Out in the fields with Pete Flynn of Pete’s Produce
How long have you been farming? I’ve been growing vegetables for 25 years, and I was dairy farming before that. I tell people I’m a recovering dairy farmer.
You were a dairy farmer first? I worked as a herdsman six years before I went out on my own starting a farm at where Bayard Rustin is today. I started there with 9 cows.
How’d you get into produce? I grew a little sweet corn one year, and I had some extra. I threw the extra in the back of my pickup and sold it along the roadside. People loved it so much that they would chase me home. As a dairy farmer, nobody ever told me how good my milk was, but everyone told me how good my sweet corn was. I kept doing more every year until I was doing sweet corn and tomatoes enough that I rented my cows to a young guy who wanted to be a dairy farmer.
What did the operation look like? At that point I had a little tent, a couple little red sheds and a flat wagon, just selling alongside Shiloh Rd there.
What went into building your first permanent location? Well, in April of ’94 my cow barn got struck by lightning and caught fire. All the wood to build the new location was sawed up and sitting in the barn. The local community stepped up, and some local landscape guys started bringing trees over to Guy Bowers saw mill when they cut them down. He got the lumber ready for me, and they just dropped it off and gave it to me. That’s how we built our first location.
What prompted you to move to the new location? Well, I had been leasing the land that would become Bayard Rustin High School, so I needed to make a move. In 2000, Westtown School farm had become available. They wanted the land to be used for something other than corn and soybeans, something they can use in their kitchen, but I didn’t have enough money to finance the whole project. Instead they offered a partnership of sorts, and I paid them back over time. They set the lease relatively inexpensive so I could get my feet on the ground, and they bought everything they could from me.
How do you spend most your time today? I primarily work on the farm, planting the corn and tomatoes and maintaining crops.
Is that how you want it? Oh yeah. That’s my passion. Although, another thing I’m passionate about is the Chester County Food Bank. I’ve been on the board since its inception and I grow four acres of food for them. I prepare the land and get things planted, and they get volunteers to harvest. We try to help them as much as we can. The benefits of local farming are multifaceted. This is definitely a community affair—people really appreciate fresh produce from a local farm. People appreciate the connection to the farm, but you don’t see this much anymore, and it’s a shame. If it wasn’t for property owners like Westtown School, it wouldn’t be possible because the economics aren’t there the way they used to be… but that’s a whole ’nother story…