Nantucket MemoriesToday's Nantucket

A Chat about Bartlett’s Farm

March 11, 2016 0 comments
Bartlett's Farm on Nantucket

There are only a few establishments on Nantucket that have as long a history here or have been such an integral part of island life as Bartlett’s Farm.  Starting with William Bartlett in the early 1800s, the Bartlett family has worked the land for well over a century.  Over the years, the Bartletts have expanded their farming business to include dairy cows and then sheep, then nursery and landscape plants and a full service garden center.  Ten years ago they added The Market, offering a wide variety of packaged and prepared foods, a delicatessen, wine, cheeses, personal care products, and more.  This month they are celebrating their 10th anniversary, and we sat down for a chat about the farm and what the farmers have planned for their next decade at The Market..

How old is the oldest and how young the youngest?
The sixth generation is running the farm with John as CEO, Cynthia as the bookkeeper, Dave and Dan are farmers. You can still find Phil (5th generation) on a tractor in the spring and summer months.  A few of the grandchildren (7th generation) work summer jobs in the fields, at the registers, on the produce trucks. I’d say the age range is about 65 years!

What made you decide to build The Market?
When we outgrew the market area in the garden center greenhouse it was a natural progression to try to create a more efficient and appealing space to sell our products.  We had also outgrown our first commercial kitchen so we incorporated a new kitchen into the market along with year-round event space and outdoor seating in the summer. This opened up the garden center to be able to better display the plants we grow and to offer a wider selection of garden products and services.

How would you describe The Market?
It’s a friendly, farmy space with lots to see.  It invites our customers to wander around and find interesting niches, unique products and of course, our signature farm-grown produce. The high ceilings and wood walls are reminiscent of a barn.

How has having The Market changed the farm?
We are more efficient and organized, and before we built it, we took opportunity to really listen to our customers to find out what they wanted us to continue doing. An awful lot of people are very resistant to change so we’ve tried to stay authentic by keeping the farm feel and maintaining our integrity.  When we built the market, we were sure to allow for outside garden space to help beautify the area. The garden beds in the front of the market are beautiful and create a welcoming feel for our customers. We are a four season, year round business, and we try to reflect that inside and out with our offerings and plantings. The market has really allowed us to expand and be able to support many year-round families in addition to the Bartlett family.

How do you decide what products to carry?
Excitement and passion for our products is something that we already have in our veteran staff, and look for and promote in our new staff. We attend as many trade shows in all areas as possible. Greenhouse conferences, regional vegetable growers meetings, restaurant and market shows are all part of the budget. We invest in our staff’s knowledge and education. Because of where we are we can be somewhat isolated from what’s happening. Media is great, but getting to go to other farms, garden centers, markets and delis can be informative and inspirational. We also really enjoy talking to customers and getting their feedback, sharing ideas and recipes.

In addition to being a place that we want people to shop and share, we are a business. We analyze our sales, and make adjustments when necessary. With sustainability in mind, we also try to source as many local and regional products as we can. We survey our customers every few years and ask about their favorite foods and other products, what they would like to see us carry, how we are doing, how we can improve. We are very appreciative of all honest feedback from our customers.  We take it very seriously and use it to improve.

What island niche do you fill?
Traditionally, we are a Farm, offering the freshest vegetables you can buy. As you drive onto the Farm, you’re driving through the fields where everything is grown. It’s a rare and amazing opportunity to drive by the flower fields when they are in full bloom and see the oxen on the way in to the parking lot.  We have the privilege of being a part of many families’ summer traditions and feasts and we don’t take that for granted. We are known for our corn and tomatoes in particular, and our certified organic greens are a huge hit. If you don’t feel like cooking or spending a lot of money to eat out, we have restaurant quality meals ready to heat or ready to eat. If you want to cook, you can find high quality groceries and raw ingredients you need to do that. The garden center has everything garden related whether you want a single pot of flowers for your porch, or you are planting a large vegetable or perennial garden. We’ll show you how to plant your pots and window boxes or you can use our Blooming Creations service and we will plant them for you. We are the go-to plant place for lots of island landscapers. Visitors can find unique gifts for folks back home who may be watching their pets or their house while they are on-island. In summer, we see tons of customers who are stopping in on the way to the beach to pick up sandwiches, salads and drinks, or to grab a beach chair, some beach games and toys or an umbrella. When they leave the beach for the day, they will often stop back to pick up part or all of dinner, choose a couple bottles of wine and add a few individual desserts. If you are having a party and don’t want to cook, we offer take-out catering items from apps to entrees to desserts, and you can decorate your table with interesting dinnerware and then add the most amazing farm-grown lilies and cut flowers to complete the look. There’s event space where we offer free farm talks every Saturday in the off-season, and we rent it out for parties, business meetings, and yoga classes. Plus we have pick-your own strawberries and tomatoes!  I guess that’s a pretty broad niche!

How many shoppers do you serve?
Every one of them! We committed to being a year round business when we opened The Market ten years ago. While our customer counts vary pretty dramatically from January to July, we appreciate each customer who comes out to shop, have lunch, one of our great breakfast sandwiches, fill their pantry or window box, or attend one of our dinners or farm talks. We love the quiet of the off-season, as it allows us to spend more time with our regular year-round customers.

How many island restaurants buy their ingredients from you?
It also varies from year to year, but last summer there were more than 20 who purchased our farm-grown produce to feature on their menus. There are several chefs who come out to the Farm daily, both private chefs, caterers and restaurant chefs.

How has The Market evolved from its first year?
Our prepared foods have become so diverse and delicious; not only can you lay out a feast on your beach blanket, you can put a restaurant quality meal on your table with our prepared dinners. (And we won’t tell!) Our lilies and cut flowers continue to improve in availability, variety and quality every year. The Garden Center offers a tremendous range of quality plants, organically herbs and vegetable plants and pre-planted items; both custom and ready to go. Our Farm Hand Stand is just a couple years old and is our own customer service stop for questions and information. We’ve added a lot of regional items like dairy products from Vermont, and we try to source products from as nearby as possible.  We are adding several new display coolers this year so we can have more product out during our busier times.  We were able to procure a license to sell wine a few years ago, so that is pretty new, and lots of fun. We even have a wine and cheese manager now – a position didn’t exist 10 years ago.  In 2015 we added the Nantucket Fresh Catch fish counter which provides super fresh seafood. With the addition of their lobster tank, we began offering lobster dinners for take-out.

What are you introducing for 2016?
We converted an old greenhouse into a modern hydroponic house where we are growing micro greens and hydroponic produce, and we are adding some small specialty crops in the fields.  New wines will be in the case starting April 1 and there will be more regional cheeses from Massachusetts.  And there’s this new chocolate from Martha’s Vineyard called ‘Not Your Sugar Mama’ that is just amazing! In January we began selling some extraordinary pies made by the Centerville Pie Company. This is a product that was recommended by customers, and we will be expanding that line this summer.  Kombucha has a tremendous following, and we will be bringing in another 4 keg tap along with new flavors.

In the gardening arena, Botanical Interest seeds are new for 2016.  BI features cover crop seeds, sprouting seeds, seed sprouters and a great selection of organic and heirloom seeds.  We also expanded our line of organic fertilizers with Espoma and Dr. Earth.  And there’s more fiberglass and fiber-lite pottery as an alternative to heavy clay pots.

Are you retiring any products?  
We’ve stopped selling neo-nicotinoid insecticides and we are no longer selling Miracle Grow, Osmocote or Scott’s products, instead focusing on Organic garden products.  We’ve also discontinued selling bird like feeders and food.

What do you feel has been most successful about The Market?
The space has allowed us to feature our own produce more effectively, and it gives us the flexibility to change with the seasons.  The Hayloft (our event space) has helped us expand our farm talk series on Saturdays and it provides a home to Dharma Yoga Nantucket. The Hayloft in combination with our enviable kitchen space has given us the ability to host farm to table dinners that feature our wonderful summer produce. And by moving the market out of the garden center, we created a beautiful, comfortable, and easy shopping area for our gardening customers. When the garden center closes for the day, it can be transformed into a magical place to hold fund-raisers for various community organizations like Nantucket Safe Harbor for Animals, A Safe Place, Mentoring Youth Nantucket, and more.

It’s also satisfying when we see summer employees go off into the big world and take what they have learned here and start their own small farms and businesses. Many of them stay in touch for years and years and speak of their great experiences at Bartlett’s Farm.  That’s success.