Another piece of old Andover has been lost with the passing this fall of Peter Loosigian. A fixture at Strawberry Hill Farm on Lowell Street for most of his 91 years, Pete had come to be known as the old farmer who could always be spotted either driving a tractor, working his way through the brambles of the raspberry patch, or kneeling amid rows of strawberries or vegetables ripe for harvesting. Growing things was his love and true calling on the scant 10 rocky acres that had been his family’s home for nearly 100 years.
Peter made his first appearance in the front bedroom of the 1830 farmhouse on a cold day in February 1921, the youngest child and only son of Armenian immigrant parents. A good student, he was the proud winner of the Barnard Essay Contest during his Punchard High School years. Soon after, he joined the Army Air Corps during World War II, serving in the Pacific. His military training led him to a post-war job at Watson Park, a chemical company in Ballardvale.
Around that time he got lucky, meeting and winning the hand of Alice Arozian, an attractive and vivacious art school graduate from Watertown. She would have to make a huge adjustment to farm life when Peter decided to turn his folks’ subsistence farm into a viable business. And that he did, with her help and that of other family members who regularly pitched in, including their daughter Lisa, sons Jon and Peter, his sister Bertha, and nephew John Durgerian.
And so, for more than 60 years Strawberry Hill would be synonymous with the man himself. The farm was his main source of pride and the true love of his life. He knew every inch of it like the back of his hand and worked it tirelessly seven days a week spring, summer, and fall.
Winters were spent ordering seeds from catalogs and planning what and how much to plant in which field. What little spare time there was would include reading, baseball, and a love of the music of Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra. The few winters he was able to spend in Florida, upon arrival he would begin planting tomato and basil plants in his and his neighbors’ yards. It gave him tremendous satisfaction to see the fruit of his labor thriving in the warm Florida sunshine. But he was always anxious to return in March to get on with the plowing and planting as the new growing season began in Andover. It was a routine that never got old for him. That cycle of the seasons was for him life itself.
Several components went into the success of Strawberry Hill Farm. Weather was certainly one, but not the most vital. Lots of sunshine surely helped growing plants, but a lack of rain could be compensated for by irrigation. Fertilizer also played a big part. Maintenance of tractors and other equipment was an ongoing affair.
But the most vital factor was WORK – long hours of often strenuous, sometimes tedious, work, work, work. Peter thrived on it and measured himself and everyone else by how much they produced in a day, whether in baskets, bushels or pounds. Of course, it was not just about quantity. Quality was equally important. No white-tipped strawberries, mushy raspberries (indicated by telltale stained fingers), or undersized corn husks were tolerated. Despite age and fading eyesight, those standards never changed over the years.
Peter always expected the end would come for him one sweltering hot day in one of the fields. But it was only fitting, and far more practical, that it would hold off until the season had ended, with the stand closed and everything tucked away for winter. No doubt he’ll rest easier knowing that he left no unfinished business behind.
As to the future of the farm, for now it will go on, albeit without the presence of that crusty old farmer either sitting high at the helm of a tractor or crouched intently over his lovingly tended crops.