How Adams Fairacre Farms grew from one small stand into four stores that employ more than 1,000 people

Ralph Adams Sr. with his son Donald, circa 1957

Adams Fairacre Farms is an institution – one that has been around for nearly a century. When Ralph and Mary Adamucci began selling vegetables out of their farmstand in 1919, they probably had no intention of building a small grocery and nursery dynasty in the Hudson Valley. Now owned and run by their son Donald and his two sons, Patrick and Steve, the popular markets in Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Kingston and Wappinger serve a growing customer base that expects to find nothing but the best in produce, meats, fish, candies and baked goods, along with a full-service nursery department in each location.

Adams employs more than 1,000 people in its four locations, and the company focuses on creating a work atmosphere that blends family values with professionalism. In addition to on-the-job training for a broad variety of positions, staff members receive ongoing support to expand their skills and take on increased responsibilities. Many stay on for years, decades even.

Mike Paesano is the general manager of the Kingston store. “I started out as the bakery manager 17 years ago. I come from a bakery and food background. When things changed and our company expanded, I was the lucky-enough guy to become the store manager. This store in Kingston opened in 1981. The Adamses bought a piece of property in Poughkeepsie in the early 1900s and started farming it.

Advertisement

“That’s how Adams began in the Hudson Valley: It’s been ‘Adams’ for a very long time, although a few people in Poughkeepsie still call them ‘Adamucci’ from time to time. They had a small structure, one of those drop-box farmstands where people leave money and take their food. Ralph and Mary had four children who all worked the farm. In the 1950s they built the first real farmstand store with garage doors. In the ‘’60s, they expanded a little bit more, and in the ’70s they added fish and deli foods. In the ’80s they added meat and bakery foods, and so on. Each store has a nursery: an inside garden center with a tropical greenhouse and a seasonal greenhouse. Originally the nursery was something they did just to add some revenue to their business, but it turned out to be a really great thing. It separates us from other grocery stores.”

It is highly unusual to have a nursery and landscaping operation open year-round on the East Coast. “It’s great to be a part of something so unique,” says Paesano. “We work together as a team and try to help one another. If somebody sees a great class that we could all learn from, we run it by each other and get everybody involved – all four stores. More and more, over the last 17 years we’ve become a lot closer with the other stores. Donald, the youngest son of Ralph and Mary, and his two sons are in the stores every day. In fact, up until about two years ago, Donald was in every store every day.”

In Newburgh, store manager Mark Wheeler, an 18-year employee, confirms the notion that the company atmosphere nurtures success. “I started as assistant store manager, and about six years ago when the Adamses opened the Wappinger location, my boss Barbara Johnson was asked to manage that one. I moved up to general manager here. This family is probably the best you could ever work for. They consider us all ‘family.’ The owners, around a couple times week, know everybody’s name, right down to the new people pushing carts. They care. They expect us to work hard and do a good day’s work, but it’s not like you’re just a number or just the next person in to fill a slot.”

Considering the growth of the company, it’s phenomenal for that tone to be maintained. “I grew up in Poughkeepsie and still live there,” says Wheeler. “I knew what Adams was, long before the Newburgh store was built. In Poughkeepsie it’s a way of life, shopping at Adams. It’s just something you do. In high school, I worked there for a summer. Being able to come back to work for them all these years later – again, they appreciate friendly people who are great to their customers. A lot of us go above and beyond; we look for the right people who do that every day for the customer.”

Paesano explains what makes the company structure work so well: “The owners hire specialty managers for each department. Then we let them run their departments as if they are their own small businesses. It makes Adams have a different feel from other stores. Ideas are not coming from corporate; they’re coming from that ‘shop-owner.’ They feel more artistic, as if they can really run it like it’s their own. Not everybody has the money to go into business. So when you work for somebody who lets you be your own entrepreneur, you really thrive in that atmosphere.”

“I think the key is to stick with the old-fashioned plan of talking to the customers. Make them feel at home, like they’re gonna go see Phil on grocery or Fred in meat or Joe in fish or Nicole in the bakery or Kathryn in the deli,” adds Paesano. “We want people to feel comfortable about coming to talk to us – not only us as managers, but our staff as well. Everybody should keep building their own customer base. That’s what makes us different.”

Adams offers free educational seminars during the off-season each January and February. Typically held on Saturdays, Sundays or Wednesdays, these include a wide range of subjects – from learning about insect pollinators, seed-starting, opening your pond, container gardening, deerproofing, orchid care and birds to a veritable feast of choices in the culinary department. Customers can learn how to prepare strombolis, seafood pizza, fish tacos, bread pudding, meatballs, soups, granola, hamantash and much more. How-to demos inspire cupcake- and cake-decorating, cheesemaking, creating dynamo appetizers, chocolate truffle-making and piemaking. Well-being talks include breakthroughs in arthritis treatment, eating for energy, fitness and fat-burning and digestive health. “The seminars are great for customer interaction,” says Paesano. “We have fun, get to feed everybody.”

Adams gears up for its much-anticipated Garden Shows

Customers have also come to expect great things from the annual Garden Shows held at each location in February and March. Work starts on transforming a giant room, normally stocked with tables and shelves of seasonal plants, right after the holidays. Truckloads of garden dirt are brought indoors to be shaped and planted out. A stroll through the greenhouse completely landscaped with flowering spring bulbs, annuals, trees and shrubs gives shoppers hope that spring will soon arrive. The installations of ponds, walls, patios and walkways makes them think that it might come sooner rather than later.

“Our landscape crew has been working hard to install that, and our nursery staff helps, too,” says Wheeler. “Between our landscape people doing snowplowing and working on the garden show, it keeps most of them employed year-round, rather than seasonally. You can retain good people that way. Every year customers get to see a vision of things they could do in their yard. Our bakery does a nice cake, something spring-related. It gets people itchy with spring fever. Usually a week after the Garden Show premieres, we do a local food show with a lot of the vendors we deal with: local honey, maple syrup, cheeses. People get to taste things that maybe they would not know we sell, or maybe they’re a little more expensive because they come from small purveyors. So they get the experience in a big food-show-type setting right in our Garden Show.”

This year the shows will run from February 23 to March 4 in Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, and March 3 to 11 in Kingston and Wappinger. The free Garden Show also includes seminars on growing your favorite plants and crops, prize giveaways and free raffles.

Adams Fairacre Farms retail stores and nurseries are located in Poughkeepsie at 765 Dutchess Turnpike, (845) 454-4330; in Kingston at 1560 Ulster Avenue, Lake Katrine, (845) 336-6300; in Newburgh at 1240 Route 300, (845) 569-0303; and in Wappinger at 160 Old Post Road, (845) 632-9955. All locations are open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit www.adamsfarms.com for more information.

Post Your Thoughts