For years, the little red stand at Glenville Berry Farm on Swaggertown Road was a great place to get strawberries in the spring and fresh produce in summer.
But when longtime owners Leroy and Rose Breithling died, the farm stand sat empty and the fields went untended for growing seasons on end.
Now the soil again is being turned and garden plants reach skyward in tidy rows.
Three years ago, the 146-acre farm was purchased by Donald and Linda Bikowicz of Glenville, and they have completed extensive renovations to the property.
The barn, once white, has been reroofed and painted red. Inside, where cows used to stand, there is a new walk-in cooler and a business office. Large, white letters mounted high on the exterior announce that the establishment is now called Glenville Farm.
The modest house on the property has been renovated, and Donald Bikowicz said he’s considering renting it out.
Once again, the farm stand is open for business, offering fresh strawberries, along with flower and vegetable plants. This will be the second full season the stand has been open, and offerings have been expanded. As summer progresses, an extensive variety of produce will be available, including everything from peppers to potatoes to pumpkins.
Donald Bikowicz, whose day job is at Appolo Heating, grew up on a vegetable farm in Schenectady and bought Glenville Farm with the intent of getting back to his roots.
Putting the farm in working order while holding down a full-time job has been a major battle, he said, recalling the bins full of trash that had to be hauled away.
Nancy Bikowicz, Donald Bikowicz’s sister-in-law, tends the fledgling vegetable and flower plants in the two new greenhouses that have been erected on the property and volunteers on the farm whenever she’s needed.
As she pruned dead leaves from a potted nasturtium outside the farm stand, she recalled seeing the property for the first time.
“The farm stand was infested, the roof was coming down, the barn was full of trash, the yard was higher than me, and you could not even take it down because there was so much trash in there. We had to walk with a weedwhacker and pull out the metal and the pallets and the pails and whatever was left behind before we could even just knock it down,” she said.
“There was no water, there was no electricity, there was nothing. It was just the empty buildings.”
Working fields that had been left wild for years has been another challenge, she said, pointing out the chunks of shale scattered amid the rows of tomatoes, garlic and squash.
“There’s nothing you can do to hurry that. You just have to keep breaking it and picking at it and conditioning it,” she said.
Wild animals have also been helping themselves to the fresh produce growing in the fields. There have been raids made by the usual suspects, including deer, rabbits and raccoons, but also by some unanticipated pillagers.
Turtles have been venturing out of the duckweed-covered pond behind the barn to feast on the tender lettuce planted nearby.
“They’re big ones,” Nancy Bikowicz exclaimed, holding her hands out to demonstrate a shell size a bit larger than a dinner plate. “They come right up and eat it.”
To thwart the turtles and also to circumvent some of the less-than-perfect soil, a large, raised garden bed has been built behind the greenhouses.
Twenty-five acres of the property now are being farmed, with a goal to get up to 50.
The farm stand will be open until Thanksgiving, and the farm’s produce also is available at the Burnt Hills and Galway farmers markets.
Once Schenectady’s Electric City Food Co-op opens, it will be for sale there, too.
The community has been very enthusiastic about the rebirth of the farm.
“The people that come here are so appreciative and will go out of their way to come back because they want to support this kind of thing. This is what they want in their community,” Nancy Bikowicz added.
Future plans could include another greenhouse and maybe even a little country store that would also sell things like cheese, pies and maple syrup.
“We’re absolutely growing,” said Nancy Bikowicz. “I would like to think the Breithlings are shining down on us.”
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: