CORINTH – In the summer of 2004, Thomas Farms found itself with an unusually bountiful crop of peas. So Paul Thomas drove the 20 miles east to the Hannaford on Broadway in Bangor and asked the produce manager whether the store would be interested in including the farm’s peas among its local offerings.

The store was indeed interested. The products were of exceptional quality and freshness. The farm’s deliveries were often within-the-hour speedy, and Paul was always ready to haul more crates to the store when demand for a particular veggie proved unexpectedly high.

Soon the farm was supplying the Hannaford stores in Brewer and Old Town, too. So began a fruitful relationship that has continued to grow. Today, Paul said, Thomas Farms provides a variety of vegetables – sweet corn, cucumbers, potatoes, green beans, squash, and more – to 18 Hannaford stores across Maine.

It’s a glorious July day here at the farm in a central Maine area that is sometimes referred to as “Little Aroostook,” Paul says, because of its long history of potato farming.

The far views out across rolling fields do indeed recall the beauty of The County, and this farm, which totals about 200 acres, was originally a potato farm.

Now only 40 acres are devoted to potatoes, explains Frank Thomas, who is Paul’s dad. In the early 2000s “we swapped horses’” and diversified, he says, and by 2003 the farm was growing 15 different vegetables.

Diversification was a sound strategy. About six years ago, when another local farmer ceased production, there was a sudden demand for rutabagas. The vegetable – “a cross between a turnip and a cabbage,” in Paul’s words – quickly became Thomas Farms’ specialty.

Now the farm is not only Hannaford’s sole supplier of rutabagas, it’s also one of the largest growers east of the Mississippi. The season lasts from mid-September to “about Easter.”

“It’s kind of a New England thing,” Paul says, adding that what’s often called a turnip here is actually a rutabaga. “Peel it, boil it, mash it and add salt and pepper. Or cube it and roast it.”

Squash – varieties including butternut, buttercup, and spaghetti – is the farm’s No. 2 crop. This season, that will amount to 300 huge crates weighing 1,800 pounds each, Paul says. The rutabaga yield will be slightly higher.

Thomas is truly a family farm, owned by the Thomases for 63 years. Paul built his house on the property a few years ago, and the complex includes Little Spuds pre-school and Tater Tots nursery school, which are operated by Frank’s wife, Anita. Paul’s wife, Jen, teaches Grade 7 at Ridgeview Community School in Dexter.

A third generation seems to be taking a very active role. In one of the barns, Paul and Jen’s daughter Taylar, age 6, is examining plump green beans. She is eager to talk about the farm’s critters – 30 chickens, two donkeys, two horses, two goats, three dogs, rabbits … and reel off their names.

Also, like her dad discussing rutabagas, Taylar offers sound culinary advice on Thomas Farms’ sweet corn, now at peak season. “It’s better not to cook it at all. That’s how I like it. Just shuck it and enjoy it.”

At its freshest.

These monthly profiles are brought to you by Hannaford Supermarkets, which has been partnering with local  farmers since 1883.  Hannaford works with more than 800 farms and other food producers located near its stores.

 

 

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