DOAG: FARM, ROADSIDE STAND TO RE-EMERGE THROUGH FARMLINK PARTNERSHIP


 

February 7, 2017

 

 

FARM, ROADSIDE STAND TO RE-EMERGE THROUGH

 FARMLINK PARTNERSHIP

 

NORTH GRANBY - A well-known vegetable, fruit and livestock farm that has been dormant for several years will be revived this season by the owner and a farmer who formed a partnership through the Dept. of Agriculture’s FarmLink program.

 

The red, corn-crib style farmstand at Wilhelm Farm had been a popular stop along North Granby Road for more than two decades, until owners Ann Wilhelm and her husband Bill Bentley decided to put the operation on hold in 2012.

 

Farmed for more than a century, the property has been in Ann’s family since being purchased by her grandparents in 1936, providing three generations of Wilhelms with food and a side-income.

 

But as she and Bill approached retirement age and their children moved out, they decided it was time for a break while they reconsidered the farm’s future.

 

Ann also posted a profile on Connecticut FarmLink, a web-based program and database that connects farmers seeking land with farmland owners offering to sell or lease acreage. 

 

The site, www.ctfarmlink.org, currently lists nearly 40 farms for sale, 50 farms for lease, and has more than 200 “farm seekers.” 

 

Wilhelm wanted a farmer interested in working the land with an approach known as permaculture, which seeks to tailor crops and production techniques to the natural characteristics of a given piece of land.

 

“I wasn’t looking to just turn the land over to someone else,” she said. “I was looking for a collaborator, a partner.”

 

After declining offers from several farm seekers whose plans didn’t quite mesh with hers, she was contacted last summer by Sven Pihl, who was living in the New Haven area and whose FarmLink profile described him as an “Ecological Landscape Designer, Permaculture Designer/Teacher, Homesteader, Specialty Grower seeking residence within 45 minutes of Hartford.”

 

“Her profile mentioned permaculture and a lot of other technical, geeky stuff that I love,” Pihl said last week as he and Ann showed a visitor around the 46-acre property. “It was good to meet someone who was on the same wavelength.”

 

In recent weeks, Pihl has found housing within short walking distance of the farm, where he and Wilhelm are still in the planning stages of exactly what they will grow and what animals they will raise.  

 

The farm had previously grown a variety of vegetables and berries, and raised beef and dairy cows, along with pigs and laying hens. About 70 percent of the farm is forested, including a stand of White Pine originally planted by Wilhelm’s grandfather in 1937, which continues to regenerate and has been harvested several times.

 

“I’m very interested in reintroducing livestock to the farm and integrating the forest production with the agricultural production,” said Wilhelm, who has an undergraduate degree in Animal Science from Cornell University and a Master’s degree from Michigan State in agricultural-related data analysis. She and Pihl are considering implementing several agroforestry practices at the farm, including a silvopasture plan in which trees are interspersed with forage that livestock feed on.

 

They also plan to pursue forest farming, where specialty crops like mushrooms or ornamental plants are grown amongst the trees. The forest also provides animals shade and shelter from the elements, as well as improving water and air quality.

 

Goats will likely be brought in initially to help clear a few acres of former pasture that have become overgrown with brush. Other techniques might include using chickens to scratch around the crop fields and eat insects that might be harmful to plants, which also gives the birds a free source of protein.

 

Pihl will give a presentation on permaculture and other “sustainable” techniques at the upcoming winter conference of the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

 

“A lot of the systems on a farm might appear to be disconnected but they’re not,” said Pihl, whose diverse background includes a previous career in manufacturing engineering, a stint in the U.S. Navy and managing an urban farming incubator program at a non-profit organization in Hartford.  “They’re all pieces of a puzzle.”

 

 

Wilhelm, an advocate of using small farms to increase local food production, said emerging terms like permaculture and agroforestry are simply new names for old practices.

 

“Stacking functions is something that small farms have been doing for a long time,” she said. “It’s really just having multiple uses for elements in your agro-ecosystem that fit together, and fit the land.”

 

She believes her farm is a microcosm of that model, and would eventually like to make it a demonstration site.

 

“You look around the world and a lot of food is produced on farms this scale,” she said.  “The future of agriculture needs to focus on local production, and small farms will play an important part in that.”

 

For the farm’s former customers and potential new ones, the most noticeable impact of the farm’s re-emergence will likely be the produce offered at its landmark farmstand just a few feet off the road.

 

“One of my first priorities is to reopen the stand,” Wilhelm said. 

 

While not yet ready to reveal what they plan to grow and sell, it seems likely the stand will feature more than just traditional New England fruits and vegetables.

 

“We’re still developing that,” Pihl said with a grin, “but I like the weird stuff.”

 

Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said the partnership is an example of how the FarmLink program can help new and beginning farmers find land, and put more acres into production. He encouraged landowners to consider listing land on the FarmLink website.

 

“The growing demand for local food has also produced a demand for farmland that for many new farmers is not always within reach through traditional means,” Reviczky said. “FarmLink is helping to sustain and expand Connecticut’s agricultural economy by providing a tool for farmers and farmland owners to connect.”