Heartbreak in Whately, MA

Photo credit: www.buylocalfood.com

A massive fire tore through the Golonka farmhouse in Whately, Massachusetts last week. Sonia and Mary Golonka died. A sad day for the Golonka family, the Pioneer Valley agricultural community and the never ending stream of customers who visit the Golonka Farm produce stand all season long.

Most farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated. USDA defines family farms as “any farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation.”

In 1956, Mary Golonka was a young farmer’s wife with a growing family. She and her husband Bernard started out growing cucumbers. I can only imagine how many families made pickles with Golonka cucumbers over the years. Their youngest son is the farmer now. Jim Golonka and his wife built the farm stand some 25 years ago. Most days, his sister Sonia, who lived in the family home with the elder Mrs. Golonka, manned the counter.

Golonka Farm’s vegetable stand is my favorite place to shop during the growing season. And for good reason. The produce is exceptional and everyone knows about where to find the best tasting corn in the valley come July. Not to mention, every purchase came with a smile and a forecast from Sonia Golonka on what next crop would be ready for buying when I returned the next weekend.

Sonia loved to knit, cook and gave good advice about both. At the close of last season, I stopped for enough pumpkins to make pie filling for the upcoming holidays. After Sonia sweet talked me into trying a jar of corn cob jelly. I said goodbye as fitting for the end of the growing season. “See you in the spring,” I said.

“I’ll be here,” she responded with her typically shy smile. She waved, I waved back.

This morning I used the last of that corn jelly on a piece of toast. I’ll be looking for another jar later this year. True to her word, Sonia will be there. She’ll be watching over her family, the farm stand and customers like me who came to care for her over many years of Sonia’s shy smiles … from heaven.

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