November 13, 2004, Jennifer Babulsky, Norwich
(CT) Bulletin -- CropChoice.com: Jerry Grabarek
looked like a proud papa as he talked about Shania,
Destiny and Cocoa.
Those three ladies are his cows.
Grabarek, owner of Preston Farms and a Preston selectman,
takes pride in knowing the names of all of his cattle,
which includes 60 milking cows and another 60 heifers.
"I just have to see their udder and I know which
one she is," he said. "It's easy."
Such familiarity comes from years of experience.
Since 1923, the 340-acre Grabarek family farm has survived
the Great Depression and crippling economies. It wasn't
easy. It has taken commitment, patience and a love of
farming, Grabarek said.
"You just keep going," he said.
Only 185 farms remain active statewide, according to
the Department of Agriculture, but many survive only
because of creative ways to make a little money on the
In Grabarek's case, it's the 7.5-acre corn maze, which
has become a popular fall attraction in Eastern Connecticut
over the past five years.
While the maze is only open for about six weeks, that's
"The corn maze is the future of farming in Connecticut,"
Whether it be corn mazes, hay rides or selling vegetables,
supplementary income is a necessary part of farming
Every year, nearly 10,000 acres of farmland are lost
in the state, according to the American Farmland Trust,
and there are only 370,000 acres left, 12 percent of
Agri-business contributes more than $2 billion to the
state's economy each year, but as farms decrease, that
At 4:45 each morning, Grabarek wakes up, watches the
Weather Channel, goes and finds the cows and attaches
them to milking machines.
As the cows get milked, Grabarek grabs a cup of coffee
and his morning newspaper. Later, the cows are milked
again. The hours pass by.
Grabarek's workday begins and ends in darkness.
"I don't get too much time off," he said
with a laugh. "There's always something to do."
Robert Desjardins and his family are no different.
Their 500-acre farm in Plainfield has been in the family
since the family matriarch, Doris, was a child.
If the Desjardins have their way, generations to come
will be able to grow up on that same farm.
Robert, his mother and three brothers each has their
own set of responsibilities.
"We all kind of have our own department we take
care of, like the crops or cows," Robert said.
But crops and cows are not the only money source for
They also have a gravel and soil excavation business.
Even with the added sources of income, financial problems
Fluctuating prices of milk and grain often determine
what the month's pay will look like, he said.
Along with the unpredictability of product costs, there
are day-to-day surprises too, he said.
"One day everything is fine. And the next day,
a cow is sick," he said.
As other farmers sell off portions of land to developers,
Desjardins said no way: "I think we'll be here