Spotlight on Van Alstyne – Stillwaters Farm
When we pulled into the driveway at Stillwaters Farm we stopped in front of a small outbuilding that had a sign on the side saying “Welcome to the Farm”. Martha soon opened the door and invited us into her well-equipped kitchen. We noticed all of her certificates and permits displayed on the wall allowing her to operate her business. She had graciously welcomed us by setting out a sample of her 5 Star Pepper Jelly, some cream cheese and crackers. I do believe this is where we lost David!
We asked Martha how she and Rick started Stillwaters Farm?
Martha said, “I have been making jams, jellies and fruit butters for years and then started giving them as gifts to family and friends. Before I knew it, they started asking me to make some for their families and friends. That’s when I decided maybe I could make a business out of it. So, that’s what I did, and it’s just grown and grown. We have several items, but one of our most popular is apple butter. I can’t keep enough of it in stock. A lot of people tell us it’s just like their grandmas used to make. We’ve noticed that the older generation seems to have more of a connection to the apple butter.”
Martha and Rick moved from Plano about 15 years ago because they wanted to get out of the city, and get some property. Their property, just west of Van Alstyne, has most everything they need to produce their products. They gave us a walking tour of the farm where we saw their peach, pear and plum trees are just starting to produce. In another area the grape vines and blackberry bushes are starting to grow, and there is also a large garden area where all the peppers were getting ready to be planted. They have beautiful wildflowers scattered along the path and towards the back of the property is where you’ll find their beehive boxes. At the moment, they only have one active box, but hope to get the other boxes up and running. Martha did let us know that she loves taking on new projects, and that may mean Rick gets to learn a new skill as well!
We were curious; we didn’t see any strawberry plants or apple trees, so how did they make those all those yummy butters and jams? Rick told us, “Any time there isn’t enough fruit being harvested from the farm, they have several other farms they purchase from. We buy from growers, not from the supermarket, everything is bought fresh.” Because they don’t grow any apples on their farm, they make several treks a year back to an orchard in northwest Arkansas, near where they both grew up, met and married. Each trip they bring home 8 bushels, close to 600 apples.
Martha and Rick laughed a little when talking about all that had to be done after an ‘apple trip’. The fact that they are on a serious time crunch once they get the apples home. Each apple has to be peeled and cored before they get soft. Some are used right away, but most are frozen for later on in the season. “You ought to be around when peaches are in season, cause I get sick of looking at peaches, and they’re my favorite fruit! Plums are much easier because I just juice them, we don’t have to worry about peeling them.”
Like many small businesses, Martha and Rick do everything. “We do get our grandkids to help when they visit. They are quite helpful when it comes to harvesting the fruit from the tops of the trees. And they are well aware of all the rules, they come in and they all have their own aprons and bandanas. I came in from the garden one time and one of the granddaughters reminded me I had to wash my hands before doing anything.”
How would you like to see VA grow and change?
The growth we see, makes me sad, and at the same time makes me happy. We have been out here by ourselves for quite a while, and we see development starting just down the road. I’d like to see it get busy as far as restaurants and businesses are concerned, but at the same time I hope people are respectful of each other. We agreed that controlled growth is probably the best way to keep the small town feel.
What do you want people to know about your business?
“The fact that we grow most of the produce ourselves, that it’s all fresh. People can taste the difference. We have customers whose children will not eat grocery bought jelly, they will only eat ours. It’s individually made, not massed produced.” Each batch made produces about 12 to 14 jars. “I may go out and make one batch one day, or I may do 10 batches in a day, depends on how I feel and what’s on TV.”
How have people been able to find you? You’re kind of off the beaten path, so how would one know you’re here?
Martha told us, “Word of mouth, really. We sell mostly at shows, like Vintage Market Days in McKinney and Decatur. We do several shows in Flower Mound, Denton and Waxahachie area. People know to look for us. I have people come in, buy a case of apple butter, and say ‘Christmas is taken care of!’ We also work with corporations and businesses. We recently started making gift baskets for a realtor friend that will be using them to give her homebuyers. And we have a larger corporation down in Dallas that we do around 50 Christmas baskets for. Because of the growing demand, we expect we’ll have to increase our fruit production over the coming year.”
We have to say, we enjoyed our time visiting with Martha and Rick out on their property and learning all about Stillwater Farms. Martha was super sweet and sent us home with a jar of 5-Star Pepper Jelly, Cinnful Peach, Simply Strawberry and Blueberry Honey. And we would love to tell you we got a pretty photo of those jars, but the truth is, we were more concerned with opening them and diving in to each one of them and spreading them on a hot biscuit – and not a one of them disappointed!
If you’re wanting to try some fantastic jams, jellies and butters or if you’re needing a Mother’s Day gift, you can find Rick and Martha out at Vintage Market Days in McKinney this Thursday – Saturday (May 9-11). Look for the Stillwaters Farm booth, it’s sure to be the one with the crowd around it!
Stillwaters Farm - Rick and Martha Still
Van Alstyne, TX 75495