Oct. 29, 2019
That’s how many pumpkins Ward’s Berry Farm grows every year.
And that’s just pumpkin season.
Ask anyone in Sharon where to go for high-quality, fresh produce, and they are bound to tell you about Ward’s.
The family-run farm is a destination for locals and visitors alike, and it all started as a family commitment with humble beginnings.
A Retirement Project
Mr. Ward was an inventor throughout his adult life and wanted a change of pace in retirement. Having been a lifelong gardener, his dream of growing and selling berries took hold, and in the early 1980s, the Wards bought a 30-acre parcel of land in Sharon, Massachusetts.
Brothers Bob and Jim wanted to support their father’s vision of getting the farm established. With bushes planted, and card tables set up on the side of the road, they started selling berries from a make-shift stand.
A few years later, just as the berries were coming into serious production, Mr. Ward passed away. With berry bushes overflowing with growth, Bob and Jim had berries to pick and sell, and a lot to learn about farming.
“We didn’t know where it would go,” explains Bob, “but we wanted to keep his dream alive.”
Those card tables at the side of the road have now expanded to two permanent buildings along with over 70 staff needed to support all that Ward’s Berry Farm offers: a thriving farm store with fresh veggies, homemade foods and sandwiches, seasonal hayrides and private events, pick your own berries and pumpkins, a wholesale business providing veggies and fruits to area restaurants and markets, the largest 4-H club in New England, fresh flowers and plants!
How did Ward’s Berry Farm grow into the destination it is today? They began the journey long before farm to table became a buzzword, always believing that fresh food is best. Over the years, Bob and Jim have kept their father’s dream alive, setting high expectations and only selling what they produce on the farm.
When people think of locally-grown food, they don’t always consider how the food is grown, and instead focus on the location of the farm. But the how impacts the quality. Well-grown fruit and vegetables require planning and attention to detail.
“Well-grown means so much more, in that we start with building our soil,” Bob told us.
With a commitment to creating the best soil, every year Ward’s works to grow cover crops and spread natural compost. Every seed that is planted, every berry bush, begins with soil that is full of nutrients.
For Jim, growing food is a gratifying job. From the beginning stages of nurturing plants, making daily decisions to help each crop grow, and then selling the produce, he loves every part. Knowing the food will be enjoyed by a family in Sharon or a chef in Boston or Providence is why he loves his work.
“Being passionate about food leads me to want to grow things that will be an inspiration, a memorable experience,” Jim shared with us. “I want someone to cut into a tomato that I grew and acknowledge that it was great.”
Running the Farm with Future Generations
A farm the size of Ward’s takes more than hard work; it takes a team of people working together. Between 70-100 employees work on the farm, a carefully choreographed production ensuring fields and crops have what they require, seeds are planted at the right moment, and produce is picked at the peak of ripeness. From there, produce is either packed up and sold or used as an ingredient in the farm store.
With a degree in plant and soil science, Jim manages the farm, looking after both the plants and up-and-coming farmers tending to the crops. He goes above the role of boss, mentoring high school and college students who come to work on the farm. Some of these former employees have gone off to start their own farms, something Jim loves to watch unfold.
“It’s real work,” Jim explained, when speaking of what his employees do. “...usually, nine times out of ten, they come back, and they teach me something. It makes me proud because not only are they learning, working, and doing well, but they come back and teach me something.”
In addition to the farm being open to the public, Ward’s Berry Farm hosts the largest 4-H program in the state of Massachusetts. Run by Joe Major, children from ages six to eighteen take care of farm animals, complete housekeeping chores, and engage in activities focusing on teamwork and responsibility.
Bob and Jim are committed, not only to keeping their father’s dream alive, but to empower future generations to fulfill their dreams.
While Jim manages the plants and the farm, Bob runs the front of house, taking care of customers and finances. Both brothers admit that working together for 35 years has been an adventure, which comes with its share of disagreements. They have different talents and outlooks, but share the same passion. When arguments do arise, they remind each other how much they both care about the farm.
But Bob and Jim are not the only Wards who are passionate about this special place.
Mrs. Ward, their 93-year-old mother, continues to live and work on the farm every day.
Her recipes are still used in the bakery, and while she doesn’t cook for the farm store anymore, she passes down her cooking secrets and makes meals for her family at home. She also continues to take part in the farming lifestyle, working alongside her sons each day.
Jim told us, “She’ll come to the loading dock and crate tomatoes with me for the better part of the day. We have a fun exchange all day long, and I couldn’t be luckier.”
With a dedication to family values and quality food, it’s no wonder Ward’s Berry Farm has flourished into a place where the entire community continues to make their own memories.
Watch the full Live Love Sharon episode featuring Ward's Berry Farm here!