Behind the Scenes at Four Town Farm
For five generations, this family farm has nourished four communities with the fruits — and vegetables — of its labor.
Four Town Farm’s picturesque farm stand, with oversized brown wooden barn doors, sits just off George Street in Seekonk with large green fields as a backdrop. Visitors bustle in and out, their arms full of seasonal products — some with pumpkins, others with overflowing bags of corn — while kiddos run about the store in search of their favorite flavored honey stick.
Groups of families board a tractor for a short ride to the pick-your-own pumpkin field, while others sling cornstalks over their shoulders in hopes of creating the perfect fall front door scene.
The name is a sure indicator of this local farm’s location in four different towns: East Providence, Barrington, Seekonk, Massachusetts and Swansea, Massachusetts, but the original homestead was located solely in Seekonk, where the defunct Showcase Cinemas now sits on Fall River Avenue. At the turn of the twentieth century, David Solomen Peck bought the property and spent the rest of his days tilling the land. It was eventually passed down to his four children, who attempted to farm just as their father had done but with little success.
Three of the four children sold off their shares of the property and lived off the profits, while the fourth, Isabel Peck, stuck to her roots. She married Frank J. Clegg, and together they farmed what was left of the land. Around the same time, Interstate 195 was constructed, which cornered off the Clegg’s farm from much of the surrounding area. Clegg saw the writing on the wall and knew that this part of town would no longer be a viable option for their family, so they purchased a homestead on George Street, where the family-owned and operated business is still located to this day.
The Cleggs had two children, Elizabeth and Frank Jr., fondly known as Jack. In 1941, when he turned twenty-two, Jack assumed the responsibilities of running the twenty-acre farm, and, in 1943, he married Eleanore Burnley. Shortly after, the couple purchased an additional thirty acres of land, and about fifteen laborers were hired through a government-run program to help with farm chores and seasonal work. The men returned every year for fifteen years until Jack and Eleanore’s own children, Stephen, Tom, Peter and Jean were old enough to be the next generation of family farmers.
Today, the fifth generation (but technically only the third at the farm’s current location) help run the day-to-day operations at Four Town. While it’s still a family affair with the involvement of seven family members from multiple generations, plus fifty or so additional employees, we learn that Christopher Clegg, who is part of the fifth-generation has his hands full — but he knows the lay of the land. Son of Stephen, Clegg began working at Four Town at the age of twelve, just as family members did before him. There was never a doubt in his mind if he would follow suit.
“It’s difficult to explain because it is challenging and you’re never bored,” he says. “Sure, there is a routine to the seasons where you plant and harvest, but there really is never a dull moment. It’s the feeling of constantly learning more and finding ways to do things better that is so rewarding. We’re just always learning.”
Clegg also notes that his family’s multigenerational knowledge and experience make the question marks that arise on the farm a bit easier to manage.
“As farmers, we try to do the best we can with the knowledge and tools we have,” he says. “Once you think you’ve got one type of produce figured out, there are twenty more to tackle.”
Every morning, Clegg arrives just after 6 a.m. to take an inventory of produce, check orders and see what needs replenishing at the farm stand. By 7 a.m., the crew is divvied up into picking groups and they head out to the fields for a long day of work. Each of the farmers, Clegg included, specializes in growing different types of produce. While he focuses on root crops and small-seeded crops, his brother has the know-how on tomatoes, melons and cucumbers.
“We each don’t grow all of the crops we offer,” he says. “This allows us to be knowledgeable on the basics of our produce as a whole, but it forces us to focus on our own responsibilities and be the best we can be at it.”
During the busy summer and fall seasons, Clegg and many others spend seventy hours a week at Four Town, including many nights experimenting with frost protection methods, checking in on lost heat in the greenhouses and more — many aspects of farming the public doesn’t see. Rather, nicely washed and bagged carrots, plus other veggies and fruits, make their way to the farm stand for shoppers to ogle, finding the best of the bunch to bring home.
And it all begins right there on the farm. The land where Four Town Farm sits has rich top soil and no rocks, no ledge and great drainage. Knowing which crops grow where and in what soil is key to a plentiful harvest. For one week in the winter, Clegg puts together field charts for the following season, a task he attributes to what he has been taught about both the produce and the area he is working with.
“I have been handed a gift where much of the infrastructure and equipment was here from those generations before me,” he says. “You don’t necessarily have to go to school to become a farmer, though I do recommend it because you learn the science behind what you are doing. And if you’re lucky, being passed down information from those before you is great, too. I think that is truly one of the most valuable ways to learn.”
In the early days of Four Town Farm, most of the produce was sold wholesale. Over time, the family realized there was more money to be made selling directly to the consumer, so Clegg’s grandmother, Eleanore, began peddling melons on a roadside wagon. She eventually expanded to a small farm stand on the property, where she sold fruits and vegetables until 1982, when she passed away. Over the next thirty or so years, the stand continued to provide for families, until in 2015, a bigger, more efficient space was needed. The old farm stand became the garden center, where pots and other garden items are stored, and a much larger farm stand was constructed just beside it.
“The underlying principle for the new space was that it still had to be a nostalgic farm stand with a better way to keep our products top of the line,” says Clegg. “Plus, it had to offer an easier and more convenient way for customers to shop.”
Visitors can also find products from other local businesses like Warwick Ice Cream, Blount Fine Foods and more at the farm stand. And sometimes, you will even see chefs and those local business owners stocking up on Four Town Farm’s produce to supplement their own kitchen or restaurant. Most everything is sold at the farm stand, but a majority of Four Town’s wholesale produce that they do sell stays within a forty-mile radius and goes to businesses like Farm Fresh RI, which distributes the produce to area restaurants. So, chances are, whether you’ve dined in Providence, Newport or somewhere in between, you have tasted the fruits (and veggies!) of their labor.
“For us, it is all about doing what we are good at. Sometimes, things don’t work out as planned, so it is treating those instances not as failures, but rather as learning experiences for next year,” Clegg says. “Just be proud of what you are doing and what you are producing.”
The farm stand is open from April through the holidays. Pick-your-own pumpkins ($10 per pumpkin) complete with a tractor ride and a small corn maze will run on weekends only through the end of October. 90 George St., Seekonk, Massachusetts, 508-336-5587, 4townfarm.com.