The Atkins Farms apple-growing business was started in 1887, when Howards grandfather came to South Amherst and planted the first McIntosh trees. The orchards were expanded over the years but the Atkins sold most of their apples wholesale, all just within a radius of 100 miles of the orchards. In the 1950s, Howard started selling apples out of the garage near the family home, and then from the cold-storage building and cider mill he built on South East Street.
When I came to work for Howard Atkins in 1963, my oldest son, Mike, was not yet a year old. Now that puts things in a different perspective for me! In the 60's we worked out of an office in Howard's home on South East Street, where Mike often came to work with me. In those years, Howard was busy running the farms (both the orchard and dairy farm), working as an Eastern States Representative, and getting a feel for the retail business. He would record personal radio station ads and place newspaper ads in the Holyoke Transcript. However, the advertising job soon was delegated to me as Howard concentrated on his other responsibilities.
The retail business soon showed promise, and we could see a need for more and earlier varieties of apples for the increasing number of customers. In 1964, one hundred and fifty acres of land was purchased in Belchertown. The higher elevation of this land would help to assure us of an annual crop of quality apples by escaping more of the spring frosts. At the same time, several of the Amherst orchards were getting closed in by a booming housing growth in Amherst. The land in Belchertown was ideal. More land was purchased and was cleared of woods and stone walls. Twenty years later there were over 200 acres of dwarf and semi-dwarf apple, peach and pear trees covering the land.
As the retail business grew, new products were carefully and slowly added. Produce was purchased from local farmers and then from the market during the winter months. I can remember the first peanut butter machine and the first oven we bought to bake pies. Prior to that, we had purchased pies from a home baker in Belchertown. Maple syrup, honey and jams and jellies were added to our product list. Not only did we grow in farm acreage and retail business during the late 60s and early 70s but, more importantly, we grew with very valuable and vital new associates. In 1969, Harold Gould (now deceased) came to work for Atkins. He had previously been employed with Agway, but came to work on the farm with Howard. Harold soon became an indispensable part of the retail business, and has remained so through the years. Also in 1969, the retail business was incorporated and was outgrowing the original building.