|Norton Brother’s Farm is a seventh-generation family-owned fruit farm located in Cheshire, Connecticut. The farm has been owned and operated by the Norton family since the mid-1700s and boasts a long-standing, proud history with the town of Cheshire. Bridsey Norton, father of the Norton Brothers (Judson and Donald) who operated the farm until 2001, also served the town of Cheshire as first selectmen. The farm now rests in the capable hands of Tim Perry. Together, with help from the family, Tim continues the tradition of providing the local community with fresh fruit, vegetables, and an impressive range of homemade farm-market goodies.
This proud Connecticut farming family currently operates on about 107 acres of land, producing everything from apples, peaches, and pears to blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Their expansive pick-your-own operation begins in June with their various berry crops and runs through to the fall, where locals can choose from an overwhelming 34 varieties of apples. Hayrides, pumpkins, and scarecrows offer families a fun and immersive experience during the harvest season. When the Christmas trees and holiday decorations arrive, patrons can find their way to the family’s dairy barn farm stand for the perfect holiday gift, whether it’s local cider, jams, and farm-fresh pies or one of their carefully curated seasonal gifts. The Norton Brother’s farm has something for everyone throughout the year. They invite you and your family to come join them for a wholesome, local experience: farm tours, birthday parties, or even just a family picnic.
|Farming is a risky business and even a farm as historically successful and well-loved as the Norton Brother’s farm faces its share of challenges. To find out a bit more about the Norton Brother’s farm, UConn Extension reached out to Tim Perry to see what happens behind the scenes. When asked about some of the biggest risks that he faces, Tim sings the same tune as many other Connecticut farmers: weather, weather, weather. “The weather is hard to predict and out of your control. And it’s becoming more unpredictable – from 22 inches of rain in a month to frost before bloom. It used to be that we had a frost every 10 years, that’s not the case anymore”, says Tim. When asked about risk management he says it’s really a toss-up, “You can try frost protection. Depending on your operation it can cost up to $100,000. I know people who get the fans, get the heaters, and still lose everything. Plus, oil is at about $4 per gallon now.” A lot of times it’s about doing the best you can and rolling with it. But what about when preventative measures aren’t enough?
We asked Tim about crop insurance as well. We wanted to know if he utilizes crop insurance, the role it’s played in mediating farm risks and if he would suggest it to other people. It turns out he is a huge proponent of crop insurance. He stated that they now have every crop insured, “Peaches are the largest users of crop insurance. It’s almost a yearly thing now. Not that we’re getting rich from it, but it helps to offset costs.” This is also the first year that they are trying out insurance for blueberries, “As far as we know, we’re the first ones to have blueberry crop insurance, at least with the company we use.” He says that crop insurance is a tool for farmers, just like a tractor or the sprayers. They utilize it to the best of their ability. But what about the costs, difficulties, or aversions to crop insurance?
He says, “You have to spend to benefit”. Saying that most people will always try to shoot for the lower end of the scale for premiums, “…but you’re not going to start seeing benefits till you spend a bit more on the premiums.” As far as the aversions to crop insurance, what have you heard? Again, he says it’s all part of the business, “It may be more paperwork, but take the time. No one has a better idea of what’s going on on your farm than you. You know what you pick, you know what you produce. Spend the time with the companies and make sure you pick the plan that right for you.” All in all, it seems that Tim has taken the time to educate himself on crop insurance. It’s also apparent that crop insurance plays a recurring role in mediating risks at the Norton Brother’s farm. To hear more about Tim Perry’s take on crop insurance, check out his video on the UConn Risk Management’s website under the resources tab. And to learn more about the Norton Brother’s farm itself, you can visit their website at www.nortonbrothersfruitfarm.com, or check them out in person at 466 Academy Road, Cheshire, CT.
|Raspberry Knoll Farm in North Windham is one of Connecticut’s premier pick-your-own operations, featuring a wide variety of berries, herbs, veggies, and flowers. Located in the Northeastern region of the state, this family owned farm attracts droves of patrons throughout the growing season, starting in June with strawberries and going all the way through till fall with their winter veggies. The farm is owned and operated by Mary and Pete Concklin who started their business in 2011 with just raspberries and then diversified each year after. Mary Concklin plays a dual role in the world of agriculture; she is also the Fruit and IPM Extension Specialist at the University of Connecticut. UConn’s Risk Management team sat down with Mary this month to discuss some the risks associated with pick-your-own operations, some mediation and prevention strategies, and the role that crop insurance plays in the operation at Raspberry Knoll.
Even though pick-your-own operations carry with them a particular set of risks, Mary Concklin decided that these risks were greatly outweighed by the main benefit of being pick-your-own: not having to have to acquire or pay for harvest labor. By streamlining and specializing their operation, Raspberry Knoll has effectively eliminated one of the largest growing issues in agriculture. However, this isn’t to say they do not face risks. When asked about the largest risk of having large numbers of people on the farm, Mary stated that many people are inclined to eat while they pick, which in turn means that there are berries that are not being paid for. “We don’t mind if you try a few and figure out which varieties you like, just don’t make a meal out of it”, she says. “Other than that, there’s really been no issues, we attract a really nice crowd. We haven’t seen any damage to plants or equipment from customers”.
Although Raspberry Knoll seems to have a handle on the ins and outs or pick-your-own, we wanted to know what advice Mary would give to other pick-your-own operations. The first piece of advice was to not allow pets within the pick your own fields, “We are producing food and people may not be picking up after their pets”. The second piece of advice was aimed at preventing loss. “You need to be set up for pick-your-own to do this properly. We knew that we were going to be pick your own from the beginning and we planned our operation around it. The fields are completely fenced in to prevent animals (humans included) from eating the crops. Everyone must pass through the farm stand to leave, ensuring everything gets paid for. You need to control the flow, otherwise you’ll have a hard time trying to keep track of things”.
|And how about other risks, ones not associated with pick-your-own? Mary shared a story about an ongoing battle with some local wildlife. Apparently, beavers were repeatedly flooding some of the fields at Raspberry Knoll, making it difficult to get out into the fields and plant. Mary and Pete had to people to trap and move the beavers so they could make use of the acreage that they had. Mary says that raccoons have also been an issue in the past, eating sweet corn even when protected by fences. Wildlife is something that you have to live with and it’s often times hard to control for.
So, what about crop insurance? Mary is a huge proponent of crop insurance as a part of an effective risk management plan, but she stated that she did not have crop insurance on her farm, “We’re so diversified, it’s hard to justify the expense”. They have a wide variety of berries and other crops that carry them through the entire season, including a vegetable CSA and pick-your-own flower and herb gardens. By being so diversified, if there is a loss in one crop or variety the others help to mediate that loss. “We had one variety of raspberries that we lost to winter injury two years in a row. So, we just dug those up and planted new varieties”, Mary says. The diversity at Raspberry Knoll helped them mediate that loss and Mary assures that this is a great way to mediate many risks. However, Mary admitted that even though diversifying may help to mediate the loss of a crop you are still losing revenue and considering a whole-farm revenue insurance plan is a great option, even for those farms who are well-diversified.
What advice would you give farmers, either new or established, regarding risk management or crop insurance? “Be smart”, she says. This is in regard to workflow. This year Mary is employing the use of high tunnels in her blackberry crop where winter hardiness is an issue. This way the canes won’t have to be laid down every year to protect them and can instead grow straight up without the threat of injury. Next, “Diversify”. She suggests covering all your bases and not relying too much on any one thing. As we all know, it’s hard to control for the unknown and being diverse can help to prevent unnecessary headaches. Finally, “Take a look at the crop insurance policies. If there’s not a policy that fits your operation, contact an agent and talk with them. There may be something you are missing, a plan that could benefit your operation immensely”.
Article by Evan Lentz
The CAHNR GMO Working Group is hosting GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future, a panel presentation on Wednesday, April 24th at 7 PM in the Student Union Theater. Please save the date and make plans to join us. The event is free and anyone is welcome to attend.
The panel is moderated by Dean Indrajeet Chaubey. Speakers include: Paul Vincelli from the University of Kentucky, Robert C. Bird from the School of Business, Yi Li from the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, and Gerry Berkowitz from the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.
A second event, GMOs: Answering Difficult Questions from your Customers is specifically for farmers, but all are welcome to attend. Dr. Paul Vincelli from the University of Kentucky will give a presentation, followed by a question and answer session. The event is Thursday, April 25th at 7 PM at the Tolland County Extension Center in Vernon.
More information on both events is available at https://gmo.uconn.edu/events/.
Farming is both a risky and dangerous business. From the hazardous nature of the seemingly regular day-to-day tasks to the volatile and unforgiving markets on which many farms rely for income, farmers have no shortage of stress. Add in unpredictable weather and crop yields and you have the makings of what the USDA, OSHA, and other organizations call one of the most hazardous professions in the U.S. (UA Extension, 2016). And yet we fail to see farming make it to CNBC’s list of the most stressful jobs in America. Why is that? In recent years, there has been a push to make mental health and stress management on farms more of a priority. Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach has published their 2019 Farm Stress Resource Packet, which is filled with information on the stressful nature of farming, management strategies, and resources to help during difficult times. The below article by Larry Tranel is taken from ISU’s publication and offers farmer’s ways to deal with farm and family stress.
A “PRIMER” of Farm Stress Resiliency
|Farming is dangerous and stressful, no doubt. Farmers have varying degrees of resiliency to deal with the physical and mental dangers of farming, leading to varying stress levels. The integrated blend of family, farming and nature can cause unique situations of stress in farm families. Stress is normal and can be healthy as it might push us to do things that can promote growth in us. But too much acute stress or piled up chronic stress can make it difficult to:
• Concentrate, remember and process information.
• Organize, calculate and make decisions
• Sleep, relax and breathe properly
• Communicate, share and bond as a family.
Stress can become a source of conflict but can also help families grow together as many farm families are strong because they had gone through a tough time together. Too much stress can lead to anxiety, doubt, depression and hopelessness. Overcoming stress overload by developing skills can help families have more resiliency to farm stress.
Resiliency can be a learned, life skill. It is a person’s ability to deal with stress, using skills, to better cope and possibly even overcome the root causes or maybe just its effects. Since stress reduction techniques are a learned skill, the aim of this paper is to assist farmers and those working with them with a “PRIMER” acronym tool to better deal with farm stress. The tool is a six-step process outlined below. The “PRIMER” Tool will then be detailed along with skills and goals that pertain to each step.
Perception – Our Thoughts under Stress
Reality – Our Environment in Stress
Identify – Our Emotions with Stress
Manage – Our Reaction to Stress
Extend – Our Communication of Stress
Resources – Our Support for Stress
|“Chronic farm stress can weaken a person’s spirit, appetite, physical stamina, focus, relationships, decision-making ability and dampen happiness and satisfaction in time. Life skills can help deal with it.”
Perception is heavily related to the image or picture we have in our minds of whatever situation, coupled with any meaning or attitude attached to that image or picture. An occurrence might happen to two people and one might very positively perceive it and the other very negatively with a wide range of other “perceptions” in between.
Reality is a sum of a person’s internal capacity and external environment to understand the situation surrounding stress or a crisis event. Some situations take families by surprise or are beyond their control. If life events come too soon, are delayed or fail to materialize, the health, happiness, and well-being may be affected (Schlossberg, et. al., 1996). Intensified emotionality and/or behavioral disorganization in families and their members are likely to occur as a result (Toberto, 1991). Another crucial variable in dealing with the unexpected is family development and environmental fit (Eccles et. al., 1993).
Identify emotions of stress related circumstances. Emotions are often so intertwined and often mangled that identifying the underlying causes or emotion is not easy. For instance, an exhibit of anger, a secondary emotion, often is expressed due to another emotion. Anxiety and depression often have a root cause. Once we realize our perception and the reality of the situation, we look inward to identify causes so as not to transfer negative emotions to or onto others.
Manage through stress knowing all situations have some hope, alternatives or options. Identify what can be controlled and accept what is beyond control without blaming oneself. Understand that lack of clarity of future can induce stress as it brings worry, confusion, conflict and even shame (Boss). Assess stress symptoms–heart rate, shallow breathing, headaches, anxiety, outbursts, lack of focus and hope to name a few—to know stress levels.
Extend oneself to others as social isolation and loneliness can further add to stress. Those in family environments are best helped by family members, but introverted males often do not extend their thoughts and feelings readily to allow for healthy family support. Guilt, shame and social stigma often inhibit extending to others for help, as well.
Resources are important in life. Families that are able to make positive meaning of their stressors and use effective coping strategies as well as internal and external resources are more likely to adapt as well (Xu, 2007). This applies to individuals, too! Internal resources and coping strategies were shared in previous sections. External resource needs tend to focus on things that help develop skills in:
1) Interpersonal Communication—everyone has their own beliefs, feelings, needs and agenda to be shared. Knowing healthy/ideal versus unhealthy/common behaviors can separate success and failure in overcoming stress/conflict.
2) Family and Community Support—immediate and intergenerational families, and intertwined communities can be a source of both stress and strength—attend to self- help and other resources, and other people’s needs as family and community support is a two-way street.
3) Problem Solving Techniques—use processes to: define the problem/stress; consider pros and cons to alternatives; select a plan; take action steps; identify resources; and use group/family meetings. Be “proactive” in problem solving.
4) Goal Setting—Make them SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Based.
For more information on farm stress and management please visit the following links or contact your local extension office.
SOUTH WINDSOR, CT – UConn Extension’s 2019 Vegetable & Small Fruit Growers’ Conference will be taking place on Monday, January 7th, 2019. The conference will be held at Maneeley’s Conference Center on 65 Rye Street in South Windsor.
The day will include 9 educational sessions, an extensive trade show with over 30 exhibitors, and plenty of time for networking. Session topics range from Farm Labor to High Tunnel Production including Growing Brambles, Growing Strawberries and Tomato Nutrient Management. Other highlights include a Cut Flower Production session that will give us a taste of the following full day workshop on January 8thin East Windsor. A farmer panel that will discuss Marketing, specifically POS (point of sale) Systems will round out the event. Three pesticide re-certification credits will be available for licensed applicators.
This event is organized by UConn Extension, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and the Connecticut Vegetable & Berry Growers’ Alliance. The steering committee uses evaluations from previous years to produce a fruitful program, gathering the best speakers from within our region and across the country to fulfill the requests and meet the needs of Connecticut growers.
This day will not only be great for learning, but also for networking with other growers, Extension educators and industry representatives. We hope you take the time to gather plenty of ideas and knowledge to take home with you to practice on your own farms and improve your farm businesses.
Pre-registration to attend the conference is $40. The pre-registration includes the trade show, continental breakfast, coffee, and lunch. The pre-registration fee for students (high school or college) is $18 (must show valid ID). Pre-registration must be received by January 2nd, 2019). After the deadline and at the door is $60 per person. The registration form, additional information and other upcoming events can be found at http://ipm.uconn.edu/under events.
This institution is an affirmative action/ equal employment opportunity employer and program provider. Contact us 3 weeks in advance for special accommodations.
UConn Seniors Casey Lambert and Evan Lentz staffed the joint UConn Extension/UMass Extension Fruit informational booth at the Farm Aid 2018 event on Saturday, September 22nd held at the Xfinity Center in Hartford. They work with Mary Concklin, Associate Extension Educator-Fruit Specialist, with commercial fruit growers on a USDA-iPiPE grant.
Did you miss a class? A selection of trainings from the Solid Ground program are available in an e-learning format at newfarms.extension.uconn.edu.
BF 104: Soil Health and Management with Kip Kolesinskas is a three-part course. Participants will learn the basic soil science principles for maintaining healthy soils. Guidance on soil testing and reading soil tests is provided.
BF 105: Fruit Production for Small Scale Farming with Mary Concklin covers site selection and preparation, soil requirements for various fruits, varieties, planting and care, support systems and other key areas.
BF 106: Vegetable Production for Small Scale Farming covers everything from choosing crops to marketing, and pest problems. Trainers are Matthew DeBacco and Jude Boucher. There is a three-part training and PowerPoints available.
The full calendar of trainings is listed on the Solid Ground webpage. Staff includes Jiff Martin, Project Director; Charlotte Ross, Project Coordinator; and Mackenzie White, Program Assistant.
“Educating farmers in sustainable, profitable and environmentally-sound food production practices benefits every man, woman and child in the country directly, on a daily basis, by helping to maintain a safe and secure food source. Knowledge of effective IPM practices helps prevent excess application of pesticides by otherwise frustrated growers,” Jude Boucher says.
The name Jude Boucher is synonymous with vegetable production in Connecticut. Jude joined UConn Extension in 1986 as the Extension Educator for vegetable crops Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
Jude provided cutting-edge solutions to growers on pest management and crop production problems, keeping them competitive on the local, regional, and national level. A multi-faceted approach is used in vegetable IPM that reaches a vast number of growers, not only in Connecticut, but; throughout the Northeast. During the growing season, Jude worked with numerous farms to improve their business and address crop issues as they arose. From conventional to organic farms, new farmers to experienced farmers; Jude worked with everyone and improved their economic viability and production.
Diversifying a Traditional Farm
Jude assisted Fair Weather Acres in Rocky Hill in diversifying and building resiliency to the challenges Mother Nature provided. The farm is over 800 acres along the Connecticut River. Jude advised Billy and Michele Collins on ways to diversify their marketing efforts and the number of crops they grow, after flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011 washed away much of the crops, and left the farm in debt.
Originally, the farm received IPM training on three crops: beans, sweet corn, and peppers. With diversification, Billy began producing 55 different varieties of vegetables. Jude taught him pest management for his new crops, and the Collins hired an Extension-trained private consultant to help monitor and scout pests and implement new pest management techniques.
“I encouraged and advised Michele on developing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture on their farm and introduced them to other successful CSA farm operators,” Jude says. “Michele started the CSA with 120 members in 2012, and – through a variety of methods – has exceeded 500 summer CSA shares.”
Michele and Billy give back to Extension by speaking at state and regional conferences, hosting twilight meetings, research plots on their farm, and UConn student tours. “Jude has been an integral part of the growth and diversification of our farm. His extensive knowledge and passion for agriculture, coupled with his love of people and farmers in particular, made him an unrivaled asset to Connecticut agriculture,” Michele says. “Jude taught us, advised us, and offered us unlimited guidance in many areas including IPM, alternative farming concepts, marketing, and agribusiness just to name a few.”
Building a New Farm
Oxen Hill Farm is a family enterprise in West Suffield that began when the Griffin family inherited an idle hay and pasture farm with the intent of creating an organic vegetable and cut flower farm.
“Besides small-scale home vegetable and flower gardens, they had no experience operating a commercial vegetable and cut-flower business,” Jude says. “They signed up for training with me, and the first year, 2009, started with an acre of organic vegetables and cut flowers.”
Despite the challenges of their first year, they expanded their business in 2010, growing from 36 CSA members to over 150. Oxen Hill enlarged their acreage onto their parents’ home farm, to almost 20 acres of crops, and learned to grow everything from artichokes to zucchini. The farm continues to flourish.
Finding a Better Way
Jude worked with farmers throughout the region on deep zone tillage (DZT). “DZT allows a grower to prepare a narrow seedbed, only inches wide, rather than exposing the surface of the whole field to wind and rain,” Jude explains. “Farms can also till deeply, right under the crop row to loosen any hardpan that has formed after years of using a plow and harrow. This allows the soil to absorb and retain more water and allows the plants to extend their roots deeper into the soil. The system also improves soil quality over time.”
Due to his work, there are Extension programs in every New England state advocating the use of DZT, and over 45 growers in the region have switched to DZT. Although he retired in 2017, the work of Jude carries on in the farmers across the state. They organized a grower’s organization, and are looking forward to working with our new vegetable crops Extension educator, Shuresh Ghimire, who started on July 1st.
Article by Stacey Stearns
“New York City is surrounded by water,” Angie Harris says, “I realized it was a great source of beauty, transportation, and recreation. But it was also contaminated and deeply problematic.” Angie grew up in Queens, New York. She realized water was a crucial resource of concern while an undergraduate at New York University studying environmental sciences.
The interdependent relationship of farming, water and land was also intriguing to Angie. Precipitation and ecology are critical to success in farming. She earned her masters’ degree in environmental science at the University of Rhode Island and worked as a research fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Global Change Research Program. Angie joined UConn Extension two years ago as the Program Coordinator for the Agriculture Water Security Project.
The Agriculture Water Security Project is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)’s Regional Conservation Partnerships Program and promotes conservation assistance to agricultural producers. The program facilitates Extension’s work in ensuring farmers are thinking about and preparing for drought.
“I serve as a resource for farmers, gardeners, and homeowners to guide and advise them on water conservation and drought preparedness and management. I also serve as a network builder and connect them to other existing resources and organizations,” Angie says. She uses a combination of her education, and personal experience as a full-time farmer for three years in her role on the project. “My mission is to increase the adoption of conservation practices and activities throughout the state.”
Extension is assessing how much water farmers use, and completed a statewide water use survey on irrigation practices and water availability concerns. Next, a pilot metering project at 12 farms tracked their weekly water use for two years. The farms included vegetable, dairy, and nursery and greenhouse operations.
“The farmers kept diligent records and it was inspiring to see how they became scientists and water managers. A curiosity emerged around water use and they demonstrated that they really wanted to know how much water they were using and when,” Angie says.
A key turning point in the water project came at the end of 2016, a serious drought year for Connecticut. UConn Extension hosted a drought listening session for farmers at the Capitol and documented their concerns and ideas in a clear way that was communicated with the state Department of Agriculture and NRCS.
Connecticut developed a state water plan over the last few years. Mike O’Neill, associate dean for outreach and associate director of UConn Extension, served on the planning committee and represented agriculture in the plan’s development.
The next step for the Agriculture Water Security Project was helping farmers prepare drought plans and connecting them to financial assistance from NRCS. A total of 10 projects were provided financial assistance related to developing more robust and secure irrigation infrastructure. Projects included new wells and buried irrigation pipeline.
“We helped a couple of farms access funding to install wells, and it continues to be rewarding to see how pleased the farmers are to have the new resources,” Angie mentions. The Extension project continues to offer irrigation and drought planning resources for farmers.
“I’m excited to see farmers living out their values around land stewardship and food production in thoughtful and creative ways. There is always something that people can do, or a small action they can take to be a mindful citizen,” Angie says. “There is always more to learn, for farmers and residents. For instance, knowing how much water it took to make your jeans or plastic food packaging – it’s important for all of us to continue our learning around the impacts of our actions and consumption.”
Angie led UConn Extension’s initiative around the 40-Gallon Challenge, a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. It quantifies impacts on the linkage between small actions and water use.
Citizens nationwide are encouraged to participate in the 40-Gallon Challenge by enrolling at http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/. Materials were developed and promoted by Angie and Casey Lambert, a student intern, that quantified water saved by various actions residents can take in their home and yard.
Connecticut is no longer in a drought. But the work of stewardship continues. Angie’s goal is to prepare farmers and residents before water resources become a crisis. By encouraging everyone to simplify, we hone in on the essential needs and ensure successful growing seasons in the years to come.
This project is sponsored by USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Award identification 68-1106-15-05.
Article by Stacey Stearns