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AUBURN — Elmer Whiting figures the family farm and its iconic Auburn greenhouse and farm stand opened for business the year he was born: 1937.

“It’s been my whole life,” he said Wednesday. “That’s about all I can say.”

In a blow to the community, Whiting has closed his greenhouses to the public for good. He’ll still grow a few vegetables, with the help of a handful of friends and volunteers, but they’ll be wholesale goods.

“Hopefully, it’ll be just enough to pay the bills,” he said.

Whiting said he made the decision this spring. His older brother and lifelong partner, Buster Whiting, died in December and Elmer’s right hand is gnarled by a fungal infection he picked up five years ago.

“I got that from the good Earth,” he said. “It just gets worse and worse.”

No children, nieces or nephews have stepped forward to carry the operation forward for another generation.

“I’m going on 76 years old and my body is pretty much used up,” he said. “I just can’t keep up the pace.”

So, he’ll close. It breaks his heart, but he doesn’t see what other choice he has.

“Farming is a different kind of business,” Whiting said. “It’s too expensive these days and the supplies you need go up in price every single year. We have to compete with the big-box stores and they get their stuff from these big operations where everything is mechanized, so they can grow it cheaper than we can.”

Whiting grew up on the farm and never worked a day in his life anywhere else. His father William opened the greenhouse the year he bought the farm, selling vegetable seedlings to home farmers.

“You didn’t grow flowers,” Elmer said. “But as time wore on, by the time my brother and I graduated from high school, people had less vegetables and more flower gardens. So we went into that, because it was the trend. But we kept up with farming. We grew more and more every year.”

He is supported by a cadre of friends who come by to help plant and harvest the wholesale crops. Phillip Webber, 68, of Lisbon, said he has a good time doing it.

“I love the work and I love my friend over there,” Webber said. “It’s hard work, but we enjoy the farm.”

Whiting said he’ll miss his longtime customers and thanked them for their years of loyalty. But he doesn’t want them to stop by to pay their respects.

“That would just be too hard,” he said.

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Customer reaction

Here are some comments posted to the Sun Journal’s Facebook page about the closure of Whiting Farm greenhouse to the public:

Jen Evringham: “Very sad news. Going to miss this place!”

Gentian Violet: “I love these folks, and everything they stand for … honest hard work, and a love of the land. How about “renting out” ¼ or ½ acre plots of land for folks to grow their own. Elmer, I’d pay you for growing advice, too … “

Joan Weston: “I’ve bought my vegetable and flower plants, hanging plants, and fresh vegetables from Mr. Whiting’s stand for almost 40 years. I will miss pulling the wagon from greenhouse to greenhouse trying to decide which plants to select. The ‘big box’ stores just aren’t the same. 🙁 Thank you, Mr. Whiting. You’ve brought a lot of enjoyment to many people over the years.”

Claire Duplissis: “My husband was the produce manager for FoodTown years ago. I remember going to the Whitings Farm with him when he used to order produce for the store. We’d take our 2 girls with us; they were under 5 at the time and while Rudy would be out with Buster and Elmer, I’d go inside and visit their mother who was very elderly and nearly blind. But she would always have the girls sit down at their kitchen table and give them milk and homebaked cookies. Years later I still would go over to get my perennials and tomato plants. So many wonderful memories … “

Lise LaFontaine Lothrop: “A major, major loss to the whole community. So very sad to see you go.”

Melissa Diaz Caron: “Thank you Mr. Whiting for all of the wonderful vegetable and flower plants we purchased from you every year. We will also miss visiting your farm stand for pumpkins in the fall.”

Stacey Bilodeau LaBonte: “This place will always be a wonderful memory for me. I worked there one summer and had a blast! We will miss them!”

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