Meet the Farmers
Working the land, living the life
Anyone who has visited a farm, walked through a garden, plucked a fresh carrot from the ground, or a perfectly ripe peach from a blossoming tree, understands the passion a farmer feels. Here in Litchfield County, we are fortunate to have venues like the Litchfield Hills Farm-Fresh Market.
For some, tilling the land comes naturally. Take Ben March, for instance, of March Farms in Bethlehem. His is the fourth generation to be running the family business, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. “My great grandparents were farmers who came from Lithuania and were living in Waterbury when they found the land to start their farm,” March explains. “The original parcel was 122 acres. Today it includes 150 acres.”
Although they grow a number of other fruits and vegetables, tomatoes are what they are most famous for. “We now have twelve different greenhouses growing our tomatoes, which we start in January. But we also grow cherries, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apples, and pumpkins,” March says.
But March Farms is more than just a place to buy food. It is a miniature village, with activities for everyone in the family: a hayloft playscape for children, an animal farm; hayrides in the fall, plus numerous trails on which to pick your own produce. March Farms prides itself on its growing methods and its desire to educate customers about eating locally and eating healthy. That extends to programs created to introduce children to the idea.
March was to the farm born, but others come by a more circuitous route. Mark Palladino worked in finance for many years. Moving on to get a degree in elementary education he began working with children and thought it would be beneficial to kids to learn about agriculture and growing organic produce. “I worked at Bristol Farm in Canton,” Palladino says. “We had over 300 kids come to learn about farming. They got to work the land, plant, and harvest and appreciate agriculture. They began to have a lot of pride in what they were doing.”
Palladino started Wild Carrot Farm in 2004 while still in Canton. Enter Joanie Guglielmino, who had also taken an indirect route to farming. “I went to college to be a dental hygienist. Left that behind, opened a restaurant, and eventually found my way to Wild Carrot Farm. Mark had lost his co-manager, so I stepped in. We became business partners as well as life partners.”
They moved to Bantam and set up their farm, where they where they grow their popular organic produce. Wild Carrot Farm has a CSA, allowing customers to purchase a share of the harvest in advance. The advantage is that the customer gets a discount and the owners raise capital for those months when there is no fresh produce.
Fran Adams and Ron Pinto, owners, of Winding Drive Farm in Woodbury, have a similar story of following one career path and then turning to food. “I was on the road selling auto parts,” Pinto says, “and Fran was working at Travelers Insurance. In 2008 I lost my job and Fran encouraged me to start something new. We had a small farmers market in Woodbury and decided we would make ten jars of jelly from the red currants we had harvested.”
They were gone in half an hour. Pinto increased the supply to 18 the next week and they, too, flew off the shelves. At the end of the market season, Pinto and Adams had sold over 1500 jars of their homemade jelly. Realizing they had a hit on their hands, Pinto and Adams found a space in Woodbury and built their own commercial kitchen. They now produce about 25,000 jars a year of their jams, jellies, and marmalades.
“We have about fifty flavors we rotate throughout the year,” Pinto says. “Now we no longer grow our own fruits—it’s hard to do that and to produce all your own product. But we only use Connecticut-grown produce.” Adams and Pinto also produce a barbecue sauce for the summer season and will be adding a sweet relish and bread and butter pickles.
To listen to any of these people talk about what they do—the farm and the product and what it means to them, is to understand how farm to table has become such an important and popular movement.