Laurel Ridge Farm is not just beef
Mud season is barely over and already John Morosani, owner of Laurel Ridge Grass Fed Beef, is fielding calls. “I’ll be in the middle of moving the herd and my cell phone will ring and it’ll be somebody asking if they’re up yet.” The uninitiated can be forgiven for thinking the callers are inquiring about the cows. After all, with demand for local beef on the rise, Morosani’s business is booming. But for people in the know, there can only be one reason for the calls—the daffodils.
Flower enthusiasts have Morosani’s parents to thank for the slice of heaven on Wigwam Road in Litchfield that locals call “Daffodil Hill.” Inspired by Wordsworth’s poem, Virginia and Rèmy Morosani planted 10,000 narcissi on ten acres of their 200-plus acre dairy farm in 1941. “Mom got the bulbs from Scheepers in New York before the company moved to Bantam,” says Morosani. With their farmhands’ help, his parents set about transforming a parcel of rocky soil. “It’s back-breaking work,” says Morosani, “I helped a couple of times as a kid.”
Luckily, the work of caring for the daffodils meshed nicely with the sowing, cutting, and harvesting of hay for the cows. “It was fortuitous. The time to mark the stalks, to wait for them to die back, to divide and dry them, and then to re-plant them all coincided with a slack time for work in the fields,” says Morosani.
Less fortuitous were developments in agriculture and in transportation. While the daffodils thrived, the farm, like others in New England, succumbed to economic pressures. “We had the world-champion milk producer in 1953,” says Morosani, “but we couldn’t maintain the farm just on milk sales or compete with the big dairy farms in New York.” By the early Sixties the Morosanis had sold off the herd and were leasing the land to local farmers.
But some things, like healthy food and responsible stewardship, never go out of style. Fast forward to 2003 when John Morosani was inspired to reclaim his family’s pastures, long-depleted of natural minerals as the result of poor agricultural practices, and dedicate himself to raising cows.
Like the daffodils, it was an idea that easily took root. “The timing was right. The Omnivore’s Dilemma had just come out,” says Morosani, and the sustainable agriculture movement was gaining ground. “I thought I’d have to spend all my time explaining why being a locavore was good. Instead, people were asking how to cook short ribs.”
For advice about reviving the soil, Morosani and his business partner, Jim Abbott, turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose local rep said, “All you need to do is apply lime and the grass will out-compete the other flora. And, by the way, you could get a grant to pay for fencing.”
Today, Laurel Ridge is at the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement in Connecticut. “We’d like it to be a model for other farms in the area,” Morosani says. In 2010 Laurel Ridge hosted the annual Celebration of Connecticut Farms, which helps to raise money for the Connecticut Farmland Trust. The farm also offers internships to the next generation of farmers interested in sustainable practices.
And Daffodil Hill? “My parents set up a trust, the Laurel Ridge Foundation, so the land wouldn’t be developed or sold,” says Morosani. “People are very respectful when they visit,” he adds. They wander around or sit on the boulder dubbed Dinosaur Rock. “We named it that,” says Morosani, “because we told our kids that the rock has been there since dinosaur times.”