"You never know, this could be our last year.” A phrase uttered many times over the past couple of decades by the Hawkes family while serving customers at the familiar farm stand located south of the Foster’s Corner rotary in Windham. This year, it’s a settled fact.
“I get teary eyed when I tell my regular customers,” said proprietor Florence Hawkes. “We thought it was the end back along, but we were able to keep going. It had to happen sometime – this is it.”
Hawkes explained that after her husband, Frank, died in 2004 the future of the decades old vegetable/fruit stand was in doubt until their son Bob stepped up. Investing 60 to 80 hours a week, he almost single-handedly kept the operation going, from the greenhouses, the multi-acre growing fields on Windham Center Road to the farm stand itself. But this year, a promotion at his full time job will preclude him from committing the time needed to keep the 84-year-old farm stand going. Bob was the third generation family member to operate the farm and road side stand.
Florence said she feels bad for the scores of faithful customers who’ve relied on the stand for fresh produce for so many years.
“I want you to tell them that we are very sorry. We had wonderful customers who came from far and wide, year after year.”
What’s been the reaction of customers so far? “They talk about the corn,” said Florence. Hawkes stand is renowned for its several varieties of corn on the cob, along with advice on how to prepare it. Some prefer the large ears, some like them tough, but most have a favorite variety of sweet corn, all grown near the top of a hill off Windham Center Road.
In addition to corn, customers had come to rely on different kinds of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squashes, along with peas, beans, eggplant, carrots, beets and beet greens. Some fruits and flowers were also sold. The stand opened at 10 a.m. for a reason. All the produce was guaranteed fresh that day. Early morning was set aside for picking.
Alley, and son Frank, opened the farm stand in 1932. Originally located at the state owned rest area, now closed, near the Nash Road intersection, Florence said the building was moved up the highway to its present location in 1948 at five in the morning. “In those days you had to wait for traffic to go by.”
Hawkes Farm Stand will no doubt be remembered for more than just fresh produce, however. Hundreds of Windham kids have worked the farm over the decades, particularly in the 50s and 60s when the Hawkes’ produced strawberries and apples as well as the garden variety vegetables. They benefited with extra spending money and regular lessons in work ethic.
One young worker, in his later years, recalled an incident with Frank’s father, Alley. The elder Hawkes had strongly suggested that the lad use two hands to complete a certain barn task. Later, in the fields picking beans, the boy sarcastically asked his boss if he should use two hands to pick. Alley sardonically replied, “No, but you don’t have to work here either.”
Ancestors of the Hawkes family were among the founding families of Windham in the 1700s. Later, the so-called Old Grocery at Windham Center, now a Windham Historical Society museum, was established by Frank’s great grandfather, the first Alley, who ran it with his son, Frank. Frank’s son, the second Alley, ran the dairy and vegetable farm on Windham Center Road and started the Route 302 road stand in 1932 with his 14-year-old son, Frank. From the late 40s on, Frank and Florence grew the business together until 2004. Florence, son Bob and daughter Diane have carried on, until now.