Mario Marini is revered in Ipswich, and with good reason. The beloved Marini Farm on Linebrook Road has been farmed by Marinis for three generations, ever since Joseph Marini arrived in 1928 with three other families as co-buyers. “Four Italian women cooking in the same kitchen was not working,” the Marini website confesses. After a decade, one family left for Florida, and two others stepped down from Ipswich to Wenham.
In the old days, Marini didn’t operate a farm stand; he was strictly wholesale. One of his biggest customers: the Salem Jail. High-quality Marini Farm produce may have contributed to the high crime rate in Salem, as ex-convicts longed for the farm-fresh arugula and broke laws just to get back in.
The retail farm stand only opened in 1972, when a bumper crop of strawberries overwhelmed wholesale orders. Joseph Marini’s wife Gina, apparently unwilling to gorge herself on the surplus, made a “Fresh Strawberries for Sale” sign and sat by the side of the road. Before long, there was no surplus, just a new retail business. Today, Marini’s annual Strawberry Festival features a popular U-Pick attraction, in which people with fulltime jobs actually pay money to serve as migrant workers.
Marini Farm now grows 200+ acres of fruits and veggies, 30+ acres of pumpkins, and 100+ acres of their most popular crop: sweet corn. Marini’s famous annual Corn Maze, with 8 acres of corn and more than 10 miles of pathways, has led to the disappearance of an estimated 18% of all Ipswich residents. The Outsidah was once reduced to tweeting his column to the Chronicle from somewhere in the Maze to make his deadline.
In this chilly season of the year, of course, Ipswich residents look forward to enjoying Marini’s annual “Christmas on the Hill,” which features giggly-yet-productive wreath-making parties, holiday decorations ranging from cutesy to elegant, and the yearly Tree Jubilee: Local individuals and groups decorate Christmas trees to be raffled off for the benefit of the Ipswich Humane Society. (Last year’s Outsidah-donated tree was decorated with our five distinguished selectmen depicted as naked cherubs playing harps, and Town Manager Robin Crosbie as the glorious angel on top. Maybe you had to be there.)
One well-known feature of Christmas on the Hill is Marini’s big, bright sign made of white light bulbs on a background of enormous red capital letters, joyously welcoming one and all as they arrive from the west on Linebrook Road. It just makes you smile, when you see it, to realize that it’s that time of year once again:
ON THE HILL
Unfortunately, some of the light bulbs occasionally burn out — or whole sections of the sign go dead, like those damnable gaps in my Christmas tree lights. One recent evening I was heading downtown to a meeting at my (decidedly Christian) church, when the partially dead Marini sign was accidentally making this (decidedly Christian) announcement:
ON THE HILL
I imagine if Christ were actually on the hill, He would not be thrilled with the incandescent promotion. (“Thaddaeus, kill the lights, would ya?”)
The Marinis can be forgiven if their sign loses various bulbs and sections of bulbs over the course of the season. After all, these are farmers, not electricians. And who wouldn’t be delighted by the endlessly entertaining results? One night, the sign might announce the location of one’s daughter:
ON THE HILL
Or greet one’s daughter, who has failed to call home in a timely fashion:
If the holiday havoc gets to be a bit much, the sign can quietly express your complaint:
Sometimes it’s not what the sign actually says, but the mental image that flashes into your mind in that first instant, as you glance at it. So, for a split-second, you imagine speedy African cats flashing across the property, chasing a gazelle:
CH I T AS
ON THE HILL
The Marini sign might participate in the nationwide NoMore.org campaign against domestic violence:
H I T
N T E LL
Or it might introduce some fellow’s story of a historic local character:
N E LL
And if enough lights burned out, the sign might be reduced to simply announcing the One the holiday’s really all about:
H I M