Wind Hill Farm – A Year in Review 2013

A row of Black Prince Tomatoes have been planted | Wind Hill Community Farm

A row of Black Prince Tomatoes have been planted,

This was a great year at Wind Hill Community Farm. We’ll remember it as the Year of the Tomato and the year our Chef Demonstrations took off. Many new friends discovered Wind Hill Farm this year and we look forward to developing those relationships in the coming year. We established our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) on a strong foundation, and it brought us great supporters and sources of inspiration and motivation.

Our Chef Demonstrations & Tastings developed a large fan base on the many occasions our chefs brought us great food along with healthy eating tips and cooking ideas. We appreciate everyone’s support and are encouraged that so many people share in our commitment to small local farms, a healthy lifestyle, and environmental stewardship of the land.
The purpose of this newsletter is two-fold: to keep you informed and to pique your interest in some of our activities that you might not be aware of. Check them out!
Working Farm
Inaugural CSA
Community Garden
Educational Programming
Environmental Responsibility
Volunteer Opportunities

Working Farm

We believe in the importance of small, local farms and are committed to making our farm commercially viable. We expanded our tillable area and managed a small, organic CSA this past year. We plan to increase our production each year as we continue to increase the size of our tilled fields. We brought our 72-foot hoop house into production this year and used it for our heirloom tomatoes during the summer and season-extending crops throughout the rest of the year.

To make our working farm financially viable, we undertook two important steps in late winter. We began our first crop, which was tomato seedlings to be sold as plants in May. We had over 700 heirloom tomato seedlings, which we sold at community events and saved 125 seedlings which we planted in our hoop house. And we offered our inaugural CSA, which sold out quickly and which will be described in more detail below.

TOMATOES! By far our most successful crop was our tomatoes, as they were well protected in the hoop house. The harvest began the last week in July and went through the end of October. We had gorgeous heirloom tomatoes of all colors, shapes and sizes. Our most popular heirlooms were: Black Prince and Orange Brandywine. Look for those varieties to play a starring role next year.
People complimented the extraordinary flavor of the Wind Hill tomatoes all season long with the words “best tomato I ever had” being heard from many people. Since our soil is relatively new, having been imported for the new hoop house, we look forward to building it over the years and continually improving the superior flavor and quality of our tomatoes.

The majority of our crops were grown in the working fields behind the hoop house. We suffered through the coldest June in Connecticut’s history only to be followed by the wettest July ever! Our major field developed a stream which ran through its middle into the swampy area to the west of the field. Most of our crops survived, although some replanting was required.

Four Season Farming. We have just begun our great winter adventure in the hoop house. Our goal is to keep crops growing throughout the winter in a solar-heat-only hoop house. By using the techniques developed by Eliot Coleman, who farms in southern Maine, which include a low tunnel within the hoop house, we are currently tending and planting cold weather crops including: lettuce, kale, chard, mache, and peas. We are supplementing direct solar heating with black barrels filled with water as heat sinks, and a compost bin (which can produce temperatures as high as 170°!). A terrific side benefit to this experimenting is to be working in a 70° open space in sunlight on a frigid Connecticut day.

Our Inaugural CSA

The philosophy underlying Community Supported Agriculture is spelled out in the name. It’s a belief that our local, working farms are a community resource. There is a symbiotic relationship between the farm and the community – they both need and benefit from each other. The CSA model is the perfect one for a small, organic farm like Wind Hill. We offered and sold out 25 shares for a 15 week season at $20.00/week. This is a very small CSA and allowed us to gain valuable experience with our fields and with managing a CSA. And, of course, the community benefited from fresh, healthy, local produce.

The members of the CSA were aware that this was our inaugural year (i.e., learning curve possible) and were committed to organic principles and supporting local farms. They were encouraging and generous throughout the season. Our baskets were designed to provide members with well-known and commonly used greens and vegetables.

We began with a “living salad bowl” filled with lettuces, scallions, and herbs to be picked a leaf at a time and enjoyed for a few weeks or more. We discovered black seeded Simpson lettuce which produced large, beautiful, loose heads which held up well over multiple seedings and harvests. We had the usual kale harvests and our pac choi produced so bountifully and over such an extensive period of time that people began to politely refuse another offering. Garlic scapes were a big hit, as were our snow peas and, for one member, pea tendrils. Our basil came in early and produced throughout, so that many pestos from Wind Hill were served in a variety of ways. And then the tomato harvest began. Four weeks of “take as many as you can use” delighted some members and made some uncomfortable, fearing they would take more than their share. A great feeling for us at Wind Hill.

Our plan for next year is to keep the number of members the same, the weekly price the same, but extend for a couple more weeks to get closer to the end of the tomato harvest and to add some fall crops. Our goal is to continue to work to increase the quantity and quality of each of our harvests. We will be forwarding information about our 2014 CSA in early February.

Community Garden

We have a participating members’ garden, which includes twenty-nine four-foot by twelve-foot raised growing beds. The beds are then leased to area families for growing produce organically for home consumption. We have recruited a wonderful community of gardeners, who swap seeds and plants and share their successes and failures with their neighboring gardeners. Parishioners of St. Dunstan’s Church rent two of our beds and raise hundreds of pounds of produce each year which they donate to local food banks.

Educational Programming

To support our gardeners and our community, we offer a variety of gardening classes and get-togethers intended to impart the latest information on organic and sustainable gardening techniques. We also hold a series of chef demonstrations and tastings in which local chefs demonstrate and teach some of their healthiest methods for cooking and serving local produce. We offer children’s programs on plants, the environment and healthy eating at Glastonbury’s after-school programs. We are planning a major expansion of these programs for 2014 at Eastbury and Hopewell Elementary Schools. We will be presenting 6 programs at each of the schools, which will allow us to have a much greater impact, teaching children about the value of local farming and encouraging healthy eating habits.

Chef Demonstrations

Our most significant success for the year came through our chef demonstration and tasting series. At each event, the chef would prepare and demonstrate healthy eating recipes before the attendees while serving a four-course, small plate meal. The popularity of these twice-monthly events grew throughout the season as people discovered Wind Hill Farm and word spread through Glastonbury about these wonderful summer evening programs held at our beautiful farm. More than good eating in a beautiful spot, these programs provided our guests with important information on healthy eating and food preparation as well as motivating people to eat local, fresh produce.
Chef Jordan Stein from the Pond House Grille generously offered to do one program each month and donated the food as well as the proceeds to the Farm.
In June, Chef Caelum Massicotte from Whole Foods Market put on a spectacular BBQ.

In July, Jackie Parente and Mandee Morris prepared and served a delicious dinner using farm fresh cheeses from Connecticut’s nationally-known Beltane Farm, grass-fed beef from Amston’s Briarridge Farm, and all local produce.

Then, in August, our neighborhood restaurant, Birch Hill Tavern offered a generous and very much appreciated summer’s meal, prepared and served by owner/chef Adam Driggs.

Our final event of the year was a harvest celebration held in late October. Our Board of Directors used the opportunity to host a luncheon buffet, inviting all of our community gardeners, CSA members and demonstration attendees to join us for what turned out to be a glorious fall afternoon. The big hit of the event was our neighbor Lud Baldwin making fresh cider with his antique cider press. And of course, Chef Caelum Massicotte entertaining our guests, as only he can do, with his talk about winter greens. It was a happy and heartwarming event which was the perfect ending to a very successful year at Wind Hill Farm.

Children’s Programming

This past spring, we presented a number of farm/fresh food activities at the YMCA latch key programs at several elementary schools in Town. They were fun, educational and very well received by the children as well as the staff. One of our most popular exercises is the making of bean necklaces. In that program, the children place a bean and a wet piece of cotton in a 2” plastic bag and string it with a piece of yarn. By wearing it, the warmth of their bodies allows the bean to sprout. Teachers told us some of the children wore their growing beans for weeks!
We are contracting with an experienced farm/fresh food educator for this program. Glastonbury’s Land Heritage Coalition has agreed to be a sponsor of the program and to provide a portion of the funds required. We are currently in the process of identifying other sponsors. If you are interested in making a donation to our Farm, as part of your year-end giving, please click here to go to PayPal which will process your donation. Thanks very much for your interest.

Environmental responsibility

Visitors to the farm learn about our commitment to energy sustainability by viewing our season-extending, unheated hoop house, and our solar-powered water pump and gravity-powered irrigation system, which were placed in operation this past year. They allow us to run the farm with no electricity and very little fossil-fuel driven equipment. We employ environmentally-sound farming methods including cover crops and use of mulch and are committed to developing a no-till method of farming as we build our soils organically.
Volunteer opportunities: Come join us at Wind Hill Farm!

We are always looking to expand our community of farm enthusiasts. There are many ways you can get involved:

  • weeding, hoeing, preparing a row for planting, setting out seedlings
  • suggesting a crop or variety that you would like us to grow, helping us manage the grounds
  • participating in a construction or clean-up project volunteering at our booth at a farmers’ market or helping to organize and manage an event, class or chef demonstration

If you enjoy being outdoors and active, we would love to have you join us. Or, if you think an unheated hoop house is a great place to be on a sunny winter day, we can use your help.

If you’d like to volunteer in any of the ways listed above, please call Barbara Wagner, 860 989-1909. She will be very pleased to meet you at the farm and give you a tour of our special, small farm.

If you’d like to rent a raised bed next year, or propose your favorite chef for a tasting, please contact Barbara by email.

If you’d like to make a donation to the Farm, in particular to support our expanded children’s educational programming, please click here to go to Paypal where your donation will be processed. All of our best to you and your families for a healthy and happy Holiday Season! Barbara Wagner 860-657-4345

One of the community farm beds - looking good!

One of the community farm beds – looking good!

A member's 4X12 garden plot

A member’s 4X12 garden plot