Even residents of Salem are hard-pressed to imagine where a farm fits into the city’s urban landscape. However, sitting on a hill near the Swampscott border, just a stone’s throw from Vinnin Square and surrounded by modest ranch-style homes, Maitland Mountain Farm fits neatly into the surrounding neighborhood. But behind its residential façade is a smartly diversified two-and-a-half-acre business growing specialty greens, horseradish, and flowers, as well as producing a line of savory, crave-worthy pickled products.
Brought together by a love of the land, Holly Maitland, who grew up on the plot, and her husband, Andy Varela, have been exploring ways to make a living from the urban oasis through trial and error. They struck gold with their pickles, which are turning up on trendy tables around the North Shore and in Boston. The couple now produces 6,000 pounds of pickle products per week, from a classic refrigerator pickle to mushrooms to giardiniera—an Italian mix of vinegary vegetables, including carrots, cauliflower, and peppers.
“We do the pickles so we can keep our farm going in the winter,” says Varela, noting that on the North Shore, the 18-week growing season coupled with the higher cost of living means farmers need to be creative to survive. “Holly and I are trying to show people that you can make an income on a small farm.”
It helps that Holly Maitland is passionate about pickles. “As a kid, I always loved pickles,” she recalls—so much that she was often warned about making herself sick from eating too many. But her interest turned from favorite snack to a business after Maitland, faced with a plethora of produce, Googled “24-hour pickles” a few years back.
The results were so delicious that “I was hoarding them,” Maitland recalls. But she wisely decided to share a few with Matt O’Neil, chef and owner of The Blue Ox in Lynn, where she was working at the time, and he was hooked, too, with The Blue Ox quickly becoming the first restaurant to offer the crunchy, vinegary bites.
Word of their crisp, delicious local product quickly spread, and now food service is the couple’s main focus. “Restaurants buy more food than every farm stand and CSA combined,” Varela says, adding that with a straightforward ingredient list and a 30-day shelf life, Maitland Mountain products are unique in the supply chain.
“There were no options of a preservative-free pickle, especially for restaurants,” Varela says, noting that most commercially prepared pickles are laden with undesirable additives. “A lot of chefs are feeling more responsible for what they put in front of their customers.”
The pair just moved their pickling operation into a 2,800-square-foot facility in Lynn, more than quadruple the previous space, which gives them the ability to expand their offerings—and stoke a fermentation fascination. “We’re having more fun with it now,” Maitland says. “Before, it was mild pickle spears and spicy pickle spears—we were getting a bit bored with it.” This year, new briny staples include kohlrabi, beets, gorgeous red onions, and their delicious Spicy Ginger Turmeric Pickle Chips—slightly hot, sweet, and earthy—and plans are in the works to experiment with wild fermentation.
The new space also affords Maitland and Varela the opportunity to work with more local growers, both buying as much in-season produce as they can pickle and planning with farmers well in advance to grow specific crops.
“The more we do this, the more opportunity we have to support local growers,” like Alprilla Farm in Essex and Cedar Rock Gardens in Gloucester, Varela says. This year Maitland Mountain bought about 100,000 pounds of produce, with 60 percent from local farms, and next year they hope to double that. “Even a small space can produce a lot of cucumbers,” he says. “You don’t need 20 acres to make something viable.”
Many local restaurants and markets carry Maitland Mountain products, but for the widest variety, try Shubie’s Marketplace in Marblehead year-round and Utopia Farms in Manchester from April through December. For details on where else to find pickled goodness, visit Maitlandmtnfarm.com, or check out their Facebook page to see what they are brining now.
Maitland Mountain Farm
23 Cedarcrest Ave., Salem