One of the most iconic farm stores in the area has been torn down to make way for a bigger and better business that will reopen in the spring. The McKinstry family is replacing its McKinstry Market Garden, which has been standing in the same spot at 753 Montgomery St. since the 1950s. The new building will be about 7,000 square feet — more than twice the size of the former store.
The family has run the farm for 112 years, passing it down from generation to generation. Now the two sons of Bill and Nicole McKinstry are ready to jump into the business full time, and it is time to make room for them, Nicole McKinstry said.
Will McKinstry, who studied agriculture at Cornell University and graduated this spring, has always enjoyed the farming part of the business. His younger brother, Warren McKinstry, who graduated from Comprehensive High in 2018 after studying welding in the Career Technical program, has been more interested in running the retail operation at the farm and becoming the face of the store, their mother said.
Both said they have worked at the farm their whole lives, learning from their parents and grandfather, Alfred W. McKinstry, who died in 2019 at the age of 90.
“The boys want to start a new chapter and make it more their own,” Nicole McKinstry said. “I’m thrilled but at the same time I’m scared for them too because their name is on this project. We are blessed that way that one would love the farm, the fields, and one would love the store.”
Warren McKinstry said he grew up in the store, as did his father, and he has a lot of ideas on how to go beyond what they now sell.
The fruits and vegetables they grow in the fields will continue to be the mainstay of the business.
“I like being outside. I’ve always had a passion for farming,” Will McKinstry said.
The McKinstrys farm about 175 acres on their land in Chicopee and in fields in Granby and Hadley. They grow a number of fruits and vegetables, including 30 varieties of sweet corn. They also have greenhouses where they grow bedding plants to sell and seedlings for their fields.
The farm stand began due to necessity. Bill McKinstry said his grandfather had a milk truck and also delivered vegetables from it. During the Depression, when it was difficult to get gas, the family started selling vegetables at a roadside table. His father built the store just after he graduated from college.
The store had seen some additions and upgrades over the years, but the family had been discussing expansion for at least three years. The COVID-19 pandemic and record-breaking summer temperatures brought the need to the forefront.
The store had no air conditioning and the clerks roasted behind plexiglass shields set up to prevent the spread of the virus. They needed breaks every two hours or so, Bill McKinstry said.
The store’s small size meant the number of customers inside at one time had to be limited, and employees had difficulty socially distancing in the back room, he said.
“This year has been difficult, more difficult than any with the virus, but customers really supported us. Business has been good so we are moving forward,” Warren McKinstry said.
This summer during the pandemic more people wanted to eat locally and know where their food came from, benefiting local farmers.
The McKinstrys are even staying local with their contractor. N. Riley Construction, whose offices are essentially next door to the market, demolished the building in December and this month began getting the property ready to pour the foundation.
Owner Nick Riley said he is crossing his fingers that the weather remains mild, at least until the building is framed, to make it easier to meet the May 1 date when McKinstry Farms usually opens for the season. Bill McKinstry said he isn’t too concerned, saying the spring is typically when they sell bedding plants and they can bring in trailers if the building isn’t ready.
“It’s going to be nice. There will be automatic doors and a walk-up window for ice cream,” Riley said.
That is one of the additions Warren McKinstry is excited about. For the first time the McKinstry Farm will sell soft and hard ice cream, likely provided from a local vendor. There will also be a larger bakery, and they hope to sell local frozen beef, he said. He would also like to sell locally produced soaps and other products from area businesses.
“We really want to support the community who supports us,” Warren McKinstry said.
“If it wasn’t for our customers we wouldn’t be where we are now,” his mother added.