Most New England towns got their start as agricultural communities until industrialization changed the face of the state. Many of the farms that remain have adapted throughout the generations and found new ways to engage the communities they are located in.
On Chippens Hill in Bristol, Green Acres Farms has been operating for 30 years. Rep. Whitt Betts, R-Bristol, is the director of sales for the farm, which has been selling vegetables and melons to residents throughout many seasons, but this won’t be one of them.
“Green Acres won’t be opening this year,” Betts said. “The drought for two consecutive years had such a major impact. We just didn’t have the proper irrigation.”
Betts said the farm had to switch to selling grass-fed beef and hay.
Over on Hill Street, not too far from Green Acres Farm, is Minor’s Farm, which has also switched over to mostly growing hay. The farm, which began in 1864, is now run by Craig Minor and his son, Paul Minor.
“It was a dairy farm when I was a kid,” said Paul Minor, 68. “Back then we had orchards, pears and a cider mill. That stuff all went away as me and my father, who is now 92, got older - but we will keep going as long as we are physically able. My children all live down South and they aren’t coming back up.”
Minor said he still uses the farm to educate and entertain children and families. He tours the country with Daisy the Pig and his two pugs, Lily Pug and Dixie Cup, to help promote literacy through his “Pig out on Reading” program.
“The fall is our big season, we have all sorts of family activities,” said Minor.
Education is also important to Indian Rock Nature Preserve, which is set up as a “demonstration farm.” Scott Heth, director, said it is intended to provide children with knowledge of where their food comes from. This year, Heth said, the preserve will also be starting up a pesticide-free gardening program with its summer camp.
Down the street from Minor’s Farm there is a place where people go to get local produce. Robert’s Orchards was established in 1993 and is a family-run farm. They sell fresh apples, homemade apple cider, pies, cakes, apple cider donuts, jams, honey, vegetables and fresh eggs. Additionally, town officials are currently organizing a Farmers Market, which in recent years has been held at “The Patch,” an area of grass, at Centre Square.
The nearby town of Southington was once a huge farming community, according to Councilor Ed Pocock, who heads up the recently established Farm Heritage Committee with his fellow councilor Chris Palmieri. The committee seeks to preserve and rehabilitate existing farmland, such as the old horse farm next door to DePaolo Middle School, and to create opportunities to educate local students about agriculture.
“All of our sixth-grade students at Kennedy and DePaolo schools have taken field trips to Lewis Educational Agriculture Farm (LEAF) to learn about their operation, planting seeds and ecosystems,” he said. “The town has set up a one-time fund to help fund operations at LEAF. It’s great to see these things in operation and to have a hands-on experience rather than just reading about it in a book or watching it in a video. It helps make what they’re learning into more of a reality. It really is a great connection there and we ultimately want to offer this program for neighboring towns as well.”
The Board of Education was paying for 300 bales of hay a year, said Pocock. “By working to maintain our open space land, we are not only preserving our farm heritage but solving our hay problem as well - it’s a win-win. The bulk of our population is able to remember when there were farms everywhere in Southington - it’s in their blood, in the very roots of Southington. I think it is valuable for kids to know where the stuff we put in our mouths comes from. My great-grandfather started a farm in 1899 and my grandfather sold our dairy cows in 1966, the year before I was born, and I remember checking out the barns when I was a little kid.”
Lewis Educational Agriculture Farm has been in Executive Director Mark Ramsey’s family for seven generations. In addition to organizing the farmer’s market on the Town Green during the summer and fall, LEAF sells a variety of vegetables and has goats and chickens for the purposes of educating visiting children. The farm also hosts a transition program for special education students graduating from Lincoln College of New England.
Ramsey said he hopes to expand the farm’s special education programs to include a summer camp this year for students in Southington and surrounding towns. Several local restaurants, including Tavern 42, Anthony Jack’s and Paul Gregory’s, also purchase food from LEAF.
Another farm in Southington, that has been going strong for 30 years, but has been hurt by the drought, is Karabin Farms.
Diane Karabin, runs Karabin Farms, which grows a variety of vegetables and also has a large apple orchard and sells Christmas trees during the holiday season. They also sell antibiotic and hormone-free beef, poultry and pork.
“The drought did hurt last year but on the plus side the smaller apples were incredibly sweet,” she said. “What has also helped us is the fact that younger people are becoming more sophisticated and more aware of what they are eating. At the same time, the baby boomers are starting to become more conscious about what they are eating to avoid health problems.”
Southington is also home to Rogers’ Orchards which was established in 1809, and has been growing fruit and seasonal vegetables such vine-ripened tomatoes and sweet corn for eight generations. Also, Mountainside Farm has been family owned and operated since 1938. The farm has grown flowers and vegetables for three generations.
Southington’s newest farm is Bradley Mountain Soaps, a goat farm owned by Annaliese Dadras, which opened last year. It was formerly a dairy farm owned by the Bradley family, before they moved into the home that is now The Barnes Museum.
Originally constructed in 1813, Dadras has renovated it to maintain its original Colonial look. The farm sells goat milk soaps and lotions and holds bi-weekly goat walks on Saturdays during the warm weather. The farm has participated in the farmer’s market and the fall Apple Harvest Festival and they brought their goats to the town green for the town’s White Christmas in the Community event.
“We have 380 volunteer goat nannies that help train, herd and milk our goats,” said Dadras. “I was surprised by how many people wanted to be involved - the whole community stepped up.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or .