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Westbrook, CT

 
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Fresh, Healthy, Organic Vegetables from a Small Family Farm

Mountain Laurel Farm is a small family farm in Westbrook, Connecticut specializing in heirloom vegetables grown using sustainable practices without the use of chemicals, synthetic pesticides or genetically modified seeds.   After years of growing produce for family and friends we will be offering it for sale to the local community.  We have reclaimed a field that was last cultivated in the 1920's for our vegetable production and will have fresh vegetables available again in late Spring 2012.  

Our produce is grown using the National Organic Program standards (no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones, irradiation, or genetic engineering) but is not certified organic by the Federal government (small farms who sell less than $5,000 of organic produce per year are exempt).   Member of the Northeast Organic Farmer's Association.

Planting the Seed

Several years ago I developed an interest in healthy eating after experiencing some disappointing lab results at my annual physical.  I thought I was doing all the right things by eating foods that were “heart-healthy,” “whole grain,” etc. but obviously something else was wrong.  That something else turned out to be all the sugars/additives that were in the foods I was eating.  Once I did some research I found people had great success eating whole foods (no, not the store, just food that isn’t processed)... things like bread with only 5 ingredients instead of 35.  I changed my diet and my lab numbers improved drastically.  Learning about healthy eating taught me more about our nation’s food system: I decided to support local farms when possible to directly support small-businesses and to know where my food was coming from.  I also started a vegetable garden using sustainable/organic practices.   By 2010 I was able to grow enough to feed three families (not bad for a beginner but every day I realize there is so much more to learn).   Friends who knew about the garden encouraged me to grow more and make it available for sale.   After a lot of number crunching, some great advice and help from a neighbor who is a farmer, and some raised eyebrows from my family I decided to expand and start a small farm.

A History of Growing

Although I considered renting existing farmland for vegetable production (easier preparation and quick access) I ultimately decided to invest some time and effort in improving our family property in Westbrook.   Building healthy soil and using sustainable farming methods is a long-term endeavor so I did not want to risk losing my work at the end of a lease.   Our family land has more than enough space and, as I have recently discovered, a history of agriculture.  The property was used as farmland going back to the 1700s (the family farm house was purportedly a tavern at one point) and then purchased by the New York Fruit Growing Company in the late 1860s.  A meadow was flooded and turned into a large cranberry bog which operated for decades.   A book on Westbrook history states that the 20 acre meadow produced 2,000 bushels in a season, harvested by 75 workers.   Around the turn of the last century the land was sold to a local farmer and his wife who grew vegetables and fruit.  The farmer, Mr. Hayden, would take his single horse-drawn wagon down to West Beach in Westbrook to sell his produce.  The Haydens sold the land to my great-grandparents in 1920.  They farmed it as a small family farm until the 1950s, growing vegetables in a huge garden, caring for the established peach and apple orchard, maintaining a vineyard and raising sheep, poultry and a few cows.  Since then some of the best agricultural land was sold to developers and the remainder has returned to forest land.  I decided to re-claim what was once the easternmost field, last cultivated in the 1920s, and began clearing trees/ brush and pulling stumps in the Fall of 2010.  My goal is to have one acre cleared, with half actively cultivated for growing and the rest under cover crop/field grasses to improve the soil for future field rotations.


 
   
 
Growing Practices

I use no chemicals, no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides or GMO (genetically modified) seeds/plants and follow the standards of the National Organic Program (NOP) established by the USDA.  The farm is not certified organic but I am able to use the word “organic” as an exempt small grower who follows NOP practices.  I am also a member of the Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association (NOFA) and have signed their Farmer's Pledge.  I mainly grow heirloom vegetables: varieties historically grown for their quality, flavor and dependability.  Some of these crops have been around for centuries - it is interesting to think that the vegetable you are tasting could well be the same one enjoyed by your great-grandparents.   Heirlooms fell out of favor by the 1950s as industrialized agriculture took over food production and grew varieties that were bred for shipping and long-term storage, not for taste (think of your typical store-bought tomato versus a garden tomato).  This year I will have over 25 varieties of heirloom vegetables available over the course of the growing season.

This Year's Harvest

There will be a wide range of vegetables grown in the 2012 season.   I've added some but not all of the varieties:

  • Basil - Sweet Italian
  • Beans, bush and pole, incl. Haricot Vert and Kentucky Wonder
  • Beets - Detroit Dark Red
  • Broccoli - Belstar and DeCicco
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Carrots - Napoli, Danvers and Scarlet Nantes
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant - Black Beauty
  • Kale - Lacinato "dinosaur skin" (very cool!)
  • Lettuce - Black Seeded Simpson, Rouge D'Hiver, Deer Tongue
  • Muskmelon
  • Peppers - Romanian Frying Peppers, Green, Red and Orange Bell
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins - Marina Di Chioggia (warty, grey skin - perfect for Halloween!)
  • Radishes
  • Salad Greens - Mesclun Mix
  • Sugar Snap Peas
  • Spinach
  • Squash - Acorn, Yellow
  • Swiss Chard
  • Tomatoes - Amish Paste, Rose, Moskvich, Stupice, Cherry
  • Watermelon - Blacktail Mountain, a smaller "icebox" melon
  • Zucchini
If you are interested in our produce, please let us know using the contact form so you can provide your email address.   We will notify you with availability of crops and how to get them.   Thanks!   - Jason