Ashley Farms entering 73rd year
MOUNT OLIVE — It all started with Hubert and Muriel Ashley being gifted with a few turkeys.
“They started out just raising turkeys, which is still a huge part of our business,” said Aimee Ashley Myers, a third-generation farmer.
“My father raised turkeys down on Main Street in Flanders,” says Larry Ashley, Hubert’s son, and dad to Aimee. “I think he raised 20 turkeys or something. Then he was drafted into World War II, and then when he came home, he was able to buy part of this place, and then he built a house here, and then he started raising more turkeys.”
It wasn’t enough to make a living, so Hubert also drove a local school bus while Muriel raised the four children. “We figure he started full-time farming in 1948.”
Larry, upon high school graduation in 1965, was initially in construction in the summer and at the farm during the winter.
He remained after his dad wanted him on-site full-time. “I decided to do it, and the early years here were tough, but I stuck it out, and I’m sure glad I did. I watched it grow, and I worked with my dad for many years. He was just a tremendous person, and then another old fella and another couple of older people worked here, and they were great people. It became a way of life.”
In the summer of 1969, Ashley Farms decided to start growing sweet corn and tomatoes and made enough selling them roadside for Hubert to buy a brand-new pickup truck for $2,900.
“Clear – no payments or anything,” says Larry with a laugh.
“At that point,” says Aimee, “they decided to start growing some produce to sell directly to the community, just like they did with the turkeys. It’s always been a family business. Hubert and his son, Larry, were partners for years.”
A barn was built shortly thereafter, and over the years it was renovated to be the market. “ We started staying open year-round, probably in the late ‘80s, right?” Aimee asks her dad. “We’ve been open year-round longer than most farms around here.”
Larry and his children, Aimee and Scott, are now partners, and each have children that all help out at the farm, which is now in its fourth generation. Ages 7 to 14, the kids are Ben Myers, Barbara Ashley, Will Myers, Scotty Ashley, and Abigail Ashley. “They’re the stars of the show around here,” says Aimee. “My youngest son and his (Scott’s) son are like two peas in a pod. They’ve got big plans.”
Aimee and her brother, and now their children, were never forced to work at Ashley Farms. “It was always a want,” Aimee says, “Dad always said, ‘You don’t have to come back here if you don’t want to,’ but we both grew up here, we probably spent as much time in our grandparents’ house as we did in our own house. We both started working (here) when we were 10 or 12 years old. I was in the market by the time I was 12.”
In high school, both decided they were to be full-time farmers. Aimee attended Delaware Valley College for an Agribusiness Management degree, and since 1998 has managed the retail market.There has been much renovation the past 22 years, including the addition of two greenhouses.
Scott takes care of all the vegetables. In addition to raising turkeys, Ashley Farms grows sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, onions, cut flowers, garlic, and strawberries. They own 40 acres and farm another 110 acres in the Roxbury and Mount Olive areas.
COVID19 presented huge challenges, but the community support has been great. Instead of heading to grocery stores, folks instead visited Ashley Farms and cleared the shelves. “They were coming to us. It was good, and it was crazy,” Scott says. “And if there was a silver lining from COVID, that is definitely one of them. People realized, ‘Oh, wait a minute, there’s a small local farm that has their own stuff.’ We kind of benefitted from that.”
“And we’ve retained some of those people (as customers),“ says Aimee.
“Yeah,” says Scott, “We’ve had people come in that live in Flanders and say, ‘Gee, I go by this place and have never been in here.’”
“We’ve always said if we can get them in the door, they will probably come back,” Aimee says.
Ashley Farms has been adding lots of prepared food and bakery items to their market, as well as different greenhouse items. “The turkeys and the produce are always going to be what we’re known for,” says Aimee, “but we have been taking our turkeys and making them into other products. We make all of our turkey burgers, sausage, we make two kinds of soup, turkey chili, turkey salad – anything that’s high quality that you can grab and take home is really where the sky is the limit.”
Larry Ashley speaks to farm comradery. “The folks around here – all the farms, every one of them – we’re all friends. If anyone runs out of something, vice-versa, any one of them, we go back and forth with stuff. That’s saying something about the farming community.”
“It’s a blessing,” says Aimee.