2005. After a two year search my wife, Bethany,
and I were finally able to find some farmland that we could
afford, through the assistance of the New Farmer Initiative
of the Connecticut Farmland Trust. The program was set up
to help match new farmers with preserved farmland.
The original idea was that towns and land trusts would jump
at the idea of having organic and sustainable farmers on their
land. However, in almost every case the land was actually
being farmed, mostly for hay, and the farmers were not willing
to give it up. Finally, we were introduced to a couple who
had just inherited a small farm, nine acres total with a barn
and farmhouse as well as a dilapidated and overgrown redwood
In March 2004, we moved in with our two daughters: Zoe, now
4, and Charlotte, 2. We had been raising pastured chickens
and turkeys with my father at his place, and our plan was
to expand on that and also to offer eggs and some specialty
vegetables. The first project was to turn the greenhouse into
a useable space. This involved removing the old glass panels,
many of which were either broken or has slid out of place.
In the years of neglect, the greenhouse had filled with blackberry
and raspberry bushes, which I cut down and chipped for mulch.
Finally, I recovered the structure with two layers of five-year
greenhouse poly. We managed to get enough of the bramble roots
out to prepare beds in about half of the greenhouse and plant
an early crop of greens. We also established a germination
box with heating cable embedded in concrete and a removable
Although the land had not been farmed by the previous owners
for many years, they allowed a neighbor, Bernie, to hay the
pasture—about 7 1/2 acres—and use the barn. We
decided to have him continue to cut the hay if he would leave
us enough to keep our cows—three calves purchased in
May—through the winter. He also agreed to plow and disk
about an acre so that we could start our garden. The ground
dried around the end of May, even though we are on a hill
the soil has a high clay content and there are at least two
springs on the high side of our field. So Bernie, with his
big 4-wheel drive tractor and a four-gang plow, made quick
work of the sod. He promised to be back in about a week to
hit it with the disk harrow. Well, it poured the next week
and the furrows held standing water for a week after that.
By that time, hay season was beginning and we never did get
the disk harrow in there. We scaled back our plans for a vegetable
operation and just grew for ourselves, planting in the space
in the greenhouse (tomatoes and peppers) and in some space
turned by hand around the house.
By mid July, the plowed field was shoulder high with all
manner of weeds that could not be found in the adjacent undisturbed
land—a hard lesson in the pitfalls of tillage. We decided
to try to salvage some good from the situation by rotating
the cows through. They ate most of the seeds from the lambs
quarters and pigweed and trampled some of the woodier growth.
The second week of August, we purchased four Duroc feeder
pigs and used electric fence to rotate them through the overgrown
area. Finally success! They trampled and rooted and leveled
off the areas they were in and we even managed to get some
rye established before the cold set in.
Disaster number two was the pastured broilers. Even though
we sold every one we raised and managed to make a small profit,
we never were able to set up our processing facility in a
way that made that part of the process bearable. In 2005 we
are going to raise only enough chickens for ourselves while
we focus on growing enough vegetables to make it worthwhile
to go to the farmers' market every week. And we are going
to continue pushing forward with the beef and the pork, possibly
even two batches of pigs.