Susan and Wally Parks of Broadhead Mountain Farm


[box]Business: Broadhead Mountain Farm

Known for: the sweetest tomatoes on the planet and a contagious smile

Years at the market: 3

Why sell at the farmers market: “We love our customers.” “They are an extension of our family.”[/box]

If you walk by their stand on First Street, you won’t be able to ignore Broadhead Mountain Farm’s Susan and Wally’s big, white-toothed smiles. They draw you in. You are hooked. Their produce has the same effect.

“We are really into clean growing and eating, with no use of pesticides or chemicals,” says Susan. “Our customers appreciate that.” Self-described “fanatics of fresh produce,” Susan and Wally will tell you that they are by no means professional growers, but “We are still authentic, though.”2

Their painstakingly detailed care for the soil has produced what customers often refer to as “the best tomatoes in the world:” sweet, subtle and incredibly flavorful. The credit goes to Wally, says Susan. “It’s his sweat and it’s the soil,” she says laughing.

Broadhead Mountains Farm’s first ever farmers market happened in Forest Lakes quite a few moons ago because of a surplus of beans. “A friend said to bring them to the market,” says Susan. Her daughter thought it would be a fun idea. “She was the catalyst. We had no tent, just a little table with beans.” And that’s exactly how it started.

In the years that followed, their garden began to grow and with it the idea of becoming a vendor at the Charlottesville City Market. But an accident brought the dream to a temporary halt. “A tree fell on Wally and I had to get into the garden and learn the ropes,” says Susan. Under Wally’s guidance, she learned to grow produce from seed, treat the soil and watch the bounty come to life. “I am his apprentice,” she said with a laugh.

“He had a great idea, grow what the customers want,” says Susan referring to the customer base they were able to build. “If the customers want something, we are willing to try it.” Their newest addition was okra.

“We love growing okra. Our customers like it small and fresh, so I pick them every day,” she says. In fact, Susan and Wally, who by day works in finance, have a rhythm for picking their produce that has become, by now, second nature. Alarm goes off at first light. Coffee is drunk in the dark. Beets are picked early since they cannot withstand the heat of the summer sun. In the spring and summer, picking produce is a day-consuming task, but in the fall the main activity is maintenance of the soil.

One of the things Susan loves most about the farmers market is the exchange of recipes. “People always bring me new recipes and we love to cook and eat as a family,” she says. Her favorite current recipe is pesto, but has learned to love baking, too. Sweet potato scones soon became another favorite.

Once a teacher’s aide for a school in Albemarle County, Susan says the secret to their success as human beings is their tight-knit family and the connection their three daughters have with the garden and their home. “I think the reason I am always smiling is because at the age of 50 I have finally discovered my true self,” says Susan. “Regardless of how hot or tiring or busy the garden may be it is the place I am at peace.”