By Eileen Weber
Downtown Stamford has a dirty little secret: it’s got a three-acre organic farm not even a mile from the city center. Surrounded by a chain link fence and a handwritten sign posing the question, “Got grafted tomatoes? We do!” sits Hubbard Heights Farm.
The topsoil is lovingly being restored to proper health by Randy “Uncle Buck” Brown. He’s the kind of guy you’d expect tilling the soil—a little rough and tumble, but all heart. And, his heart is clearly in the right place when it comes to growing organic vegetables. He is happy to talk a mile a minute about how we’ve gotten so out of touch with our own food that no one knows how to grow it any more.
“It bothers me that in just a few generations,” he said with a bit of a huff, “we’ve gone from everyone knew how to grow their own food to nobody knows how to grow their own food.”
Brown is a farmer through and through. With an agriculture degree from Cornell University and a hand in kick-starting Ithaca’s renowned farmer’s market in the early 70’s, he tried a desk job way back when. It didn’t quite stick, but he always kept farming. He said it was for his sanity. Then, his sanity took over and he’s been farming in one way or another ever since.
He began with just cut flowers in New Canaan. (He and his wife currently live there managing another property.) Expanding into veggies was easy. Before he knew it, people were regularly stopping by to pick up a bag of tomatoes or salad greens. But with a Not-In-My-Backyard attitude, one of the neighbors got the town’s zoning board involved. Making it economically unreasonable to continue, he became a farmer without a farm.
Enter Bruce Sclafani, head of his family’s century-old Sclafani Brands canned food business. As a New Canaan resident, he heard about Brown’s problem and had just the right answer for it.
According to Bruce’s son, Anthony, who is a sales manager with the company, the farm occupies his grandparents’ original homestead. Bruce simply bought the lot next to his parents’ house to create an open three acres. According to a Stamford Advocate article dated June 19, 2012, the lot was initially cleared for a housing development. But apparently, Bruce changed his mind on just what the land should be used for.
“We’ve always had an interest in food,” said Anthony Sclafani, speaking of the company’s focus on quality. “[My dad] was thinking about starting a farm but needed someone to do it. Randy just happened to come along at the right time.”
Brown and the Sclafani family have indicated loftier goals for the farm that they started in May of 2012—one that is clearly still in its infancy but has great potential. They’d like to renovate the property’s only house, which is in complete disrepair and often referred to as an eyesore by neighbors. They’d like to expand the existing greenhouse and provide educational classes. They are also looking to sell directly to restaurants. They have worked with Boxcar Cantina in Greenwich and they also sell to Stewart’s Market in New Canaan. They’d like to see more shops on board in the future.
They also have a farm stand, but their hours for this year won’t start until later in the season. They’re hoping to keep solid farm stand hours as they grow. But, they do have a thriving CSA. With 34 proud members, many of them are neighbors within a two-mile radius. One regular volunteer at the farm is retired neighbor Mary Ann Dunnell. She said she started in the spring and does whatever work is necessary.
“I’ve always enjoyed gardening, but this is on a whole different scale,” said Dunnell who received her master gardener’s certificate from UConn. “Having something that comes out of the ground the same day is a different experience than what you get in a supermarket. It’s almost a different vegetable.”
Some of the neighbors like Dunnell have been so committed to seeing this farm get off the ground that they’ve donated money to keep it running smoothly. Part of the reason for that is the high cost of producing an organic farm.
Brown spoke at length about purchasing grafted tomato seedlings, which are $2.00 each. Multiply that by an acre or so and you’ve got yourself a big chunk of change. He says the grafting tomatoes to resistant root stock is what cuts down on plant disease. It doesn’t mean the plants are immune; it just means they have a better shot at resisting—naturally and without chemical assistance—diseases that have wiped out whole crops in years past.
Recreating healthy soil, planting good root stock, and choosing organic practices is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Brown is concerned. He says there’s a deeper issue than just how to farm.
“Know who you’re getting your food from,” he said. “Eating is a personal thing. It’s all about the relationship between the producer and the consumer.”
He said people buy with their eyes and if it looks good, they want it. Customers need to see, feel, touch, and taste. You can’t do that in a supermarket, but you can at your local farm stand. Or, say, when you stop by for a visit to your farm.
“No one comes here to help and leaves empty-handed,” said Brown with a wry smile.
With that, the Fairfield Green Food Guide team walked away with a handful of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and a couple flats of salad lettuces and basil for their own gardens. How’s that for having a relationship with your farmer?
Uncle Buck’s has got about 20 different varieties of tomatoes just beginning to ripen, many of them heirloom. They’ve got cucumbers, bell peppers, eggplant, salad lettuces, and several different herbs growing in the fields and greenhouse. For more information about what the farm has to offer or to arrange a visit or volunteer to help, contact Randy Brown at 203-972-5777 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hubbard Heights Farm
202 Hubbard Avenue, Stamford, CT