FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Farms filled with cows, chickens and pigs by an iconic red barn are a rarity these days in Fairfield County. But a new generation of organic farming has sprouted throughout the region, keeping the agricultural tradition alive.
“The big thing now in farming is organic vegetables and fruits, and we’re in the process of starting an orchard,” said 39-year-old Tom Sherwood, who runs the 36-acre Sherwood Farm in Easton. The farm is among the last of its breed in Fairfield County with 600 chickens, 150 turkeys and dozen roosters.
The nearly 300-year-old farm is one of the longest continually operated family farms in the United States.
“I know there aren’t many of us still around,” said Sherwood, throwing bales of hay over a fence for the cows and goats, alongside daughters Natasha, 9, and Jessica, 7. “But all I’ve ever known is working the farm. I expect my daughters someday will keep it going.”
The growth of organic farming in Easton prompted the establishment of a new Agricultural Commission and a map outlining more than 20 working farms in the rural town.
Bobby Argiro-Bevilacqua, who last week stopped by Sherwood Farm with 3-year-old daughter Selena and 1-year-old son Roman, was amazed to find a working farm so close to his Stratford home.
“This place is awesome,” said Argiro-Bevilacqua, who moved to Connecticut two years ago from New York City. “I didn’t know places like this existed anymore in Fairfield County.”
For the most part, they don’t, because farmers sold their land to developers decades ago when real estate began booming throughout Fairfield County, said Candace Benyei, president of the Fairfield County Farm Bureau.
“When I grew up in Weston it had five working dairy farms, two horse farms and a bunch of chicken, goat and vegetable farms,” said Benyei, 66.
“Then the stockbrokers and corporate raiders from New York started buying up the farmland and building McMansions,” she said. “Now we’ve got a whole new generation of fruit and vegetable farmers, as well as tree farms.”
In Easton, stringent zoning regulations also kept farms going, said Sal Gilbertie, 75, owner of Gilbertie's Wholesale in Easton and Gilbertie's Herb Garden in Westport. His grandfather, Antonio Gilbertie, started the business in Westport in 1922.
“We outgrew our space and expanded by adding a 37-acre farm in Easton about 25 years ago,” said Gilbertie. “The organic farm business is booming.”
Irv Silverman, 68, born and raised on his father Ben's 50-acre vegetable and fruit farm, has been farming on Sport Hill Road in Easton his entire life. Silverman’s Farm, which produces mostly apples and peaches, also includes a petting zoo with an array of farm animals.
“Of course, farming has gone through dramatic changes since I was growing up here in the 1940s. That’s why people love the petting zoo, so kids can see what it was like on a typical farm back in Fairfield County in the good old days,” said Silverman, who took over the farm during the 1960s.
For years, people have been buying fruits and vegetables at grocery stores, but that is beginning to change, he said. “These days, they want fresh fruits and vegetables from a farm close by that they can trust.”
In fact, small organic vegetable and fruit farms now dot the region’s landscape.
“I never expected to be a farmer,” said Patti Popp, 44, who had no experience in the field until she started an organic vegetable and fruit farm more than a decade ago, Sport Hill Farm and Market in Easton.
“People have grown tired of their food being shipped hundreds and even thousands of miles,” said Popp, secretary on the town’s Agricultural Commission. She supplies Fairfield’s Unquowa School with fresh fruits and vegetables and took part in Saturday’s Food For Thought expo at Fairfield Warde High School, an annual event that encourages healthy eating.
“Farming is alive and well in Fairfield County,” said Popp. “It’s just in a different form than it used to be … and as a result people are eating healthier.”