemed hurry. They got onto their cars right after picking up their stuff. But they all looked friendly when I approached them and said “hi”.
The first interview took place in a car of Ms Gill, a nice-looking, middle-aged woman who said she didn’t want the traffic noise to bother our talk. She turned out to be a long patron of Springdell Farm though she doesn’t live in Littleton but Westford, about 20 minutes driving from Littleton. At first, I just asked her for a five-minute interview but our talk kept going and lasted nearly 20 minutes. At that time, I didn’t know that Jamie was looking for me because she didn’t see me in the stand.
“She’s here. We are doing an interview,” – Ms Gill sticked her head out of the car and talked to Jamie who went around the farm stand looking for me. Ms Gill helped me understand more about the farm, especially its Community Supported Agriculture program in which local people are encouraged to support the farm by buying a share ($550 or $800) at the beginning of each season and when the harvest seasons, summer and winter, come they will receive their harvest share which is what the farm harvests. She said she has been its member for two years.
Many interviews followed. I interviewed 6 customers. I tried to ask while customers were shopping and went behind the stand to get their harvest share because I knew that they didn’t have much time. All but a Japanese-looking woman gave me their full name and contact information.
I tried to interview Heidi whenever she was free of serving customers but our talk was always interrupted by the arrival of customers. When I finished interviewing Jamie (who said I asked a very good question of asking her to list all kinds of produce she grows because I was unable to count), it was over 1:30. The train I intended to catch was to come by Littleton Station at 1:40. Ten minutes were enough for a drive back to the station.I said goodbye to Springdell Farm after taking a short walk around the farm behind the stand in the rain. I asked one of the farmers to take my photo. I left the farm with a big bag of fresh produce I bought from Heidi who didn’t charge four big corns I took from the shack behind the stand. Like her customers, I didn’t care about the little higher price at Springdell Farm because they all look fresh, clean, natural and I knew where they came from.
When I got back into Jamie’s sedan, I found that I forgot one thing.
“Jamie. Could you please do me a favor? I forgot to take some photos of mine in front of your stand. Could you please help me?”
“Sure. I will stop by for you,” she said pulling her tractor out of her driveway.
On the way back to the station, I knew for sure that I was late for the inbound train because it was over 1:45 p.m. Before Jamie dropped me at the station and said goodbye to me, she said: “Whenever you want to our farm just let me know.” She seemed to read my mind because I do want to come back to her farm at least once.
I was right. When I came back to the station, no one was there except for a thick book left on a bench and it was 1:50. The schedule said the next train was to come at 3:35 p.m. At that time, my hungry stomach reminded me of having lunch. I had my packed lunch at the station, watching the heavier rain.
I would haven’t mind staying at the deserted station had it not been raining. “What should I do now?”
Looking at the train schedule again, I decided to get onto the up coming outbound train to Fitchburg because that train would come back to Boston at 3:05 from Fitchburg, the terminal of the North Station-Fitchburg line, which is one of the 14 commuter rail lines departed from Boston. The train would shelter me perfectly from the rain and I haven’t been to Fitchburg, a town 62 miles west of Boston and 19 miles away from Littleton. When I got onto the train at 2:05, I paid just three more bucks for an unexpected trip to Fitchburg, which was also to take me to go by three towns of Ayer, Shirley and North Leominster.
The train arrived at Fitchburg on time, at 2:50. That meant I would have only 15 minutes to explore the town of more than 40,000 people, which is situated on the rail line and Nashua River. Getting out of the nice-looking Fitchburg station, a nice surprise caught my eyes and made me homesick again. That was a street sign “Hayden”, which means “Welcome” in Vietnamese if written seperately.
To make sure I wouldn’t miss the train again, I got back to the train five minutes before it was scheduled to leave for Boston. The beauty of the fall on the way back kept me from my plan of taking a short nap. Though tired, I kept looking at the windows and taking photos of fall foliage.
I got home around 6 p.m. After a quick dinner, I sat back and looked at my notes before beginning to write a story on Springdell Farm, which was due tomorrow at 5 p.m.
(Littleton, October 4, 2012)