The Families behind Snell Family Farm
Perhaps you have met one of us on a visit to the farm, or your last trip to the farmers’ market in Portland or Saco. You may have talked to Ramona or Carolyn Snell at the Portland Market or Louisa Anderson at Saco or up in the apple house in the fall. Perhaps you ran into John Snell Jr. while buying vegetables at our roadside stand or around town, and maybe Rita Anderson helped you choose which kind of tomatoes to plant in your vegetable garden. Here’s a brief history of our farm and the families behind it.
Snell Family Farm began in 1926 when Henry Snell (John Snell Jr.’s grandfather) moved to the Buxton farm in search of fresher air for a healthier lifestyle to help him recover from tuberculosis. He and his wife, Ruth, and their six children began raising poultry for meat and egg production, selling the farm products locally in Saco and Biddeford. There was a small apple orchard at the farm, and Henry planted more trees, enlarging the orchard, and raising vegetables, and keeping a couple of cows. Henry was a careful manager, and for years the Snell poultry business flourished. The fresh air treatment was effective, too, as both Henry and Ruth lived well into their nineties.
Henry’s son John Sr (Jack) joined the farm and ran the orchard part of the farm until the late 1990s. During Jack’s tenure, the expanded orchard began producing enough so that in addition to local sales, many of the apples were trucked to Boston. The poultry business ended in the early 1960’s, but the apple orchard continued to be a focus of activity. As the chickens left the farm, the Snells built a refrigerated apple storage. John Jr. grew up working for his grandfather and then his father, picking and grading eggs, pruning apple trees, harvesting fruit, haying, and experiencing life on the farm.
Meanwhile, across the river in Hollis, Rita and Frank Anderson were farming their land growing food for their family. Daughters Louisa, Ramona, and Wanda grew up with a special love for growing vegetables. Both the Snell and Anderson families were active in York County 4-H clubs, managing projects that gave the young people hands-on experience with agriculture.
When Jack Snell’s son John Snell Jr. and his wife Ramona Anderson married in 1975, they began growing vegetables, especially fall crops to sell alongside the apples Henry and Jack were growing and selling. Ramona taught middle and high school English until she and John began their family with first daughter, Margaret, in 1981. Already John and Ramona were growing vegetables in the summer and fall to sell at the farm and at farmers’ market in Saco. Ramona’s sister Louisa, an elementary school teacher, helped in the fields, and especially worked selling at Saco Farmers’ Market. This year, 2013, will be her thirty-seventh year at Saco Market.
In an effort to decorate the sales area at the farm, Ramona installed and planted window boxes on the roadside stand. It seemed customers were more interested in the plants she had chosen than the produce they were selling, so John and Ramona began planning their first greenhouse to raise flowering plants. By now they had welcomed daughter number two, Carolyn, and son Edward to the family. Ramona’s mother, Rita, and sisters Louisa and Wanda helped in the new greenhouse, transplanting, watering, and selling.
That first greenhouse worked out so well, the Snells built another and another, but the first one is still intact, and you can visit it; we’ve named it Greenhouse Number One.
In 1998 we started our CSA program, allowing our customers to invest in the farm by pre-buying farm products. We’ve added crops and dropped crops, picked some back up, and tried different growing techniques. One of our newest enterpirses is Pick Your Own Raspberries. Our first year of raspberry harvest was 2005.
The Snells have grown cut flowers for decades, making bouquets to sell at farmers' markets. Carolyn has taken on the cut flower piece of the business, contiuing with the weekly bouquets, and since 2010 designing florals for weddings and events.
Early on, Ramona and John committed to retail and the importance of local independent food sources for national security. Snell Family Farm has changed with generations and families growing, but much has stayed the same. We love growing things and we love selling them to local customers with whom we’ve cultivated a long relationship.