Easton, Conn.: Embracing a Farming Culture-From the NY Times

NOV. 11, 2015


Patti and Allan Popp didn’t move to the rural town of Easton, Conn., to take up farming. They were simply searching for more privacy than they had at their previous home in Stratford. Ms. Popp happened to fall in love with a 1740 house in foreclosure along one of Easton’s main routes, Sport Hill Road.

But within a few years of arriving in town in 1997, Ms. Popp, who worked as an office manager for a doctor, and her husband, a landscaper, decided to take a gamble. Ms. Popp’s employer was retiring, and she was ready for something new. So, like many Eastonites before them, the Popps would try to earn a living from the land.

Living In

The learning curve, Ms. Popp said, was enormous, and in the early years, when trial and error slowly revealed what their soil was and was not suited for, Mr. Popp’s landscaping business kept them financially afloat. Several times, they came close to giving up. But today, 15 years after they first began clearing their land, their business, Sport Hill Farm, can be counted among Easton’s small but established ranks of successful farms, with three acres of its own and 35 acres leased elsewhere.
The community has “welcomed us here,” Ms. Popp said, “even though we are one of the newer farms.”

A town of roughly 7,500, Easton is a rarity among Fairfield County suburbs in that it is home to at least 20 farms of varying sizes, from part-time specialty operations to large-scale agritourism attractions. The town is still predominantly woodland, largely because the four reservoirs within its borders put much of the land out of bounds for development — the Aquarion Water Company is a major landowner and the largest taxpayer by far.

With so much of the town in the watershed, “there isn’t a tremendous amount of land for big agriculture,” said Irv Silverman, who owns the 50-acre Silverman’s Farm, which draws many thousands of visitors every year to its pick-your-own orchards, berry fields and petting zoo. “There are only five or six farms here that are substantial enough to have at least 30 or 40 acres. But a lot of other little farms have come into existence.”

Easton’s peaceful, rural feel was the primary draw for Angenette and Bill Lynch, who moved from Stamford with their two children last year. Ms. Lynch grew up in a small town in upstate New York, and Easton felt familiar.

When a four-bedroom house went on the market right next door to one of Mr. Lynch’s cousins, the couple jumped, paying slightly more than the asking price, to get it. Mr. Lynch’s commute into New York City, where he is chief operations officer for the Specialty Food Association, is longer, “but this location checks all his boxes in terms of where he wants to be living,” Ms. Lynch said. And they are happier with the public school system in Easton; in Stamford, they paid for parochial school.

Easton’s small-town atmosphere is reinforced by avid conservationism and strict zoning. Commercial development consists of not much more than a couple of convenience stores and a single sit-down restaurant, the Olde Blue Bird Inn, serving breakfast and lunch. The Blue Bird is popular for weekend brunch, but you have to bring your own vodka for your Bloody Mary — no place in Easton sells alcohol.

What You’ll Find
Although Easton covers 27 square miles, it has only around 2,500 households, which makes it far less dense than the rest of the county — 274 people per square mile, versus the county average of 1,468, according to state calculations. Easton is not on the Metro-North rail line, so New York City commuters typically drive to the station in downtown Fairfield.

Many residents work at the headquarters of General Electric, which sits just outside Easton’s border in Fairfield. The company’s announcement earlier this year that it is considering relocating outside Connecticut is a source of concern, although the effect of a move on the local housing market would depend on where G.E. relocated and whether the company moved some or all of its offices, said Gayle Worthington, an agent with William Raveis Real Estate who lives in Easton.

Lower Easton — defined as the section below the blinking yellow light in the town center at Beers and Sport Hill Roads, according to Ms. Worthington — has mostly one-acre zoning. Upper Easton has three-acre-minimum zoning.

There are no condominiums or apartment complexes. A controversial proposal by the Saddle Ridge development company for 99 housing units, a portion of them affordable, on about 124 acres in the three-acre zone is on appeal in state Superior Court, having been turned down by the town’s planning and zoning commission, said Adam Dunsby, the first selectman, who acts as the town’s chief executive.

What You’ll Pay

The roughly 120 homes on the market earlier this month were priced from $450,000 to $2.9 million. The bulk of the properties fell between $600,000 and $1 million.

The number of sales was down about 12 percent this year as of the end of September compared with a year earlier, according to Ms. Worthington. The median sales price of $595,000 is up slightly over last year, but is still 22 percent below the market high in 2006, she said.
Properties in Lower Easton tend to sell more quickly because of their proximity to Fairfield and the Merritt Parkway, said Kelly Higgins, an agent with Coldwell Banker. But over all, buyers who choose Easton are usually seeking more house for their money, relative to towns on the rail line, and a small-town lifestyle, she said.

Sixteen new houses are planned at Easton Woods, a 44-home subdivision developed in phases beginning in the late 1980s, according to Jeff Wright, the listing agent and the owner-broker of Re/Max Right Choice in Trumbull. Twelve lots of three acres and up are still available. The homes start at 4,000 square feet; prices range from $1.3 million to $2 million, Mr. Wright said.

What to Do

Easton has a senior center, a public library and a community center, which has a rock-climbing wall and a fitness center.

The 730-acre Trout Brook Valley Preserve, which extends into Weston, welcomes hikers, dogs and horseback riders to its trail system.

The Easton Parks and Recreation department runs a variety of after-school activities for children, as well as an extended-day program with drop-offs as early as 7 a.m. and pickups as late as 6 p.m.

The members-only Easton Racquet Club has tennis courts and a swimming pool.
The outdoor patio at the Easton Village Store, which offers a variety of takeout sandwiches, soups and prepared dishes, is a popular meeting place.

The Schools

Samuel Staples Elementary School, built in 2005 with a distinctive barnlike design, serves about 600 students in kindergarten through Grade 5, as well as about 30 preschoolers.

Helen Keller Middle School, for Grades 6 through 8, features a high-tech innovation lab, said Thomas H. McMorran, the schools superintendent.

Joel Barlow High School, which is in a separate school district shared with the town of Redding, serves just over 1,000 students and has a 98 percent graduation rate, Mr. McMorran said. SAT scores for the class of 2015 were 561 for reading, 567 for math and 561 for writing; state averages were 504, 506, and 504.

The Commute

The drive to the station in downtown Fairfield takes 15 to 25 minutes. Travel time to Grand Central during peak hours runs from around 70 to 90 minutes. A monthly rail pass is $354.76 purchased online.

The History

Mills once drove the Easton economy, but little evidence of that past remains. According to a history linked to the town website, in the late 19th century, the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company began buying up land in Easton in order to secure water for that nearby city, where thriving factories were drawing people by the thousands. The waterside mill sites were chief among those acquisitions, and the buildings were demolished along the way.


Our effort to protect the watershed, along with Easton’s historic mandate to protect it, has reached a critical point.  Still the battle is not over and we need your financial support.”

On September 8, 2015, Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall K. Berger heard the Saddle Ridge appeal to build nearly one hundred “townhouses” on 110.5 acres on watershed land.

Should this appeal succeed, it will come to represent the highest density of housing in Easton’s history, demolishing longstanding zoning regulations that have been in place for over seventy years.

Of far greater significance, a successful appeal means that the watershed which has served greater Fairfield county for a century will be subject to the predation of those who seek short term financial gain at the expense of those who depend on a clean, sustainable supply of water for generations to come.

With your help, CFE has successfully opposed this development.

We’ve done this because of YOU.

You’ve heard the reasons because you know exactly what the stakes are.

You know this development would pollute wetlands and the many watercourses that drain directly into two major reservoirs — the Easton and the Aspetuck — that serve over half a million people in Fairfield county.

You know this proposed development would set a precedent for other high density housing developments.

You know this would be the beginning of a long and perilous slide — an irreversible slide.

During the Sept. 8 trial, Ira Boom, Attorney for Easton, and CFE’s attorney, Janet Brooks, relied heavily on testimony provided by the experts engaged by CFE/CSE. The good news is that both Ms. Brooks and Mr. Bloom mounted a strong, vigorous defense of our argument — YOUR argument.

You have been with us on this long and difficult process for five years. You have supported our efforts. You have contributed your thoughts. You have contributed your energy. You have also contributed your financial support. And we at CFE are asking for continued support — moral, emotional and financial. Please continue to give what you can of any those, mindful of the fact that this is not over yet.

We have now arrived at the final hurdle. We have an attorney, Ms. Brooks, who has been absolutely essential in getting us to this point. We’re lucky to have her, and we need her to clear that final hurdle.  We’re getting close to the end. But we’re not there yet. Please consider a donation to CF/CSE today.

This is about the future of the watershed. This is also about the future of Easton. Future generations are depending on us to make the right decision right now.

We have so far.

You can pay via PayPal using this link https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_flow&SESSION=BknSfdyBI66xoJ4miVuC6mWiyHtUTcISTMBd0fGT1MHokXClvMW4u6Vwfye&dispatch=5885d80a13c0db1f8e263663d3faee8d0b9dcb01a9b6dc564e45f62871326a5e

Or mail a check payable to CCE/CSE, PO Box 151, Easton, CT  06612.

Without your support, this development would already have been a reality.

Your donation is tax deductible to the extent allowed by the law. Citizens for Easton is a registered 501 (c) (3) organization.

Thank you for your continued support.

The Board of Citizens For Easton

Favors Preserving South Park Site

Easton Courier on August 29, 2015
To the Editor:

I believe that there are many reasons why the Town of Easton should not allow development on the South Park Avenue property.

First, it is our responsibility to preserve the quality of life that we value in Easton, principally our clean air and healthy environment. We love our farms, our walking trails and the natural areas (i.e. Trout Brook, the preserves and parks) that grace our community.

Preserving South Park Avenue means that we are helping to protect the open space that is so important to our health and our way of life. We are also protecting the land along the Mill River, which in turn helps protect against flooding.

I have read the figures in regard to tax benefits of Sacred Heart and Jewish Senior Services (formerly the Jewish Home for the Elderly) proposals. But, I would like to focus on the latter. I consider leaving the property as open space in the long run safeguards our tax rates!

First, the protected property would not require a change in the zoning laws, which, if passed could lead to a demand for other large developments.

Preserved open space will never produce the need for public services that (in the future) could increase our taxes.

Secondly, the Jewish Senior Services project requires sewer hookup. Not only the cost in dollars, but also the potential cost to our environment is of unknown consequence.

Finally I hope that the non-development (or development) of the South Park Avenue property will never become a political issue and that I am correct in thinking that Easton voters, if given the chance, will (overwhelmingly) approve continuing the protection of the Mill River, and open spaces.

For no amount of money will ever match the investment of protecting our land for future generations.

Janet P. Gordon

Delaware Road


Redding man wins basket full of treats
By Jane Paley, Contributor on August 25, 2015 in Business, Connecticut News, Lead News, News • 0 Comments

To celebrate the seventh annual farm tour, Citizens for Easton raffled a big red basket packed with produce and goodies from local farms, businesses and artists.
Drum roll please! From nearly 100 participants in the first annual Citizens for Easton Farm Tour “Big Red Basket” raffle, the winner is Chris O’Rielly of Redding.
His winnings include donations of goodies from Silverman’s Country Market, the Easton Village Store, Blue Button Farm, Sport Hill Farm, Sherwood Farm and the Aspetuck Valley Apple Barn.
Fair Hill Farm donated one full week of horseback riding camp. Art photographer Jeff Becker contributed a framed photo and Sal Gilbertie donated three gardening books. Fitness trainer Bob Danuzer will give the winner an in-home training session.
Margot Abrams of Floral Designs by Margot contributed a succulent garden arrangement. The winner will be able to get some free gas courtesy of the Old Blue Bird Garage. Greiser’s provided this year’s big red basket.
By every measure, this year’s Farm Tour was a big success. The weather was beautiful and the chance to sample Easton’s bounty drew crowds of happy visitors from near and far.

Join us for the 7th Annual Easton Farm Tour – Saturday, August 22, from 10am to 3pm.

Save the Date! Join us for the 7th Annual Easton Farm Tour – Saturday, August 22, from 10am to 3pm. This celebration of Easton, a local farming community within Fairfield County CT, is a self-guided tour of Easton farms. This event begins at the Easton Firehouse Green, One Center Road, Easton, Connecticut. Meet us here to check in and pick up an event map & pass to events and incentives offered by farmers and community organizations at the different locations throughout day.

We invite you to consider the Easton Firehouse Green as your home base throughout your tour.  On the Green you can enjoy food and family entertainment. Skinny Pines – an Easton-based purveyor of wood-fired pizzas –will be on site with their mobile wood-fired oven selling pizza,  and the Easton Community Center will be on hand with some old time fun and games for the entire family. “This day will capture the essence of days long gone with the simple enjoyment of a small town, a few farms and wholesome family time” said Lori Cochran -Dougall, co-chair of the Easton Farm Tour.

Save the date! Check here for details!

Leaders have responsibility to preserve Easton

By Easton Courier on July 21, 2015

To the Editor:
Can’t remember who said it or when it appeared, but the sentiment that “Easton already has plenty of open space,” was expressed as justification for developing the property on South Park Avenue.  Left me breathless.
Easton’s open spaces, along with our farms, are touted as the town’s defining feature.  Our water bodies serve the drinking water needs of the region; our forests furnish fresh air and wildlife habitat.  It has been a combination of serendipity, vigilance, hard work, and perseverance that have kept those water bodies secure and the forests intact.
There is no question that posterity will struggle with the repercussions of this generation’s undervaluation of the importance of Earth’s natural systems, but over four decades, Easton’s citizens have done their part to protect those systems.
I hope our leaders recognize their responsibility in continuing in that vein.  Thank you to Laura Modlin for her excellent pieces on “Preserving Easton” and her timely reminder of the grassroots effort required to protect the beauty and natural resources so enjoyed, admired, and valued in our town.
Lea Sylvestro


Oh beautiful, for open space
Preserving Easton, part two
By Laura Modlin, Correspondent on July 15, 2015 in Connecticut News, Features, Lead News, News, Town Government · 3 Comments

Bruce LePage in Easton’s portion of the 1,009 acres composing Trout Brook Valley, sometimes refered to as the lungs of Fairfield County. —Photo by Laura Modlin

If bulldozers are South Park Avenue’s fate it won’t just impact sparkling waterways and vast unspoiled stretches of land — it would also crush more than four decades of vigorous work by Easton conservationists.

Preservation of the property might seem like a pipe dream, what with the town’s first selectman, Adam Dunsby, seemingly set on selling the land – but, many of these same people faced a similar scenario two decades ago with a much larger piece of untamed terrain — Trout Brook Valley.

And they won out against all odds back then.

How it happened

The story of Trout Brook Valley began, as many notable Easton stories do, with a reservoir.

Between 1913 and 1940, Bridgeport Hydraulic Company purchased 730.26 acres in Easton and Weston that were destined to become the majority of the present day 1,009-acre Trout Brook Valley Conservation Area.

The water company obtained the land to have the option to build a dam across the southerly neck of the valley — and then flood the property, increasing storage for the adjacent Saugatuck Reservoir.

Demand for water in the greater Bridgeport area ended up declining, though, and the water company decided holding onto the property was not worth the cost.

“We learned the water company wanted to sell in ’93,” resident Gail Bromer, who was at the forefront of efforts to preserve the property, said.

“It was totally pristine land,” Princie Falkenhagen, then president of Citizens for Easton (CFE), said.

Bromer and Falkenhagen, along with several others, were already working on a special task force doing an inventory of open space land in town.

“We got involved in trying to preserve Trout Brook Valley,” Bromer said.

And they picked up a lot of individuals and groups along the way.

In May 1994, resident Bruce LePage, then executive director of Aspetuck Land Trust, got a call from Jack McGregor, chairman of the water company, to meet for lunch.

At the time, 330 acres of the land was being considered for homes and 400 acres for a golf course. The water company wanted to know if Aspetuck Land Trust would buy the 400-acre portion instead.

At a cost of about $7 million.

“We couldn’t [afford to] do that,” LePage said.

But Aspetuck Land Trust did jump on board with conservation efforts already going on.

“It was a huge, long drawn-out process,” Bromer said.

They went on faith.

“We just assumed it would be preserved,” Bromer said.

Plot twists

In February 1997, the water company announced it had signed a contract to sell the land for development.

The conservationists did not give in to defeat, though.

Members of The Coalition to Preserve Trout Brook Valley, founded by Falkenhagen and Bromer, became even more determined to save the sprawling array of forest, wetlands, fields, pools, brooks, streams and wild life. The Aspetuck Land Trust was right by their side.

“We talked to everyone we could think of who might be able to preserve Trout Brook Valley,” Bromer said.

The development plan had to go through Easton’s Planning & Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission.

“We arranged for lawyers and soil scientists to testify,” LePage said.

But they came to believe that buying the land was the way to go.

Under section 16-50c of the CT General Statutes, the town in which a public utility sells land has a right of first refusal. Land trusts also have a right of first refusal.

So, even though the property was already sold, Easton, Weston and The Aspetuck Land Trust could try and qualify to buy it.

Only Weston and the Aspetuck Land Trust sent letters seeking right of first refusal.

The total purchase price would be $12.1 million.

“I didn’t think we’d have the money, but this first step didn’t commit us,” LePage said.

Then-Governor John Rowland was in the process of setting up an Open Space Land Acquisition Fund, and so 50% of the purchase price could potentially be paid for by the state.

“We had the right governor at the right time in support of it,” Bromer said.

Who’s in?

By October 1997, The Coalition to Preserve Trout Brook Valley, together with the Aspetuck Land Trust, was fund raising — and Aspetuck Land Trust became keeper of the donations for the Easton portion.

Weston committed $845,000 for the 44.56 acres of Trout Brook Valley in their town.

Easton was asked to contribute $2 million toward the 685.70 acres in town.

Tony Colonnese, first selectman of Easton at the time, felt that development at Trout Brook Valley was better for the town than preservation of the land.

Later that year, the reins of the town switched to Bill Kupinse when he was elected as first selectman. He got on board with preservation.

“He said, go ahead, try,” Falkenhagen said.

Not that the group needed much encouragement.

“Our philosophy was, we’re all lucky enough to live in a watershed town,” Falkenhagen said. “But with that comes the obligation to preserve the land. It’s our job.”

Colonnese later became one of the preservationists’ biggest allies.


Things were slowly moving along when one day the group heard from a new voice.

Paul Newman.

He wanted to commit $100,000 a year for five years out of Newman’s Own brand. It turned out his daughters used to ride horses on the property and talked their father into it.

In February 1998, donations were building, but there still wasn’t enough.

Enter the Nature Conservancy.

They had been approached initially but were not interested. Now, with a new head of their Connecticut chapter wanting to get involved, they came through.

Tick tock, tick tock

In the end, the state of Connecticut committed $6 million for the land, and the rest was raised by the Nature Conservancy, Aspetuck Land Trust, the Coalition to Preserve Trout Brook Valley and several individuals and smaller groups.

So there would be enough money, but some of it was committed over three or four years, according to LePage.

In order to be able to pay for the property, the Nature Conservancy gave a loan for the balance that had not come in yet.

And on Sept. 2, 1999, BHC Company (formerly Bridgeport Hydraulic Company) sold the 685.70 acres in Easton to Aspetuck Land Trust and Weston bought its 44.56 acres.

Ruth Bedford of Easton owned properties to the north and south of that land. She donated them to the Aspetuck Land Trust, bringing the total of Trout Brook Valley up to 1,009 acres.

“It was the perfect storm in the best sense,” Bromer said.

What about Easton?

In order for Easton to vote on committing the $2 million, the board of finance had to officially recommend the vote. But Andy Kachele, finance board chairman at the time, thought it was a bad idea.

Kachele eventually came around, too.

By that time, though, money for the property was raised, and it would be purchased regardless of Easton’s participation.

The town voted no by a slim margin.

“I always felt bad we didn’t pay our share,” Kupinse said.

“We all did,” Bromer said.

Easton purchased some property at the time, though.

The intersection of rt. 136 and rt. 58, considered one of the gateways to Easton and known as The Four Corners. —Photo by Laura Modlin
The intersection of rt. 136 and rt. 58, considered one of the gateways to Easton and known as The Four Corners. —Photo by Laura Modlin
The land at the intersection at Routes 136 and 58, known as The Four Corners, was also in danger of development. Conservationists had been working to raise money to buy those parcels, too.

Easton bought one of the corners, included in the deal with BHC Company, with $160,000 raised by residents. Coming into town from Fairfield on Route 58, it is the near corner on the left.

Two of the other corners are owned by the Aspetuck Land Trust, and one is owned by Aquarion Water Company.

Why bother?

Kupinse has often referred to Easton as “the jewel of Fairfield County.”

“There is no place like Easton,” he said in a recent interview.

He has always felt a need to draw a line in the sand against any development, a sentiment Dunsby appeared to echo in a statement in The Courier during his campaign for first selectman in 2013.

“…the Easton we enjoy requires vigilance,” Dunsby’s Oct. 3, 2013 statement said. He warned of ongoing attempts at commercial and residential development that could break zoning and “take us down a path of inappropriate development.”

Kupinse said that all CFE (he is a board member) had to do was not fight development and the town would look much different.

“I have no doubt,” Kupinse said.

He speculates that if conservationists had not taken a stand all these years, there would be more commercial development around Silverman’s Farm and Greiser’s Store. And pockets of intense residential development, perhaps even townhouses and semi-high rises.

South Park Avenue

In the group’s 2015 annual newsletter, Verne Gay, CFE president, wrote an overview of the South Park Avenue situation. The group was formed in 1972 to protect against development of the same land.

“Any move to sell the property at this time is shortsighted,” he said. “Developers’ assurances are simply instruments of convenience — for them.”

He said those assurances can be “reordered at the stroke of a pen.”

Gay said that any tax dollars recaptured would be modest and not worth it.

“What is permitted on the South Park property won’t necessarily stay on the South Park property,” he said. “Precedence is a dangerous wedge that will be used to open the door to projects which do not comply with our zoning.”

Easton’s three-man Board of Selectmen has the power to sell the property without a town vote.

“CFE urges our town leaders to move forward with care and deliberation,” Gay said.

To learn more about CFE and their preservation efforts, visit citizensforeaston.org.

Learn more about Trout Brook Valley and the Aspetuck Land Trust at Aspetucklandtrust.org