Farm Stories

Introductions to the farms in CT and the Heart behind why the grow

Woodstock Farms

two dogsGrandchildren are playing around the barn with the three farm dogs when you pull into the driveway.  Laughter and the friendly barking makes the place feel welcome and ready for whoever pulls up to the farm stand to make friends.man and woman in front of farm sign

During any work day, Amy isn’t always easy to find as someone has to weave through their many greenhouses abutting the barn to find her. When she is found, she’s ready to share with you: share her knowledge of plants, share her time with her grandchildren, to share the history of the Farm.

A farmer’s daughter, a farm mom, and a farm grandma, she and her husband keep the legacy of Woodstock Farm vibrant in the community.  That legacy is something she holds dear as she continues in the footsteps of “Mormor,” her mother who worked in the fields far into her twilight years, and was well loved throughout the town and beyond.

As you move through the vibrant colors of plants being well established in the greenhouses, and past the tilled fields, you notice the history in the generations of tractors that line themselves up in the shed, and the murals painted in the barn to indicate “Morfar’s Office” (Amy’s father).  They show a history of not a business (though Woodstock Farms is a quintessential family business), but walls, tools, and people that are imbued with care- for the land and the people that come onto the land.

For family farms that legacy can be hard to carry from generation to generation. Land passes hands, the work is hard, and crops and customers are never guaranteed.  But as I meet Amy’s daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, it seems that her parents hope for this plot of land will continue on and continue to play just as an important role in the Woodstock community, as Amy and her husband makes sure it does now.

Ashford Farmers Market

As Julie from Barton Farms straightens out her seedling display a woman approaches her gleefully exclaiming “I’m so excited, I’m so excited!”  She of course is talking about the opening of the Ashford Farmers Market at Pompey Hollow in Ashford.  Five vendors make an L around the dirt lot they occupy and welcome folks back to the new season by filling their stands with seedlings, jams and preserves, greens, radishes, meat, cheeses, and prepared foods.  The diversity sets you up for your whole meal planning efforts for the week.

Trays of marigolds get lifted from the stands as folks get their gardens ready and tomato charts are brought out as consumers decide between different varieties. This little market may look demure, but it is anything but quiet.

The gaggle of folks that come up and address the farmers by name and engage in “what have you been up to” is surprising.  When I ask Julie Barton (the market master)  how she knows all these folks, she says from just being at the market! “There is a sense of community here that I don’t find at any other farmers markets.  I’ve been here for about 10 years and have literally watched folks children grow up and get to know what’s happening in their lives.”

Of course, nothing against the big markets with the crowds of people weaving in and through stands of farmers, craft vendors and food trucks, but the Ashford Farmers Market is intended to be different- and you see people appreciate that difference as creases by their eyes indicate the big grin hiding behind their masks.  It’s a meeting of friends and a place to dawdle rather than an exchange of goods for tender.  A little girl dances among the vendors singing her favorite songs, folks rejoice at the bottles of maple syrup they discover at one stand, and a mother with 2 toddlers in tow goes to explore the vast green lawn and babbling brook located just behind the site.

Who can say what a traditional Connecticut Farmers Market looks like, but I imagine it’s something close to Ashford’s- filled with farmers woman at farmstand wit ha man and his childbringing the goods of their labor, the people that appreciate and savor their products, and most importantly, the joy of community: being known and knowing the individuals that make up their town and feed the community.

Bluebird Farm

As Joe steps into the paddock, the Maremma Sheepdogs that guard their animals instantly circle around vying for his attention and behind the ear scratches. Soon after, Carmen walks in and they do the same, quickly joined by a cow who insists on licking her free hand while she goes through the list of animals they keep: goats, two varieties of sheep, chickens, guinea hens, the three dogs, a cat, and even a miniature pig. A true collection of barn yard animals and love.

The forty acres they tend, with the myriad of creatures who explore the land, have not always been part of Joe and Carmen's life however.  Growing up in Maine, both of them were extremely connected to the outdoors: Carmen spending time with horses and Joe volunteering to keep the Appalachian trails near his home in working condition. When the professional world and other obligations started to take time away from those interests they found themselves busier and less connected with nature, animals, and their food.  They wanted a change.

So in 2015, Joe, Carmen, and their son took the leap to buy a farm in Willington, CT. 40 acres of fields, forest and a traditional New England barn to look over the land. They immediately loved it and set about looking for ways to share their love of the land and farm with others.  First came the animals, small fruits, and veggies with products a small cabin treehousethey could share with the community, then the airbnb where folks could stay in the barn and participate in farm chores, a small barn converted into a wedding venue, and finally a treehouse where the animals wander underneath as guest sip their morning coffee on the porch.

These are all smart moves when it comes to a small farm diversifying their business and creating multiple sources of income, but you can tell as you wander around the property, with Joe and Carmen the primary motivation is a joy in sharing what they have.  "We want people to know what it means to farm, to see a real working farm" is something that Carmen emphasizes, and they have created multiple intimate ways for folks to do just that, which they couldn't experience on a larger agro-tourism venue.a sign that says welcome to our barn loft and farm stand

 Here, they remember your name, they invite you into their process of caring for what they grow, and encourage you to love the land and all it provides as much as they do. "Bluebird Farm in Willington, CT sending some love ❤️,"  that's how Carmen puts it on their social media- and you know it's true because you see life thriving in the animals and land her and Joe are entrusted with.

Phocas Seeds

logo of phocas seedsFruits and vegetables are the joy that the summer and fall harvest bring: juicy watermelons, crisp cucumbers, and tomatoes bursting with flavor.  But all these come from a single seed planted months before hand.  Small, saved packages of life that hold a bounty in their tiny forms.  When they are treated tenderly and given the right place to grow, they flourish and repay the gardener with feasts that have the capability to feed communities.  Corey Finke knows that these seeds are the key and the gift to growers everywhere: that is just one of the reasons he started Phocas Seeds in Plymouth.

Though he began his business in 2019, he saw  (just like the rest of us) disruption of supplies chains and the vulnerability of our food systems in the spring of 2020. Corey saw a clear path ahead for his work in farming.  He needed to increase his seed business and provide for his Connecticut community, so he dove into the work of planting more, collecting more, and getting ready to ship seeds to local small scale farmers, homesteaders, and growers in the state. Yes it was him building his business, but it was also his way of being a steward of the land and the people around him- to leave our homes, gardens, and communities better than how we find them.

Seed saving is not just as simple as collecting whatever a plant produces at the end of its growing cycle.  In order for a seed to have the biggest impact, it needs to be vetted for how its parent plant has faced disease, pests, changes in water conditions, and the size of the fruit or crop that it has put forth.  Saving seeds from a plant that put out 3 tomatoes in a season replicates the genes of that plant. If you save the seeds from a plant that has provided 40 lbs of tomatoes in a season, the likelihood that this pattern will continue in the genes of the productive seed and produce a good crop are increased. Corey looks at all these factors as he selects plants for seed saving.  And if a plant is not producing, succumbs to disease, or too readily gives into to pests he looks for solutions.  How can he work and encourage this plant to do better so that the seeds he collects next time will be stronger and healthier? How can he create a squash plant that is naturally vine borer resistant so the insect only kills a part of the plant, not the whole thing?  It's science, it's curiosity, and it's care.

Using only organic methods, he works with multiple plots of land to help create environments where he can grow healthy seeds, watch their progress, and then collect what will produce forpicture of seed packets the folks he passes these saved seeds on to.  And as the seeds pass to their new homes, Corey's investment in community takes on new meaning. "The sharing of the seeds is so invaluable- vegetables have such a short shelf life, unlike the seeds.  I love the shared experience of people being able to take a seed and see its progress.  That person can even continue the cycle; sharing their plant by saving the seeds produced, further providing food for the community they are in." And he has the opportunity to do this not just in Connecticut, but anywhere his seeds go- they are envoys of hope that preach the power of sharing and how we can make our neighborhoods healthier, fed, and full.

To buy seeds from Phocas Seeds, visit his website here: www.phocasseeds.com

Dove Hill Farm LLC

Though the Long Island Sound coastline has it’s draws, for Dove Hill Farm’s Sylvia, John, and Jenny, the water views and wildlife were not quite enough.  So more than 8 years ago this husband, wife and daughter team picked up and moved from bustling Milford to the more farm friendly Moosup- a change that brought them back to the agricultural tradition their family had been involved in.

After looking for a suitable place to transplant into the farming world, Dove Hill found their new home on 7 acres of land, that was rich in agricultural history, right in the Quiet Corner of the state.   Since the 1700's the land had been used for farming and raising food for families but had laid fallow for 50 odd years. Just like they were returning to their family work of farming, the land was being called on again to produce food and forage for people and animals alike.

And goodness does it produce food!  Dove Hill boosts a wide variety of products as they steward the plot they chosen: vegetables, cut flower, quail, chick, duck and goose eggs, small fruit, turkeys- and that's just the edible bit!  They also keep goats, sheep, make jams, jellies, pickles, crocheted items, and use their local lumber to craft wood products.

But setting their hands to farming was not just about "growing food."  As you talk to them about their organic growing practices, what they choose to grow, how they treat their animals; you understand that it is about establishing a relationship with the land, with the community, with the earth, and all the seeds, critters, and bits of life that find their way passing through their land.  As the Moosup River tumbles past their property it is a constant reminder that there is change and constancy all wrapped into one.  The water is always there, but it is never quite the same as it passes by. The animals always come to refresh themselves at its banks, but the generations change as time goes on.  The land that buffers that water is solid and always hems in the river's path, but grows and develops as the seasons pass, the soil is tilled, and plants are grown.  John, Sylvia and Jenny know that how they care for their land and the animals they raise on it today, impacts the soil, the waters, and the wildlife of tomorrow- not to mention the folks that are fortunate enough to share in their crops, eggs, and other products.

Jenny summed it up best when she talks about why she does the work: "It's like being a child on Christmas day and you run downstairs, and all the presents are waiting for you and it's an overwhelming feeling of joy and purpose. It's the joy that you feel that you are helping things grow.  You get a sense of accomplishment and pride and purpose as you do everything by hand. The challenges are always there no matter what you do in life- you can be challenged do something you don't want to do or be challenged being something that you do want to do."

Well by the joy that visitors can feel when they stop by the farm, it seems they have taken on the challenge of doing something they want to do.

 

 

Mon Soleil Market Garden

Deborah had heard John Kempf at a conference say that if there were 2 million market gardens in the US, we can get off a Big Ag, California based food system.  She wanted to be one of those 2 million farms.Woman with a big bunch of turnips

After working at some CSA farms in the area, and hatching market garden schemes in her free time, Deborah Winicki finally found some land, some seeds, and some time, and started Mon Soleil Market Garden.

sign that says Mon Soleil Market GardenInitially the farm was in a backyard, and then it moved. And then it moved again- Finding farmland as a first generation farmer isn’t easy- she couldn’t buy land and give her farm permanence.  One thing was constant however; she always had the sun with her wherever she grew, so her little business got the name Mon Soleil, French for “My Sun.”

And the brightness that her sun provided extended beyond the vegetables in the field.  It reached into the community, which is why she chose to use the CSA model for getting her vegetables to consumers. She knows the favorite vegetables of her members that have been with her since the beginning. As she tends her greens she thinks about how her CSA member Amanda will be using them in her home.  As she prepares her shares for pick up, the vegetables are carefully curated to make preparation of meals easy and attainable and includes recipes that highlight featured vegetables.  She is growing for a collection of individuals- a community that she has helped create, and the warmth that her sun provides rubs off on these persons and families.woman with baby in vegetable stand

Her sun keeps shining.  Every year she lets her CSA members know that they can donate to help provide a CSA for a family that can’t afford it, and every year her CSA members do just that, so they can spread the warmth and fullness of this growing “market garden” farm.

a variety of vegetables on a tableFinally landing in Union on Buckley Highway a few years back, she gets the chance to keep growing.  This year she is doubling her production and hopes that she will see an increase in SNAP/EBT recipients, as she is able to take this payment at her farm. She’s taking more volunteers and hiring another farm hand so that they can grow- and be fed- by the land. A fence is being put up to protect her plants, while respecting the natural wildlife that likes to visit. And above all, her heart and her mind continue to grow as she learns how to use organic, regenerative practices on her crops while respecting the earth, her community, and plants that make all this possible.

Find out more about Deborah her CSA, and her farm at monsoleilct.com

Owl Ridge Fiber Farm

Woman with sheep in stallFarms in Connecticut vary in what they produce throughout the state, and they don't always focus on food.  For example, Owl Ridge Farm is one of those businesses that focuses on raising, producing, and processing homegrown CT wool.  Here's a bit of their story told by Miranda Procko, owner-

"My husband and I moved to our small farm in the winter of 2010. We had huge dreams of creating a healthy and hard working environment to raise our children and to become more connected with the land, seasons, and community.  After our children were born, I retired from my career as a veterinary technician and began working the farm full time.  I wanted to do something that our children could observe and also experience in a meaningful way.  Starting and running a business on our farm seemed to be the next best step.

Since the beginning, we have always had our eye on owning a breeding flock of sheep. We knew bringing sheep onto our farm would add to our sustainable multipurpose design. We began connecting with local sheep breeders and found valuable mentors. At this point I became very interested in local shepherds that raised sheep for fiber. The art of processing lovely fleeces into yarn and other fiber products really peaked my interest, and I began immersing myself in the fiber world.

skeins of yarn

I officially started my spinning adventure with a top whorl drop spindle. It took me about a month to create my first skein, but I really think I gained a strong foundation using this ancient tool. After a year of using a spindle, I  purchased a 1970 Ashford Traditional spinning wheel from a farmer that had found it stuffed in the dark and dusty corner of his barn. The wheel still treadled like butter and only needed a few repairs and replacements.

The skills I built using the drop spindle carried over to the wheel very well and my yarn stash began to grow and grow. Being completely self taught, I learned that I use more of a sixth sense when I spin.

loose yarn that has been hand died  I rely the most on feel and intuition to create the right amount of twist and energy within the fibers. Spinning became a very relaxing process and I was hooked.

And then the colors!  I realized that I could create my own natural plant based pigments from foraged plants and vegetables on our farm. This brought a whole new meaning to words like “natural” and “organic”. My plant dyed batts and skeins seem to draw the most attention from fiber lovers.

After a few years of spinning, I really wanted to be able to raise my own fiber. Purchasing fiber was getting expensive and I wanted to make this venture more sustainable and local. My dream has finally come to fruition as we recently purchased our starter flock of Leicester Longwool sheep in May of 2020! Breeding season has come to an end and we are thrilled to announce the anticipated arrival of spring lambs. We also just celebrated the first shearing, and I am now working on processing my very own CT grown fleeces.Owl Ridge Farm logo

We are thrilled to be a part of the CT grown movement. We enjoy connecting with and supporting our CT farming community and look forward to growing our flock- both of sheep and loyal customers!" 

 

To learn more about Owl Ridge Farmers, visit their Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/Owl-Ridge-Fibers

Betsy’s Stand

Back in the mid-nineties Betsy Molodich and her husband were thinking about starting a roadside stand with extra corn, tomatoes, and green beans they were growing on his family's property.  Originally just a little stand on the side of the road where people could get some produce based on an "honor system," Betsy's Stand has now turned into a farm stand market that is open to the public 7 days a week where folks can find a variety of their farm grown veggies. Obviously, that's not enough for their loyal customer base though, so they also attend 5 farmers markets during the growing season, and provide CSAs to customers who are interested in weekly shares of what they grow.

To enable them to grow such customer favorites as peaches, blueberries, tomatoes, strawberries and sweet corn, they've expanded their small operation to currently 18 acres:  that includes 2 production green houses, a sales greenhouse, and 2 high tunnels to extend their growing season.  With all this infrastructure, it enables them to extend their growing into the colder months, and start plants for home gardeners to purchase in the spring.

But delicious fruit and veg isn't the only thing they cultivate- they have grown long lasting relationships with their customers over the years.  The individuals who have religiously purchased produce  got the privilege of seeing Betsy's daughter, Katie (and now other half of the operation), grow from a little girl to the farmer that is planting and tending their crops!  You'll imagine that this mother daughter business seems to be just as much the community's as it is theirs, as you hear stories being swapped at the farm stand.

Stories aren't the only gems you get from visiting Betsy's Stand though.  You get tried and true farmer's wisdom.  Katie says it's one of her favorite things about farming- getting to share information with people who genuinely want to know about what they do, how they grow, how to use their food.  Customers become involved in the process because they are told about the integrated pest management they utilize on the farm, what pests and diseases Katie and Betsy are fighting at the moment to bring them the best tomatoes, and when they can expect the high tunnel cucumbers to come into season.

Everyone is welcomed to the family table as recipes are swapped about how to cook swiss chard, the best way to steam corn, or what to do with their beets. All theses things are part of farming in the community, and for the community, that is just as important as the actual process of growing food at Betsy's Stand.

Katie's Perfect Steamed Corn:

Husk your ears of corn.
In a large pot bring about 2 inches of water to a boil
Add the corn to the pot and cover
Allow the corn to cook for about 4 mins
Remove corn from the water let dry and cool off a little
Top it off with some delicious CT butter and enjoy!

 

Fox Meadow Farm

Fox Meadow Farm has plenty of history even if it's only been owned by Ed Neumann and his wife Carolyn for a little over a decade.  The wells on the land are over 100 years old, it's old farmland from when most of the state had agriculture happenings at each family property, and it even has 1934 Ford pick-up truck being restored to its former glory that presides over the premises, soon to say "Fox Meadow Farm" on the side 
 
Farmer Ed himself is relatively new to the "Farm Business" game, but he's no stranger to making a business work.  Among his many former occupations he owned a business selling and repairing small engines, worked as a salesman, and even was part of the local Chamber of Commerce.  This wealth of experience creates the perfect background for starting this small business that requires so much technical knowledge, but just as much an ability to connect with your customers.  
 
It's amazing as you go around the property; Ed points out to you the buildings he's built, restored, or the additions he's added to suit the needs of his diversified business.  He has a fully stocked garage with a lift to work on equipment, some welding stations, and an assortment of tools, machines, and tractors that have seen lots of love and use but hold the promise of being useful once more under Ed's skillful care.
 
Of course, the machines are important to his farm, but just as important is the farming itself.  Just like the varied outbuildings and machines he has, his farm is diversified too.  Large cows munch through their daily helping of hay as the chickens wander in and around their pasture.  The meat and fresh eggs they provide allow Ed to sell his products through the winter.
 
Further along the property is a square covered in rich green rye- a cover crop to help regenerate soil health. Though the soil is waiting for his patient and knowledgeable hand to return in the summer months, the vibrancy of the rye, and the loyalty of his CSA customers show that he is just as attentive to this rich soil that provides so much black cowfrom his prompting. This is no surprise as Ed has been farming for his family's personal use for over 45 years.  It wasn't until his daughter, Karen, nudged him with the idea of sharing his crop with the community through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, that the business really came into being.
 
Ed will tell you on those long, hot summer days he has a love/hate relationship with farming, but when he takes a moment to reflect- to think about those big ole' cows and other animals wandering about his property depending on him for their care, the "love of it" wins out.  
 
Add on to that the joy he gets from a customer coming back and saying to him "that was really good" regarding their veggies or meat and he wouldn't think of putting a pause on farming.  They're participating in something more when it comes from his farm- he knows that and they know that, and it makes for a joyful experience for all.

Farmington Farm Truck at Hein Farm

Farmer in front of an old fashioned truck decorated with wreathsIf you live in the Farmington Valley, you might have seen some restored 50’s era green trucks driving around with “Farm” written on the side of it. These aren’t mobile Farms but they are mobile Farm markets! The
Farmington Farm Truck

have been rambling around the community since 2017 and this year have continued to find their home at Hein Farm. Jennifer Villa, the owner and farm truck lover, began this adventure because she noticed there was so much great local food in her community, but not enough people taking the opportunity to enjoy it!

Jen decided to bring the farm to them and Farmington Farm Trucks was born. Outfitting Jessie Jane and Violet Mae (of course the trucks have names!) with appealing shelving units, she could park anywhere and showcase the local veggies, honey, and other value added CT goodies to potential customers in a way that catches their eye and gets them to come produce on display at farmstandover to explore. What makes the farm truck even more unique is that individuals can schedule the truck to attend a private event or visit their business for a personalized shopping experience for employees or guests.
Though she grows plenty of veg and flowers at the Hein Farm property (a 200 year old farm she recently purchased) to sell on the truck, she also collaborates with other farms in the area to fill out the trucks and gives newer farmers some exposure to customers that may be outside of your normal “farmstand or farmers market crowd.”
Why does she do all this? Well, because local food tastes so dang good, but mostly because it’s about community. Food is the great uniter that enables knowledge, culture, and hope to be shared. Jen knows that and wants others to join in on the party- Old truck in front of a farmstandwhatever their vegetable preference. So she drives the truck wherever she can, she donates to food pantries, and she raises money for beginning farmers to get scholarships. That’s what the Farm Trucks enable her to do...and she is doing it very well, we might add!
Though the trucks have done less traveling this year due to Covid, that hasn’t stopped her from making lots of products available from local growers and producers available at the farm stand at Hein Farm. And she’s there too- with her trucks, a smile, and some CT grown goodies to brighten your day, waiting for the time when she can hit the road again with Jessie Jane and Violet Mae.