Behind the orange and blue-painted greenhouse luring patrons inside with the smell of fresh-baked bread and pastries, the sun-bathed field of flowers ready to be fashioned into artisan bouquets, and the farm-grown produce subscriptions, there are four industrious siblings combining their talents into a mini wonderland of agricultural spoils, all with the support of their parents Tom and Mary Ryan (and some help from two cats – one mouser and one “mooch”).
While it’s the baked goods that have earned the Ryans a steady following of loyal fans, it’s hard to define Mapleville Farm by just one specialty. Born out of their family home and property in the Burrillville village it’s named for, the once-roadside stand has grown organically, though not without its twists and turns, since 2011.
“When we started, we worked like fools,” says youngest sister Emma Echt during a visit to the farm sitting down with three of the siblings. Mike and Casey chime in with the nearly endless list of jobs in those early days: “We did farmers markets – it was somewhere between nine and 12 between Wednesday and Sunday. The kitchen lights were on 24/7, and we worked overlapping 16 to 18-hour shifts. There were two of us who never saw the sun.” The labor of love had them burning out all through farmers market season, from early May to the end of October.
It took a worldwide pandemic and going curbside to bring some clarity, and since, they’ve struck a more sustainable balance through CSA (community supported agriculture) subscriptions of produce and flowers, expanding the kitchen inside and moving bake shop sales to the lush plant-filled greenhouse (that doubles as a growing space in the back), and making room to settle into their respective interests.
For Emma and Casey, the self-appointed “flavor specialists,” those interests lie in flower growing and arranging, respectively. Emma is also behind the social media posts, and all contribute to farming and baking. Ben is the “bread chemist” in charge of their Bread Box subscription – and it was his early interest in baking that played a role in their parents operating a separate bake shop when the siblings were kids. Mike is the go-to for fixing and building things, from the tractors and handmade picnic tables you’ll see around the farm to the unique aquaponic set-up in their first greenhouse.
Combining aquaculture, which is keeping a fish crop, and the hydroponic method of
soilless farming, aquaponics is an environmentally friendly method of growing. Mike explains the process of using the aquaculture’s surplus nutrients to feed the plants, which also cleans the water without the need for synthetic nutrients, taking the pollution out of both operations. “You’re taking two systems that have waste water problems and putting them together so there’s no waste water problem,” Casey says.
“You get a lot more turnover out of the vegetable crop. Things just grow faster, and they’re more manageable,” says Mike, listing a few lesser-known crops they grow, like cucamelons and malabar spinach, as well as leafy greens and herbs used in their fresh bread.
For Mike, who raised fish as a kid and first experimented with growing terrestrial plants over fish tanks, building a greenhouse for aquaponics was a no-brainer – though the challenges, organic chemistry, and investment it comes with make some farmers leery of starting their own. The family has faced their share of obstacles with it – including a power outage that lost them all their koi last year – but as the resident fixer, Mike doesn’t let the setbacks overshadow its successes. “I was lucky enough to be able to [invest in aquaponics]; I live here, I have the land…I was probably less intimidated than most,” he says, and notes that its application is even more advantageous in urban environments. “You can grow on top of pavement; couple that with vertical growing and you can tuck it into small spaces.”
If the family weren’t busy enough, they’re also excited to host events in the greenhouse this fall. While their popular Mother’s Day Tea, for instance, isn’t a new occurrence, the indoor area gives them space for year-round foodie gatherings, gardening workshops (including wreath-making and boxwood trees in the winter), and more. “We’re big dreamers – we do a lot of things,” says Emma.
“We’re basic to the core – pumpkin spice,” says Mike of the autumn flavors available at the bake shop this season. With rotating specials posted weekly online, watch for baked goods getting pumpkin spicier as we head into September and October; preorder at BensBakery.com so you don’t miss out. The farm is open Saturdays 9am-5pm and Sundays 9am-3pm. Here’s a handful of can’t-miss harvests and goods this season:
A customer favorite, Butternut Squash Bread flies off the stands during Thanksgiving. Pro-tip: buy two loaves, one for fall sandwiches and a second for making stuffing.
Jams and jellies are a hit this season, and find goat’s milk soap made by Casey (did we mention there are goats on the farm?).
Run by Emma, the CSA program allows customers to make an upfront investment to reap the harvests all growing season long. For September, subscribers will likely receive leafy greens, zucchinis, cucumbers, and more.
Bring home a bouquet of hand-picked seasonal stems arranged by Casey every Saturday by signing up for the six-week flower share. The fall session, which includes sunflowers, runs September 2-October 7.
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