I thought that for today's Locally Featured, I would take a break from the "norm" if you will, and bring you a place that isn't new, it isn't a hidden gem, and to be honest, they don't even boast being a spot where local ingredients are highlighted. However, this spot is near and dear to my heart, and since it seems fitting here in the middle of another heat wave, I would like to take a look at Kimball Farm, because to me, it just doesn't get any more local than that.
See it all began many moons ago when I used to work at Kimball's....well probably even before that when my family and I would head over to the "Farm" for sweet treats during the summer, but really Kimball's became a piece of my life, a piece of my history, the summers that I worked there. Because of these close ties, it is more than "local" to me, it is home to me.
Kimball Farm has been serving up homemade ice cream since 1939, out of an old dairy barn built in 1908. They began with limited flavors, but now carry over 40 flavors, and operate in three different locations- Westford, MA, Jaffrey, New Hampshire, and just this year opened a third location in Lancaster, MA. Their ice cream is made almost daily, with one of the owners carefully adding the right amount of each ingredient to make their fabulously delicious flavors like Peanut Butter Chip, Grapenut, Coffee Oreo, Red Raspberry Chocolate Chip, German Chocolate Fudge, or Vanilla Swiss Almond- to name some of my favorites.
Of course today, the original location is far larger than it's humble beginnings in a small woodshed. The dairy barn that the ice cream took over as the head of it's operations in 1975 still houses the making, storing, and selling of the ice cream, however the Kimball's "empire" reaches far beyond just ice cream now.
I lovingly deemed Kimball's Disney World in Westford some years back, as it now contains attractions and fun for the whole family, and those of all ages. A gorgeous driving range was the first addition. Later, the Kimball Family added a Pitch and Putt (small golf course), a Grill for food items other than ice cream, a country store, mini golf, bumper boats, and arcade area, and batting cages. When visiting Kimball's now, there is no shortage of things to do and see.
I recall, when I was just a young girl of 14, I began working in the recently opened Driving Range that is placed in the acres behind the original structures of the farm. As I was too young to work a cash register, I spent the months until my birthday that year heading out to the Range in the mornings, and weeding through the grass picking up golf balls that had been shot out the previous evening. As far as entry level positions go- this was definitely one of the lower ones, and the older boys I worked with didn't let me forget it. That's right- wading through the swampy part was always left for me, and when I tried to complain- I often found the boys clear on the other side of the range, too far to hear my pitiful complaints. Finally though, my birthday came and I got the greatest
gift of all- I was able to work in the ice cream stand, scooping delicious ice cream. I remember those first few days of training as though they were yesterday- learning how to make the massive portions they serve there look almost accidental, but each scoop identical to the last. I learned how to get sauces and toppings on to sundaes without making a mess....and how to cover it up when I did. I learned how to make a frappe the RIGHT way-with ice cream, milk and syrup and I know I will never call that a milk shake again. Of course I wasn't perfect in the beginning, but as time went on, well, I began to perfect my craft.
Long, hot summer days and nights were spent over the next few years learning the in's and out's of the stand. I learned which window's were best to be stationed on during busy days (the far end), I learned how to balance a perfect swirl of soft serve frozen yogurt on the side of a soda cup for a yogurt float (no small feat!). I learned how to keep a smile on my face as I told the 100th person for the day that no, Kimball's does not serve Bubble Gum ice cream, nor do they have cherries for sundae's or rainbow sprinkles. I learned where each flavor was located in the walk in freezer for refills- and how to sneak in there without being seen by a fellow employee. Getting spied, of course, meant that you would be locked into the freezer until someone else finally went to get another flavor- all in good fun of course. I learned to laugh at the same jokes ("Do you want nuts on your sundae sir?" "No- I'm nuts enough!") over and over. And, as impossible as it may seem, I learned that I can, in fact, reach my limit of ice cream and no longer be able to stomach it. Thankfully, I got over this a few years after I stopped working at the stand.
I finished my time at the Farm just before my Senior year of high school and moved on to more "permanent" (read non seasonal) employment. However, Kimball's remains a spot where local high school kids go for their first jobs, and though it is hard work, it is a very fun place to learn the ropes of "career life". Each year they welcome on a new batch of kids who, in turn, continue to create the appeal of a small town ice cream stand, a local food business to the patrons who flock there every year. There is nothing "corporate" about the inside of that stand- and that's the way I like it.
Kimball's is a place that people make pilgrimages to each year, but it is also a place where you will probably run into someone you know, and if you grew up in the area, you absolutely know someone who worked there. To me, as massive as Kimball's may be, it is still the essence of a local business.