No Rocking Chairs for These Country Farmers

          Published May 11, 2012, Pawtucket Times

           Some aging baby boomers can’t wait to relax in their later years, with visions of travel plans on the horizon, or lists of hobbies & projects tucked away. But a growing number of seniors, like Ruth and George Handy, continue to work long after the traditional retirement age of 65 simply because they enjoy it.

           Just 20 minutes from the City ofPawtucket, you will find a small rural home situated on over 100 acres of land – a ‘secret garden’ of sorts – that has widely become known as a gem of a place to purchase fine produce and beautiful lush and unique plants.   Just drive down a small country road off U.S. Route 118 in Attleboro, and you will find Ruth and George Handy hard at work in their green houses, pruning, primping and selling thousands of flowering annuals, perennials and tons of vegetables from 8a.m to 7 p.m. – 7 days a week.    

           Mostly by word of mouth, customers make this yearly spring pilgrimage to Fine Farms, traveling as far away asVermontandBoston, and then travel back home with their vehicles filled to the brim with colorful flowers and varieties you won’t find in many of the big-box stores. 

          According to Ruth, her locally grown flowers and vegetables are fresher than those shipped to and sold by the growing number of super center, superstore or mega stores.  “There really is a difference,” she asserts. “We give daily, tender loving care to our plants and they usually tend to be healthier and even grow bigger.”  

 Working Hard But Loving It

         “Most people think that we go south for the frigid winters, but we are working hard for ten months out of the year,” says Ruth, a tanned, petite woman who is wearing a pair of blue jeans, a sleeveless blue cotton shirt and garden Crocs. Together Ruth and George, her husband of 43 years, are tilling 22 of their 120 acres by themselves.  This acreage has been in Ruth’s family since 1903, a legacy for which she is most proud. 

         “Retire?  Never!  We love what we do,” says the 77-year-old farmer’s wife.  At 75, George begins with his long work day at 4:30 a.m., usually finishing up and eating his supper around 9:00 p.m.    This is not a job for anyone to do, she says.

         According to Ruth, because of the economic downturn that caused the closing of many of their wholesale accounts, compounded with the spiraling price of fuel, theAttleborocouple shuttered two out of their six greenhouses.  However, “this year we still planted about  20,000 packs of flowers and vegetables and 1,500 hanging plants,” prides Ruth, who explains “they start planting around January and in March they begin to transplant the seedlings”.

         And that’s not all.  In between planting, harvesting and then selling produce at The Corn Crib farm stand later in the summer, Ruth is a part-time instructor of water aerobics and chair exercises at the Attleboro YMCA.  Ruth even penned The Fine Farms Cookbook, a compilation of 25 years of collected recipes and is currently writing a novel with her cousin. George also is active and regularly works out in his home gym.  Both are avid readers of mysteries and historic novels.

          By mid-April the four remaining greenhouses are filled with huge hanging baskets, including a variety of colorful plants, from petunias, begonias, and impatiens, to a variety of herbs.  As Mother’s Day approaches there still remains a large variety of flowers and baskets for the rest of the month. At the same time, George begins planting a couple of acres of corn to be harvested in July.  When the greenhouses are depleted, usually in June, the couple shifts their focus on their vegetable fields.  . 

          By mid-July its harvest time and fresh vegetables are sold at The Corn Crib.  The Handys offer many varieties of bi-colored and white corn along with onions, potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, at this quant farm stand, a mile down the road at the intersection of Tremont and Anawan Streets off Route 118 inNorth Rehoboth.  

         Over the past 25 years, avid gardener, Patricia Zacks, has bought her flowers and vegetables from Fine Farms.  Three generations of thisPawtucketresident’s family have traveled intoMassachusettsto visit the Handy’s greenhouses. “This has been my spring ritual every year, first with my mom and now with my son. It is always a treat for the eyes to be one of the first customers in the greenhouses – the colors are breathtaking!” In the summer I’ll travel for their corn – there is nothing more enjoyable than vegetables freshly picked just hours before being cooked”. 

 Take Time to Smell the Roses

          Ruth explains that that George has been farming the land for over 60 years, since he was a teenager. .  Ultimately her husband bought The Corn Crib and the farm fields from her father, Hyman Fine, who continued to operate the flower business and greenhouses.  In 1972, her father died suddenly at a School Committee Meeting and George became responsible for all aspects of the farm business.

          “The first year was very difficult for us, but as each year passed, the farm became more profitable and better run,” says Ruth.  Even in their mid-seventies the Hardys continue to farm while the younger generations are going their own way.  The couple have three children and 6 grandchildren, but no one is really interested in shouldering the long hours it takes running the family farm.

           While Ruth and George work hard in their later years, they believe in setting time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

           “Slow down and enjoy nature that surrounds you,” Ruth advises.  As a child she just could not wait to leave the farm to travel to the “big” city.  But now she appreciates the peaceful rural life of the farm and “would not trade her lifestyle for anything else.”

           George urges aging baby boomers and seniors to look at their age as just a number.  “Don’t let [your age] limit you,” he counsels, noting that he works as hard now in his senior years as he did in his 20s.  “Work keeps me young,” he adds.

          For more information about Fine Farms, call (508) 226-0616 or go to http://f-i-s.com/finefarms/. Or write 353 Smith Street, Attleboro, MA 02703.  Or email, Finefarms@aol.com.

          Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writing covering aging, health care and medical issues. His Commentaries are published in two Rhode Island Daily’s The Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call.

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