BY DIANE SEMBROT AND JOEY MACARI
FARMERS ARE CHANGING WITH THE TIMES. Along with seasonal offerings, they are ADDING NEW PRODUCTS, PROGRAMS AND EVENTS TO ATTRACT SHOPPERS. With additional support from farmers markets, restaurants and shops that carry locally made goods, THE LOCAL FOOD MOVEMENT IS PROVING THAT WHAT HAPPENS AT THE FARM, DOESN’T STAY AT THE FARM.
give & take
(supporting small farms)
To start SPORT HILL FARM in 2000, Patti Popp cleared her Easton farmland of trees, stumps and rocks (she calls them “Connecticut potatoes”). These days, she offers more than 100 varieties of sustainably grown vegetables and fruits, including heirloom products that you won’t find anywhere else. In her barnyard are pigs and a handsome flock of 200 chickens; fresh eggs are always in her farm store fridge. Now a vibrant part of the county’s farm community, she holds special events throughout the year, runs farm camp sessions with the Unquowa School in the summer, and invites her customers to participate in supporting the farm through her Crop Cash Choice (CCC) program. This CSA hybrid has patrons pay a set amount at the beginning of the year, thus getting a store credit and then using their input with the benefit of a discount on all their purchases.
“Our customers like being able to choose from anything in the store, instead of a share of everything that the farm grows, and so far, we all like how it’s working,” says Patti.
She is also an expert on “what to do with what you buy.” As herbs are one of the earliest farm products in spring, try her recipe for Chive Pesto (below), and don’t hesitate to ask for ideas when you visit her farm store. If Patti ever finds some spare time (not easy for a farmer), she needs to write a cookbook.
HOW TO HELP YOUR LOCAL FARMER
Want to help? “Spend $20 at a farm store or farmers market,” says Patti Popp. If every household in a community spent $10 with a farmer at a local market, says Lori Cochran-Dougall, executive director of the Westport Farmers Market, waste would be dramatically reduced, and we’d be eating healthfully. With that in mind, we approached Annie Farrell, a Master Farmer who is recognized for her expertise in sustainable agriculture and for her work with Millstone Farm in Wilton. As she started her own farm in upstate New York, she consulted farmers and farm-to-table experts—and here she shares advice on how you can support local farmers.
Check out Connecticut Farmland Trust at ctfarmland.org. Many farmers work diligently to protect farmland from development. This trust is dedicated to making “working lands available to local farmers for the indefinite future.” You can become a supporter.
EDUCATE ASPIRING FARMERS
“The talent needed to farm is disappearing. Preserve the wisdom,” says Annie, whose own comprehensive record keeping is now archived at NYU’s Special Collections Library. If your child loves to care for animals or grow plants, nurture that interest. There are many camps and children’s programs to inspire an interested child.
HOUSE A FARM WORKER
“Many people who love healthy local food also have an accessory apartment over a garage or an outbuilding that might be affordably rented out to one of the young workers or interns who come to work on a local farm,” says Annie. “Think about helping a farmer whose produce you buy. Keep a worker working. Our region’s housing is expensive.”
BUY “FLAWSOME” PRODUCE
Annie combines “flawed” and “awesome” to describe produce that is harvested at local sustainable farms that is, to some eyes, less-than-perfect, aesthetically—yet, nonetheless, is in every way absolutely delicious and nutritious. Buy it and use it—don’t let flawsome food go to waste.
PATTI POPP’S CHIVE PESTO
4 cups freshly cut chives
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh Parmesan
2 oz. almonds (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor.
Give a quick spin or two until they are finely combined together.
You can add more olive oil until the consistency is right for you.
Use this pesto on your favorite chicken dish, pasta, fish or baguette—wine, some say, is optional.
(community farm spaces)
One of the oldest family farm properties in Westport, WAKEMAN TOWN FARM (WTF; wakemantownfarm.org) is bridging the gap between our agrarian history and the next chapter as well as between farmers and the rest of us. A community farm, WTF attracts thousands of enthusiasts to its educational demonstration center each year. Powered mainly by volunteers, Wakeman educates visitors about natural food production, responsible land stewardship, sustainable living and community service. Instruction covers composting and other traditional agricultural practices as well as emerging practices, including the use of goats to “mow” invasive plants. While tending to farm animals, fruits, veggies and flower beds, the team also runs a farm stand, handles CSA pick-up orders, and hosts workshops, student internships, after-school environmental clubs and summer camps. Young farmer-chefs learn how to cook and bake and pick up planting and harvesting skills.
In 2017 to 2018 Wakeman had a bumper crop of new classes and programs, with record-breaking attendance of all ages on the farm and in Tim’s Kitchen. This year-round classroom and event space— dedicated to community engagement and fresh-food preparation—is named for a late Staples graduate who loved nature, worked at a local nursery and in restaurants, and had an interest in the sustainable food movement. His parents are Liz Milwe, WTF cochair, and Peter Wormser, architect of the handsome project. It received Historic District Commission preservation award and now draws guest chefs from farm-to-table restaurants and local food purveyors to speak and serve. For example, Rowayton Seafood’s Kevin Conroy and Chef Charles Hoffman will present a sustainable seafood dinner experience on March 21. Other events include everything from the town’s largest egg hunt to beer gardens.
“WTF is excited about a yearlong initiative to bring the Pollinator Pathway to Westport,” says Events Director Christy Colasurdo. “We teamed up with Earthplace and other organizations to host speakers and showcase the importance of creating pathways that are free of pesticides and full of native plants to help endangered butterflies and bees to pollinate and thrive along this corridor.”
Today, local farms do far more than grow produce and tend to animals. They also help raise the next generation of farmers and farm supporters—as well as nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
As the weather warms, people want to head outside, and town farms, such as Amber Farm, offer fun and educational experiences for adults and kids.
For example, it offers a kids’ day camp called Adventures at the Farm.
“Ambler Farm’s summer camp is about hands-on-learning,” says Program Director Kevin Meehan about making time spent here the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time). “Children from preschool to seventh grade have the opportunity to participate in the activities of a working farm. Each day includes holding baby animals such as ducks, geese, turkeys, chickens and bunnies; harvesting in our gardens; and spending time with our resident goats, pigs and sheep.”
Campers also learn how to prepare freshly harvested vegetables. First through seventh graders try woodworking, while preschoolers dig into arts-and-crafts projects.
“Ambler Farm is a special place where friends and lifelong memories are made,” Kevin concludes.
Register your little campers online at amblerfarm.org. Choose specific weeks between June 18 and August 13.
We have a community garden with fifty-two beds. People from Weston can rent a plot for the summer. We supply compost and new soil each spring for them to freshen up their gardens,” says Ellen McCormick, chair of the Lachat Town Farm Commission. “We have a children’s garden for teaching purposes, and most of the produce goes to social services.” Classes for all ages pop up in spring, too. They include cooking, Ayurveda healing, Tai Chi, Ikebana flower arranging, pickling, knitting, en plein air painting and crafts. This spring also sees a new goat house.
Summer programs for pre-K through second grade include Seeds and Sprouts; Nuts about Nature; and Backyard Barnyard.
Fall brings another farm must: a barn dance. “The Lachat Hoedown was very successful,” says Ellen, “and will be a yearly event.”
Lachat is located at the Juliana Lachat Preserve, and Westonites owe a debt of gratitude to one of their own for it. In 1997 “the house and property were purchased from the Leon Lachat estate at a very good price by the Nature Conservancy and the Town of Weston,” notes Ellen. “He left an Endowment Fund that is to be used for the maintenance of the property and the buildings.” Ever since, on those forty-two-acres, locals have learned to love farm life all year long.
Lachat’s 1770 farmhouse, listed on the State Register of Historic Places, houses a farmer—but it’s also for public gatherings, such as the Fireside Concert series. Stop by, at 106 Godfrey Rd. W., on the last Friday of January-May. See lachattownfarm.org for more.
Enjoy shopping, food trucks, children’s activities, live music, workshops and more on the last Friday of the month, June-October, 4–8 p.m.
bounty to share
(farm-fresh food for all)
FROM THE FARM
Actor and philanthropist Paul Newman and Chef Michel Nischan, founder of Wholesome Wave, launched WESTPORT FARMERS MARKET (WFM; westportfarmersmarket.com) in June 2006. Fourteen vendors and nearly 500 shoppers headed to the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot that first summer, and things grew quickly. The market needed more space. So, since 2009 it has set up in a bigger parking lot at 50 Imperial Avenue, where shoppers choose from some forty-five vendors and enjoy tastings, demonstrations and competitions and more.
The winter market, launched in 2010, is held at Gilbertie’s Herb Garden at 7 Sylvan Lane. This past winter, WFM hosted a new fundraiser: Farm-to-Food Truck. Food trucks served freshly prepared dishes, as attendees enjoyed live music and tried their hand at the rare sport of pumpkin rolling.
Executive Director Lori Cochran-Dougall is WFM’s tireless advocate, champion and creative program director. She fights for its growth and is open about the challenges. For example, this past fall she sent news that Beltane Farm, who had been with the market from the beginning, was leaving: “Losing a beloved farm like Beltane is a reminder of how difficult it is to make a living farming at a small to midsize scale. Yet that size farm has a better capability to care for their animals, the land, their workers and themselves—and to create better product IMHO. Supporting these farms is so important, crucial actually.…It is times like these that remind me, and hopefully you, that the true reason we are here is to support our neighbors, community and farmers while gaining access to delicious and healthy food.”
WFM also celebrates its wins, such as presenting Dina Brewster of The Hickories Farm with the Alyce Block Award for her positive influence. Of the event, Lori noted: “I was reminded that while the amount of farmers in this area of the state might be small, they are mighty. The room was filled with names that resonate regionally, if not nationally: Sal Gilbertie, Irv Silverman, Norm Bloom—and that was just in the first row. This group of agrarians comes together to strengthen an economy here in Connecticut that truly matters.”
That first seed in the parking lot has become a network of support.
Farms mean hard work, yet they are also beautiful. Who can resist a field of tender, leafy crops? As people turn to farm-to-table eating, they find the shortest distance between farm and table is dinner at the farm—and it is going high-end. Consider Rosinne “Roe” Chlala, owner of FESTIVITIES EVENTS AND CATERING (festivitiesevents.com), who planned a celebration for the launch of The Sunshine Sisters, by Jane Green. In the book, one sister is a chef, one sister is a farmer, and one sister is a city girl. Jane asked Roe, “Can you find me a farm for dinner?” Yes!
“I love requests like this,” says Roe. “I found a perfect partner in Sal Gilbertie at the Easton farm of GILBERTIE’S HERBS GARDEN. He had never done an event like this before at his farm and was leary at first, but I won him over with our approach to the party and our hands-on attitude.” She and her team planned a dinner out in the field surrounded by growing plants, and the dishes featured the herbs and flavors at hand.
Mother Nature had her own plans. “The day dawned beautifully, and we set out to define our space on the lawn—and then a North wind came in, dropping the temperatures 30 degrees.” When you’ve been in the events business as long as Roe has, you know how to come up with a workable solution quickly. “Sal sent over his team with a forklift and carried all our rentals, including ovens, tables and chairs, to the greenhouse, which was our Plan B setting.”
Of course, everything worked out. “Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were served barnside with everyone in a happy mood, and our clients from Berkley Publishing/Penguin Publishing were very happy campers. When dinner was ready, we invited the guests to meander through the gardens to the greenhouse. All the cameras came out as if it was gaggle of paparazzi! Hanging nasturtium plants hugged the greenhouse ceilings with market lights swinging from the rafters. The escort card table was a carpet of microgreens with hand-stamped herbs gracing the cards. Mason jars of twinkling mini lights—requested by Jane—lit the cards. Our centerpieces and the names of the tables were herbs plucked from Sal’s garden, and the menu card was topped with fresh thyme that we cut just before guests arrived.”
The secret to making a good impression is putting guests at ease—and feeding them well. Mission accomplished.
To the Rescue
NO MORE FOOD WASTE
I was a professional chef for almost twenty years and was always dismayed at the amount of food being wasted,” says Nicole Straight, now Fairfield County site director of Food Rescue US (foodrescue.us), formerly Community Plates. “I felt absolutely sure this was the direction I wanted to go in my career.” This organization has delivered more than 30 million meals since its founding in 2011 and has twenty-one locations across the country. In Fairfield County, nearly 680 volunteer rescuers pick up fresh food from donors (such as restaurants, grocers, bakers, caterers, farmers markets and company cafeterias) and deliver it to hunger-relief organizations (such as community soup kitchens, food pantries and housing shelters). Arrangements are made through a proprietary app. Nicole says donor restaurants, caterers and cafes are protected by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, and rescuers pick up seven days a week throughout the course of the day. “They drive their own cars, and the food is brought directly to the receiving agencies, usually within a five- to seven-mile radius.” To address the 6.7% insecurity rate in Westport, she hopes to “have kids at Staples get their service hours by rescuing from all of the school cafeterias.…[and] to rescue from every hospital in Fairfield County by this time next year” (currently, she works with Norwalk and Danbury).
Are you a food hero?
(better springtime produce)
Eat Your Veggies
Get growing. Cold temperatures create sweeter produce. Leafy vegetables convert starch stores into sugar when it’s freezing, meaning they’re less bitter. MIRANDA GOULD, a farmer at Homefront Farmers (homefrontfarmers.com)—a Ridgefield-based gardening service that designs, builds and maintains private home gardens—has perfected cold frames (a frame and top that protects seedlings and small plants without artificial heat) and full greenhouses. She starts planting hardy crops, such as spinach, peas, arugula, carrots and kale as soon as the ground thaws. “If you want an extra-early April harvest of items that have ‘wintered over,’ you must plant them the season before,” she explains. “This does not mean that a plant is growing through the dead of winter. It means that the tops of the plants will die back, and then regrow in early spring. They need to be planted early enough so that their root system is established and can handle freeze/thaw cycles.” Success, she says, depends on snow pack and temperature swings. Here she dishes on timing favorites.
“Spinach is probably your best option for wintering over salad greens. It is the best option to use your cold frame as well. It is one of the hardiest leafy greens that you can grow, regardless of protection. Spinach is planted in September, and winters over and comes back in April. Wintered over spinach will most likely flower and go to seed in May, meaning it has completed its life cycle and become inedible. When a plant flowers, generally the leaves become bitter. If you plant a new round of spinach in early April, that planting won’t be ready to harvest until May and will probably flower/go to seed sometime in June. So, you can do both plantings and have a longer harvest period throughout the spring.”
CARROTS & PARSNIPS
“Carrots and parsnips can both winter over for an early garden harvest. Carrots, however, always run the risk of rotting, so you can expect a certain percentage of loss there each year if you leave them in the ground for winter. Carrots for fall harvest and/or wintering over must be seeded by mid to late July so that they have enough time to plump up by the fall. Wait to harvest the roots until after the first hard frost when starches convert to sugars and the roots become sugary sweet. It is literally an overnight difference. Parsnips need to be planted even earlier than carrots for wintering over, usually in April or May. They are a crop that is best if you have a large garden since they take the entire season to mature, and then need a couple hard frosts in order to make them sweet.”
“Garlic is what we call a ‘winter annual.’ It is planted in October and you will see the green stalks begin to grow the following April; usually they come up around the same time as the daffodils. Garlic is usually ready to harvest in July when 50 percent of the leaves turn brown, so you won’t do any harvesting as early as April, but it is nice to see something living and green in the garden so early! If you are growing hardneck garlic, the scapes (immature flower heads) will be ready to harvest in June, before the head is ready. By cutting off the scape, you are encouraging the plant to store more energy in the cloves and will hopefully get larger heads.”
“Leeks are similar to parsnips in that they take an entire season to mature. They can be harvested at any time throughout late summer and fall and can also winter over if planted into well-drained beds. There are many different varieties of leeks, and some are hardier than others. King Richard is a standard, hardy leek that is good for wintering over. As with carrots, expect some losses due to rotting.”
“Cilantro has a similar life cycle to the spinach. Ideally you should plant it in September to winter over and it will come back in April. However, you will probably only get one cutting out of wintered-over cilantro before it flowers. It is extremely sensitive to heat, so one warm day is all it takes to cause it to flower. If you leave the flowers on the plant, it attracts beneficial insects to the garden earlier than most other flowers are blooming; if left to go to seed, it will give you coriander. Replant cilantro in September again for a fall harvest and leave the plants to winter over for the next year.”