By Yasmin Tayeby
Special to the Observer
In the middle of a gravel parking lot lined with a colorful assortment of food trucks, a woman in a faded t-shirt and cargo shorts stands with her arms folded, watching the crowd of customers with pride. Stationed outside her store’s Vermont-green doors, a COVID mask shields her mouth, but her eyes are narrowed and smiling.
Kim Adams Antonioli is behind “Truckin’ Tuesdays,” a weekly event that brings the neighborhood out for an al fresco dinner, and the newest idea to diversify Adams Orchard and Farm Market.
“If you can’t roll with diversifying, you won’t survive,” Antonioli said.
She should know. Her family’s farm is one of the only ones that remain in the Williston area. Her parents started by growing pick-your-own apples and strawberries, but today, farms need to offer a lot more to survive.
In addition to the food trucks, Antonioli and her brother, Scott, help run the 52-year old farm and have added “Christmas trees, greenhouses and new product lines that my parents wouldn’t have thought of.”
This year, they’re growing a sunflower garden in a patch of wetlands on their property. The lines of golden stalks can be used for engagement photos, picking your own bouquets and picnics with the family.
Once surrounded by dairy farms and fields of corn, Adams Apple Orchard and Farm is now surrounded by neighborhoods and single-family homes.
Williston saw some of the most significant population growth between 2010 and 2018 in the State of Vermont. That growth has resulted in farmland and open acreage being converted to residential housing.
But it seems unlikely that the Adams property is vulnerable to such development.
“Because of the orchard being zoned as ARZD, (Agricultural/Rural Residential Zoning District), it would make it very difficult for someone to develop that land,” said Bonnie Woodford, planning technician at the Town of Williston. “And where the farm market is, the lot isn’t quite large enough for a big development, and part of the lot contains wetland, so that is unlikely as well.”
Woodford was also quick to add that because of the standing the Adams family has in the community, she would be surprised to see anyone bring forth a proposal that would threaten their property.
A Family Puts Down Roots
Originally from Manchester, N.H., the Adams moved to Williston in 1968 after John was offered a job at IBM.
A year after relocating and the birth of their first child, Scott, the family decided to buy a piece of land in Williston with the intention of one day building a home there. While they sat on the parcel and had two more children, the family planted 20 apple trees to fulfill John’s dream of having a small orchard in their backyard.
Before long, apples became apples and strawberries.
“We’d come over to the land and pick strawberries, and Scott and Kim would put them in their little wagon and walk around the neighborhood and country club and sell the strawberries,” Peggy Adams said recently, while standing in the farm market’s back office.
“I’ve got 30 minutes to chat before I have to take out the pies,” she said. There’s not much time to rest on a family farm. She quickly turned to give two teenage helpers their marching orders for the day. The boys, no older than 16, towered above Peggy by at least a foot, but they hurried away to get their tasks done.
After dusting off her hands and settling down in a chair, Peggy continued, “So, eventually we realized the orchard and the strawberries were more work than we expected and that’s when the barn was built.”
Over the years, John continued adding to the orchard, methodically planting more and more trees until his “backyard orchard” grew into a bonafide grove of 900, with varieties including Cortland, Honeycrisp and Mcintosh.
From a Backyard to a Farm
From then on, it was go time. By 1987, with the barn built and the crop bountiful, the family began letting people come pick their own apples throughout the fall. They also sold surplus produce from a neighbor’s farm.
Running an orchard and store is labor intensive, and John and Peggy both had full-time jobs — John at IBM and Peggy as a special education teacher. For the month of September, the busiest time for the orchard, Peggy’s school allowed her time off to work the apple farm. It wasn’t long before that one month was no longer enough.
“When the guys decided to do more produce, and it went into July and August and September, even into October, I was the one running the farm market out of the barn,” said Peggy. “It finally got to the point where it was just too much, so I had to stop teaching.”
When asked if the move from teaching to the farm was a welcome one, Peggy said with a wry laugh, “I keep saying to John ‘whose idea was this anyway?’ But I think he would be so bored without all this going on once he retired from IBM.”
Perhaps it is the palpable affection Peggy has for her husband that made it easier for her to switch careers. After all, their history goes back to their kindergarten days.
John was best friends with Peggy’s younger brother, and the three of them were inseparable growing up. When college kept them apart, Peggy would often send John handwritten letters.
“When he came home from college after his first year, he asked me out on a date! My brother wasn’t too happy, but that’s how that all happened.”
Years after their first date, and well into the establishment of the orchard, the 10 acres directly across the street went up for sale. The Adams family snatched it up with the intention of expanding onto the modest gardens they had planted alongside the orchard. In 1997, they built a new market building, relocating from the orchard barn to the intersection of Mountain View Road and Old Stage Road, a prime location that increased their visibility.
A New Generation, A New Era
Like Peggy, her daughter Kim Antonioli had never planned on working at the farm. Armed with a master’s degree in education, Antonioli moved back to Williston after leaving a job in Maine, and had trouble finding a fulfilling job in her field.
After noticing that their parents needed help running the market, Antonioli and her brother, Scott, presented a business plan to their father that included expanding on operating seasons and building greenhouses. Through these expansions, Antonioli saw how she could create a full-time job for herself and help make the farm and market more sustainable.
At any given time on the property, three generations of Adams family members can be seen working the register, pruning the apple trees or hauling cartons of peaches into the market. The Adams grandchildren are now mostly teenagers.
When asked if any of the youngest generation plan on eventually taking the reins, Antonioli remarked that it was far too early to be making those sorts of plans. She emphasized that none of them would be forced to work at the farm; however, at least one of the grandchildren seems to have a knack for it.
“[My daughter] Taylor enjoys being here. She’s definitely her grandfather’s granddaughter. She’s a salesperson, and of all those kids, has shown the most interest in it,” said Antonioli. “If she decides she wants to join us 10 years from now, then that’s great. And if not, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”