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For centuries people have planted crops to feed their hungry families and nearby villages, but with the convenient advent of the mainstream supermarket came a shift in how most people get their food.
Still, local farmers who believe in their craft have held on to their livelihood and continue to feed generations to this day, as they know better than anyone that consumers who support this trade benefit from the many advantages of knowing where their food comes from.
Among this increasingly exclusive group of community farmers are Newtown Farmers’ Market regulars Sara Blersch and Dan Slywka, who own Daffodil Hill Growers at Woodside Farm in Southbury.
Their family’s trade originated in Stratford, where Ms Blersch’s great-grandfather and grandfather sold eggs and milk to neighbors. In 1949, the family moved to Southbury, operating Woodside Farm until the 1990s, when her grandfather passed away.
Ms Blersch and her husband continue her family’s legacy of running the farm, now known as Daffodil Hill Growers at Woodside Farm, and have passed on their passion to their 5-year-old daughter Maggie, who enthusiastically helps with daily activities.
The couple operates the farm on three locations in Southbury, including 20 acres on 124 Horse Fence Hill Road, where they also reside; a rented acre and a half along the Pomperaug River; and 43 rented acres of land at the Southbury Training School.
As a result, Ms Blersch and Mr Slywka are able to plant a variety of produce with their team, multiple times a season.
The farm also utilizes two unheated greenhouses that can grow summer crops, as well as winter greens like arugula, swish chard, and kale in the colder months. An additional feature of the farm is its heated greenhouse where hydroponic lettuce is grown (the method grows lettuce in water instead of soil).
Having a variety of products grown and harvested throughout each season is key to ensuring people can enjoy more options and create new recipes for their meals.
You Say Potato, I Say Potahto
Sometimes the same name is not always one and the same.
When going to a supermarket, many times there will be produce labeled “organic” but what does that specific term really mean?
The meaning varies depending on if the food was packaged within the United States or abroad, yet when people hear “organic,” they associate it with positive, healthier products than items without the label.
One of the major incentives of purchasing food locally is the ability to talk to the farmer who grows the products and ask about their practices.
Daffodil Hill Growers at Woodside Farm is passionate about supplying customers with top-notch products and seeks to educate consumers about what they are buying.
“Consumers have been drilled that organic is better for so long,” Mr Slywka said. “We’re not against organic just because we choose not to be certified.”
“There’s still a lot of misconception about organic being no-spray,” Ms Blersch added.
Daffodil Hill Growers at Woodside Farm promotes that their products are locally and sustainably grown and use what is called integrated pest management (IPM).
The United States Environmental Protection Agency states on its website that IPM is “an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices” and is implemented “with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.”
The organization also details that “In contrast, organic food production applies many of the same concepts as IPM but limits the use of pesticides to those that are produced from natural sources, as opposed to synthetic chemicals.”
Mr Slywka is confident in the quality of the practices his farm participates, noting that “I wouldn’t sell anything I wouldn’t eat myself.”
Despite some people’s initial judgment of food not labeled “organic,” Daffodil Hill Growers at Woodside Farm has a dedicated following of customers who appreciate the quality of products it produces so much so that they sign up for the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) summer and fall/early winter programs.
The farm’s website describes its CSA as “an agreement where people purchase a ‘share’ in the farm for the season and receive a box of veggies each week for a certain number of weeks during the growing season.”
“We do an 18-week summer CSA and a 10-week fall/early winter [CSA] that goes October, November, and December,” Ms Blersch explained.
Customers purchase a certain share size, depending on the size of their household and needs, and receive different produce each week. They can also play an active role in choosing the variety of certain products and receive certain crops that are exclusively grown for CSA members.
After starting CSAs in 2014, Ms Blersch and Mr Slywka say that it has made a positive impact on their farm.
“They’re paying up front before the season starts,” he said, about customers who participate in a CSA. That type of trust in the farm, he says, allows them prepare and invest money for the necessary growing season supplies.
“At this point, we know certain costs are variable, but we have an idea of how much we need to get the season started,” Ms Blersch said.
Daffodil Hill Growers at Woodside Farm keep their CSA total limited to 50 people in the summertime and 30 or fewer in the fall/early winter, to ensure they continue offering a personal experience for their buyers.
“We run a small CSA, but that’s one way of knowing exactly what you are getting, who’s growing it, how it was grown, and meeting those people and forming a relationship with those people. That’s more of the point of the CSA,” Mr Slywka said.
Two days before each pickup, the farm sends out an informational e-mail to its CSA members to share what will be harvested for them that week and also supplies different recipes they can try with those products.
This time of year, with winter greens still available, Ms Blersch enjoys making her signature kale salad.
The instructions call for whisking half a cup of lemon juice, one tablespoon of canola oil, one tablespoon of olive oil, half a teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of honey, and a fourth of a teaspoon of black pepper in a large bowl. Then add it to one bunch of kale, half a cup of sunflower seeds, half a cup of dried cranberries, and one cup of cherry tomatoes. Once it has all been tossed together, let it sit for an hour before serving.
“What’s great about it is that you can substitute roasted butternut squash for tomatoes this time of year and use pepitas instead of sunflower seeds if you like,” Ms Blersch said.
Daffodil Hill Growers at Woodside Farm will be accepting members for its Summer 2018 CSA starting January 1.
For a list of more local farms that currently participate in CSA programs, visit the Connecticut Department of Agriculture at ct.gov.