Who has a car and wants to drive to Fitchburg for BBQ, music, and berries?
Even with the investigative, arts, and news reporting we do at DigBoston, more than almost anything else readers love to consume our recommendations on places to go outside of the city. Getaways, retreats, escapism in general.
Our stories about hikes and day trips have kept people buzzing throughout the pandemic, so we’re continuing to contact friends on the outside for tips. This week, we spoke with spokesperson Briana Duva and owner Jim Lattanzi of Hollis Hills Farm in Fitchburg, a Shangri-La with food and flowers that is well worth the trek.
What was life supposed to be like at the farm this summer before coronavirus?
We had a different expectation, that’s for sure. We were so excited to reopen and hit the ground running after so many projects we tackled in the off season. Our new executive chef, Isaac Carter, had just come on board and created an amazing new BBQ menu. And though the extra time did give him the ability to perfect his choices, it was hard to put the brakes on something that seemed like we had just got running again.
We lost an entire month of our live music schedule and a lot of the momentum we were hoping to bring in to this summer. Our hope was to be able to focus solely on what we were bringing to the table for guests in terms of food and entertainment, and the pandemic definitely shifted our focus more to safety. However, either way our focus always circulates around people having the best experience possible at the farm. One of our favorite parts of the summer season has always been seeing families come together, kids running around, couples dancing, and people just mingling; out of necessity this is something that isn’t as easy right now, and our regulations are keeping people safely more separate right now.
You also had a fire last year. What was it like to rebuild after that, and then get hit with the pandemic?
The fire was devastating. On July 5 last summer we lost the entire kitchen, and ultimately it took seven weeks to even reopen the farm. When we did open, we were not able to have food service, as it took almost a year to complete the new kitchen. While our bar and music got up and running again, we invited a number of food trucks throughout the remaining weekends, and we were excited to be able to offer our guests our own unique menu again. We were totally amped up for a killer 2020 after having a bummer of a season last year, but coronavirus took the wind out of our sails a bit. Now that we are up and running, with a new chef, expanded outdoor seating area, new menu, and lots of great music, that excitement for 2020 has returned.
What have your workers been doing these past few months?
We took advantage of the prescribed downtime and have been able to get lots of projects completed. Being an essential business, we took the time and got lots of new things planted as we are expanding our you-pick business. We added 1,800 new blueberry bushes, 8,000 strawberry plants, 800 blackberries, 600 apple trees, 150 new peaches, and a half-mile of flower beds. We now have almost 25 acres of you-pick crops. The pause in normal scheduling wasn’t easy, but we are hoping that it will bloom into bigger and better things in the future.
How did you go about putting together the plans for these socially distanced shows?
Space. Everyone needs their space, and so we are fortunate to have lots of it for people to safely enjoy the farm. We have almost 100 picnic tables out on our lawn where people can stay seated, enjoy their BBQ, drinks, and some live music. The guidelines provided by the state and our local board of health helped us to develop a plan that works for our guests as well as our staff. We created a written document that guests receive while entering the lawn area which explains our current policies and has a “how to” when it comes to ordering. We also have bulletin boards posted at the entrance to the store and the lawn which offer bullet points in terms of expected conduct.
How are people being asked to conduct themselves at the farm during these events?
People seem relieved to be able to get out of the house and are enjoying the sense of somewhat normalcy that the farm offers. We have a written set of guidelines to advise our guests how to conduct themselves within the different areas of the farm, and since we are lucky to have such large outdoor spaces, social distancing has been relatively easy during more activities. Our guidelines state that guests should wear masks while in common areas such as the bathrooms, bar, store, and while walking around.
We had a large number of picnic tables built in order to offer as much social distanced seating as possible and guests can feel free to remove their masks while at their table. We also created distinguished larger “picnic areas” on our lawn where families can gather without their masks. Guests are expected to follow our ordering guide within a menu packet that they receive upon entering the lawn; the menu packet explains how to fill out our recyclable menu, which they hand to the cashier; and a beeper system notifies them when their order is ready so that there is never too many people gathered at the bar.
Our hope is that guests are able to feel somewhat of a sense of normalcy while at the farm, while still being safe and helping others feel comfortable and stay healthy.