Xaverian Graduate Chris Bean is Reviving the Only Working Farm in Westwood
Thanks to Xaverian Brothers High School for contributing this article to Westwood Minute.
A drive along Clapboardtree Street in Westwood produces idyllic scenes with stately homes, established trees and fields, aging stone walls, and plenty of New England charm. The Bean Farm, right before the curve to Xaverian Brothers High School, melds with picture-perfect splendor into its surroundings. A large antique maroon home sits close to the road, surrounded by acres of fields. Bright spots of orange and yellow pumpkins dot the landscape. Sounds of roosters, geese, pigs, and a baby calf bubble through the quiet. And there overseeing it all in his paint-splattered pants and plaid flannel shirt is Chris Bean, a 2014 graduate of Xaverian who went on to study agriculture at Cornell University. His demeanor is quiet and unassuming, but his presence looms large, towering at 6’5” over his domain.
The Bean family has been tilling the New England soil since they came over from Scotland not long after the Mayflower arrived on these shores, making Chris a 14th generation farmer. He says he “caught the farming bug” from his grandfather, Charles Bean II, who opened the Bean Farm in 1971. He raised his four sons there, and Chris and his brother, Charlie Bean IV (Xaverian Class of 2019), both grew up across the street from the farm on the land abutting Xaverian’s property.
When his grandfather passed away in 2010, Chris was just 14 years old in eighth grade. By that time, he knew he wanted to continue the family tradition of farming and he once again brought sections of the Bean Farm back to life, planting a large mix of vegetables including sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, peppers, and pumpkins. Chris started a wholesale operation selling his produce to local businesses such as Lamberts, Roche Brothers, and the High Street Market. He would come home each summer when he was in college and run a small roadside stand on the farm. And then when he officially returned home to Westwood after Cornell, he knew he had to get the farm back to being fully operational. That’s what he’s done. He says he’s now farming most of the family’s 26 acres and expanding his crop and livestock diversity each year.
Farming is Chris’s passion, but it’s not yet his paycheck. He’s working full-time in a construction company he co-owns, in addition to his work on the farm (which he describes as his “part-time job that requires full-time effort.”). Monday through Friday he’s up at 5:00 a.m. for construction, and he tries to be home by 3:00 p.m. for the farm. That’s when the farm stand opens on weekdays. “Then on Saturday and Sunday, we’re out there at 4:00 a.m. with headlamps picking corn and we work until it’s dark at night,” he says. The “we” he’s referring to are the only two other farmers, James Curtin and John Rogers, both from Westwood. “Without these two men, the farm wouldn’t be what it is today,” says Chris. He adds, “Their work ethic is unmatched and I’m blessed to have them by my side working the farm seven days a week.”
The Bean Farm is a work in progress, as Chris describes it, and he’s got a vision for what it can become. At present he’s growing a variety of pumpkins, sweet corn, squash, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and fresh flowers. He’s also branched out into animal husbandry and he’s caring for 150 egg-laying chickens on the farm in addition to pasture-raised meat chickens and turkeys for Thanksgiving. This year he added pigs, a baby calf, and three rabbits…although the cow and the rabbits are more to make his customers smile than to turn a profit. Chris admits he’s trying to create a memorable experience so they’ll return time and again. For fall, he’s set up a giant pyramid of hay bales, studded with pumpkins and a little bench nestled at the bottom, perfect for fall-themed family pictures after picking pumpkins out in the patch. But more important than repeat customers is teaching people where their food comes from.
“It’s really sad how little the public knows, especially in urban and suburban areas like this, first about how to grow food for themselves but also in general, how anything is grown or raised in this country,” says Chris. “There’s a huge disconnect between the farm, field, and table. It’s awful. So to keep something like this alive is a big deal. I want kids to see what happens on a farm, how the animals are raised, how the crops are grown, and all of the hard work that goes into it. It’s so important.”
When customers purchase produce, meat, or eggs through the Bean Farm, Chris aims to make it the best product around. He calls that, “Bean Farm Fresh.” All of the animals are out in the open air. His chickens and turkeys are pasture raised. He says he practices minimal tillage and plants a lot of crop cover to benefit soil health and reduce erosion. He doesn’t use insecticides and instead has an intensive integrated pest management program. “I try to do the right thing and use as little chemicals as possible,” he says. “I learned that from my grandfather. I do the best job that I can to give people the best product. That’s what it’s all about.”
Someday he hopes to be able to run the farm full-time, build a retail building, and expand his business. In the meantime, he says, “It’s a hell of a lot of work, but I love doing it.”