NEEDHAM — Neighbors have been watching as a new 9,000-square-foot farm stand, three times the size of its predecessor, emerged on the corner of Forest Street and busy Central Avenue. The yearlong construction at 95-year-old Volante Farms (51 years at its current location) is over. The new premises, with a clean barn-like interior, have plenty of room for the farm’s own produce, fruits, and vegetables raised locally or shipped in, grass-fed New England meat, a deli, a bakery, and an ice cream stand. And for the first time in its history, the business will remain open year-round.
Opened two weeks ago, the multimillion dollar expansion was guided by the fourth generation of Volantes: Dave, 30, who is the general manager; sister Teri Volante Boardman, 26, who oversees the farm stand; and brother Steve, 23, responsible for food, ice cream, and all the field watering. Dave’s wife, Katie, works in the office. The siblings’ Italian-born grandparents, Peter and Catarina, began the farm in Newton. Parents Al and Melodie are still actively involved, too. “Our father is here often enough to tell us what we’re doing wrong,” Steve Volante says.
Dave Volante studied business at Babson College and watched friends from school take jobs in downtown Boston, but that life held no appeal for him. “I’ve never done anything else.” Nor did he want to, says the former high school and college baseball player, “once I realized the professional baseball thing wasn’t going to work out.”
The expansion was driven by need. In recent years, as customers became more interested in a broader range of foods with local pedigrees, the farm started selling baked goods, dairy products, and other items. Additional products were taking up space once used for home-grown crops. Until this spring, the Forest Street site (the family has two additional fields in Needham) had several buildings; the Volantes added new ones as needed. Coolers were housed in three different areas. “It worked,” Dave Volante says. But not efficiently.
With the new space, Volante’s joins the ranks of neighboring farms such as Wilson Farm in Lexington, Idylwilde in Acton, and Verrill in Concord, all family-owned with thriving retail businesses that offer much more than locally grown produce. Dave Volante says learning about their operations from the proprietors “was a really great part of the experience.”
The Volantes, he says, much like the other farms, have a goal “to always be selling something we’re growing.” Before they were open year-round, for example, the farmers could not continue harvesting carrots and kale into January. They will double broccoli and cauliflower production, and grow their wildly popular baby arugula and lettuce all year. They also will add greenhouse cucumbers and zucchini and more cold-tolerant greens to their crop list.
As they worked filling shelves and bins in the new space, the siblings heard from growers and other New England artisanal producers. “The farming community is such a tight community. We share everything,” Dave Volante says. “If we’re not growing it, we’ll bring in the people who can.” New products include organic milk from Shaw Farm in Dracut; pasture-raised beef from The Farmer’s Daughter at Hillcrest Farm in Auburn; heirloom dried beans from Massachusetts and Maine; and a variety of potatoes from a New Hampshire grower.
The larger stand hopes to draw people from all over, for its products and homemade fare. “I really want this to be a mecca for foodies out in the suburbs,” says Volante Farms’ new chef, Todd Heberlein, who came here from Wilson Farm, where he worked for nine years. Heberlein has already developed a number of prepared dishes for Volante’s, such as ravioli with hot sopressata and kale, using farm stand ingredients. “I want people to know they can get food that’s honest, they know who made it, what’s in it,” he says.
Customers shop here, says Dave Volante, “because they can see the corn being picked behind the store.” He wants to apply the same model to prepared foods.
Once everyone settles into a routine, Heberlein plans to offer cooking demonstrations and to hold farmers’ dinners in the field (which were successful at Wilson’s). He will give recipe suggestions in person and in print to customers who want ideas for rhubarb, spring peas, the farm’s red, white, and Walla Walla onions, or whatever else is in season.
“We grow it. We cook it. You eat it,” he says.
Volante Farms292 Forest St., Needham, 781-444-2351, www.volantefarms.com