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Wayne Kingsley: A small vegetable farmer who left a big impression

WAYNE KINGSLEY, SHOWN in a 2008 photo at his namesake farm and farm stand in Forest Dale, was well known and well liked for his produce, his honesty, his hard work and his friendliness. Photo by John Kane

FOREST DALE — Ask anyone who knew him, and a lot of folks did, and they’ll tell you Wayne Kingsley was one of the nicest, most honest, humble, sincere, hardest-working, talkative men they’d ever met. And he was a magnificent farmer, man of the land, who raised the best corn they’d ever eaten.

And it wasn’t just locals who knew Wayne, hundreds of visitors from around Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake knew him as well.

“I’ve been going to Lake Dunmore for 30 years and known him most of that time,” said John Kane, a Massachusetts resident who has been visiting the area since he attended college. “Naturally, when you’d want corn, you go to Wayne’s Farm Stand, not because it was just the most convenient, but because it was the best.”

And you’d also go for the conversation.

“We’d get to talking and we’d have these deep philosophical conversations. It was just magical,” Kane recalled. “Here was this classic Vermont farmer, not only because of what he did, but how he looked — sharp angular features, crisp blue eyes, lines on his face that were different from those of the folks I knew. Each one represented like a ring on a tree, of all the seasons. And he knew so much, of farming but of all things. You’d really get a better understanding of yourself when you talked to him.”

Kane, who studied photography, would end up taking some classic black and white photos of Kingsley around the farm on Forest Dale Road — some of which Kingsley hung on his living room walls.

“That day we took the photos was a special day, he really opened himself up and was vulnerable… almost brings tears to my eyes. He had great pride in growing food and having people in the community reap the rewards of that. We miss that in the city. Wayne was truly the first farmer I’ve ever known — who I could call by his first name and we knew a bit about each other.

“We’d talk about his crops, of course, and about the weather, but also about the general state of affairs and family dynamic, always there at the farm stand, and with each season … there was a new conversation, a new insight.”

Kane took the photos in 2008, when Kingsley was 70. Kane was 38 and getting his master’s in education, researching archetypes, the people we aspire to be, that level of accomplishment we seek to achieve. “Wayne had that and I always admired his work ethic, the focus, the dedication and passion. He was the definition of a farmer. Never any question about it… that’s just who he was. I studied Norman Rockwell, and to me, Wayne had that quintessential look and persona, that farmer, the essence of farming wrapped into this wonderful guy.”

Wayne Kingsley, 84, died on Friday, March 4, 2022, after having been ill from cancer that was discovered in late last fall. He was born in Ticonderoga, N.Y., on Oct. 25, 1937, graduated from Chestertown (N.Y.) High School and received degrees in forestry from Paul Smith’s College and Syracuse University.

He worked in the U.S. Forest Service for over 32 years in timber and fire management in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Vermont. He became a resident of Forest Dale in 1965, when he bought the few acres of land that were known since the mid-1970s as “Kingsley’s Farm Stand.”

But there was more than just farming.

Kingsley was an avid outdoorsman, hunter and trapper, as well as an avid vegetable farmer. He was a co-founder and first vice president of the Vermont Trappers Association.

His neighbor-down-the-road-a-bit Fred Putnam Jr. knew Wayne since the mid-1970s when the two worked on the same forest service crew. Wayne, who was a few years older, was also “trapping and trading in furs and cowhides,” Putnam recalled.

The two men got into separate fields within the forest service, but they stayed in touch and both retired from the Forest Service more than three decades later. During all that time, Putnam said, Kingsley also ran his small vegetable farm and the farm stand.

WORK ETHIC

That Kingsley had two jobs was no surprise to Putnam.

“Anybody you talk to will talk about his work ethic, which was well over the top; hard to match. Just as was his honesty and integrity. Simply unmatched. He had no false fronts, very genuine. The person he was, was always just there… right in front of you.”

It was why, Putnam said, he always managed his farm stand on a code of honor. People picked up the vegetables on their own, put the money in a lock box and, if he wasn’t around to visit with, they’d come back another time to talk.

“He just assumed other people would have his same sense of honesty and integrity,” Putnam said, adding that it didn’t always work out that way, as Wayne would tell in stories.

“But overall people responded in kind,” Putnam said. “And that’s the way he wanted it, and who he was. Just an honest guy to the core with a lot of integrity.”

Local artist and author Ashley Wolff was also a close friend of Kingsley’s, and who dedicated a children’s book to him about a farmer (drawn as Kingsley’s favorite dog, Rufus) raising pumpkins. The book was published in 2021 and called “How to Help a Pumpkin Grow,” which was dedicated to “a man outstanding in his field.”

Wolff, like many others, had fond remembrances of Kingsley and many stories, but summed up the feelings of many when she wrote, “Here on Lake Dunmore, Wayne will be deeply missed. He was a great neighbor and friend.”

After learning of Kingsley’s death, another lake friend, Mark Evans, posted on social media: “A very sad note that Wayne Kingsley passed away last Friday. Kingsley’s Farm Stand was an institution in Forest Dale. Loved by many and known for much more than his delicious corn, he will be missed by all who knew him. For those of you who stuffed dollar bills into the box to pay for plants, fruits and vegetables, our region is less rich with the passing of Wayne…. He will be missed.”

Others added their voices:

  • “He was a treasure,” Jon Freeman.
  • “I was saddened to hear the news last week. And of course last year when Jon (Wood) passed, he was so instrumental in the growth of sustainable farming in Vermont. The community is going to be different without our two favorite farmers! They, of course, were more than just farmers; for so many they were friends to share a little of life and enjoy the neighborly conversation,” Chip Paison.
  • “Man, he will be missed!!!! The end of an era. What he gave to the community was exceptional,” Bruce Acciavatti/Wonder Walks.
  • “That is so sad. I used to chat with Wayne about ‘life, the universe and everything.’ And, of course, buy his corn, vegetables, and spice starts. He was a good person… my heart goes out to his family and close friends,” Rebecca Holmes.
  • “He was a wonderful person, donating many vegetables to local agencies and being kind to all. This man knew his gardening! He was a wealth of information regarding farming. I for one will miss ‘picking his brain’ regarding growing food and processing hides. My heart is heavy knowing he won’t be down the road to visit with. He will be sorely missed!” Karen Rhodes.
  • “OMG, just so SAD to hear! Thanks for the post, broke my heart, he was an Institution. Many, many happy memories there with him. Gosh, RIP, Farmer Wayne,” Regina Styles.
  • “This is the loss of a very good neighbor. Wayne was rarely in evidence when I would stop by his stand to marvel at the selection and reasonable prices he always offered. It spoke worlds about him, though — much hard work in evidence, quality, fairness, and the recognition of a way of doing business that speaks to the best in us. To know that the little shed at the end of the drive would annually offer his delicious fresh corn selections was one of summer’s delights and will be sorely missed. Farewell, Wayne,” Hilary Hatch.

A memorial service “In Celebration of His Life” will be held on Monday, April 4, 10 a.m. at the Forest Dale Christian Fellowship Church. The Rev. Barry Tate, pastor, will officiate.

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