Shortts Phase Out Garden Center To Focus On Connecticut-Grown Farm Fare

After several challenging years straddling two separate agricultural industries, Jim and Sue Shortt of Sandy Hook have gone with their gut — settling on the line of products they hope will please everyone else’s gut, that is.

The popular Riverside Road farm and garden center has formally phased out its garden supply component, and has stocked the coolers, shelves and bins of their new farm stand with fresh Newtown and Connecticut-grown veggies and fruits. To supplement their stock, the Shortt family has developed relationships with numerous state specialty food makers who are supplying the Newtown store with a cornucopia of products from trail mix to jams, milk, sauces and, of course, Ferris Acres Creamery ice cream.

“Up until this year we always grew vegetables and had a garden center,” explained Sue Shortt during a recent visit to their quaint store, a stone’s throw from the Sandy Hook Fire & Rescue main station on Riverside Road.

“Basically we were always doing half and half, but as the economy dropped off in recent years we found we were selling a lot less garden center products,” she said. “There was also more competition from big box garden centers. And while we enjoyed both aspects of farming, we felt pulled in two directions.”

So three seasons ago, as garden center sales continued to drop off, the Shortts acquired another three-acre parcel and began shifting more energy toward growing and selling food.

“We started a [Community Supported Agriculture] program with 12 customers, now we have 115 and a pretty long waiting list of folks who want to join,” she said smiling.

Today, their remote property measures five acres. Along with the original one acre location on Riverside Road, the family now has the space to grow what their customers and visitors demand.

“I don’t know where we would be today if we hadn’t gotten that parcel and moved back to just selling food,” she said. Today Shortt’s Farm sells all but a handful of certified organic products, their 130 hens are producing a bounty of fresh eggs every day, and the family has struck up wildly successful partnerships with nearly two dozen Connecticut suppliers of farm items they do not grow themselves, along with all the specialty products, foods, and condiments.

They bring in fresh milk from Bantam’s Arethusa Farm, where Ms Shortt said each cow paddock is outfitted “like a mini suite,” instead of a production line livestock stall. On any given day visitors can also find sauces and syrups from The Farm in Woodbury; fresh Newtown honey and Saha Sauce from Winton Farms; 8 To The Bar trail mixes from Bridgeport; Kazu’s dressings from Falls Village; salsas and jellies from The Herb Basket of Shelton; and Carrot Top pickles from Redding.

There are also fresh, handmade pies and cookies from Ridgefield’s Whistle Stop Bakery, and an intriguing line from Sheila and Cosmo’s Seasonings of Newtown.

“The Ferris Acres pints are very popular with folks from this end of town who can’t get out to the farm stand,” Ms Shortt said, referring to the popular ice cream stand operated by Ferris family on Sugar Street. “Our customers are going crazy for the Kazu’s dressings, and they love the explosive flavors of the Herb Basket’s pickled beets and relishes.”

She has also been told customers have basically padlocked their spice rack and are sprinkling Sheila and Cosmo’s Seasonings on everything from chicken to beef to fish.

The Shortts’ partner in Windsor Locks started delivering fresh picked native corn the first week of July, which is selling nicely alongside their own kale, Swiss Chard lettuce, bok choy, beets, radishes, cucumbers, and a wide selection of herbs.

“Our tomatoes, string beans, eggplants, and peppers will be ready by the end of July, and we’ll be bringing in Connecticut peaches and nectarines by early August,” Ms Shortt promised.

As the Shortts continue expanding their line at the Sandy Hook farm shop, they are also expanding their reach by trucking their products to more regional farmer’s markets, including the one at Fairfield Hills every Tuesday afternoon. At the same time they are also broadening their acquaintances with more farms and food purveyors competing for the limited shelf space at their farm store in town.

“We would welcome pitches from any Connecticut grower or state-made specialty manufacturer,” Ms Shortt said.

For more information on the local family farm center, visit shorttsfarmandgarden.com or call 203-426-9283.

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