Category Archives: Easton’s history

Agricultural endeavors are aiming to put Easton on the map

Sal Gilbertie is owner of Gilbertie Herb Farm, an Easton greenhouse that produces both herbs and nutritional greens. Gilbertie’s operation has shifted its focus repeatedly during the more than half a century he has been a grower. — Robert Sample photo
Sal Gilbertie is owner of Gilbertie Herb Farm, an Easton greenhouse that produces both herbs and nutritional greens. Gilbertie’s operation has shifted its focus repeatedly during the more than half a century he has been a grower. — Robert Sample photo

With 50 mostly small- and family-run farms within its town limits, few Connecticut towns have preserved farmland as assiduously as Easton. And without sacrificing its status as an out-of-the-way oasis amid the sprawl of suburbia, Easton now wants to put itself on the map.

Of note, the town is now actively seeking a designation as Connecticut’s Christmas Tree Capital, with attendant signage on the Merritt Parkway. Recently, Citizens for Easton — a nonprofit group that works to preserve the town’s small town characteristics — invited residents, gardening enthusiasts, budding growers and other interested observers to an event called Meet Easton’s Farmers.

The well-attended meeting provided an overview of agriculture in Easton, the challenges faced by small farmers today and the town’s potential as an agri-tourism hub.

The town’s preservation measures helped retain large tracts of open space and largely rural ambiance. Silverman’s Farm evolved from a cider mill and truck farm founded in the early 1920s into a popular destination for day-trippers from throughout the tri-state region.

“In the 1980s a lot of farms — including us — became pick-your-own places,” said Irv Silverman, the youngest son of founders Ben and Rose Silverman,who now runs the family farm.“Little kids who visit have never seen fruit growing on a tree, so visits to farms like ours are educational for today’s youngsters.”

At the much newer Shaggy Coos Farm nearby, Tim and Bernadette Brady raise beef cattle, pigs, and turkeys, and board horses. Two years ago, the couple purchased two Holstein dairy cows and began producing natural milk.

“Natural milk tastes nothing like what you buy in a supermarket,” Brady noted. To demonstrate, he brought a container to give out samples of the farm’s chocolate milk. The Bradys spent days taste-testing and fine tuning the perfect combination of milk and cocoa.

The biggest hurdle the Bradys face is the lack of a USDA-certified slaughterhouse in Connecticut. This means producers such as the Bradys must bring livestock for slaughter to New York or Massachusetts.

Niche

Sal Gilbertie, owner of Gilbertie Herb Garden in Easton, urged those interested in agriculture to choose a product “niche.” His is a third-generation greenhouse that began as a producer of cut flowers, later diversified into potted plants and arrived at its current specialty — herbs — at a time when that market was in its infancy.

“We were the only game in town when it came to herbs,” said Gilbertie. More recently, Gilbertie has diversified yet again. This time, he is specializing in micro- , petite-, and baby-greens, capitalizing on their newfound popularity and reputation for packing a nutritional punch.

“The smaller the green, the more nutritious and flavorful it is,” said Gilbertie.

Howland Blackiston raises a rather unusual crop: bees. He has been a lifelong bee enthusiast but pursued beekeeping only after moving to Easton in the 1970s. He’s the author of both “Beekeeping for Dummies” and “Building Hives for Dummies,” and created a website in 1998 devoted to backyard beekeeping.

Bees play a vital role in the pollination of food crops and have suffered of late from a well-publicized syndrome known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). “We don’t know for sure what causes CCD but some very smart people are working on it,” Blackiston noted.

Possible culprits include viruses, parasites, mites and certain pesticides. “I urge everyone to take a very good look at what you put on your plants,” Blackiston said. In particular, he urged gardeners to eschew a type of widely available pesticide known as neonicotinoids. They are toxic to bees and are banned in some European countries.

The gathering also heard from Lori Cochran-Dougall, a board member of the Fairfield County Farm Bureau. Cochran-Dougall began a program that teaches women in veterans’ rehabilitation how to cook with the assistance of award-winning farm-to-table chefs. She pointed out that cooking skills help people to be both more self-sufficient and to eat healthier diets.

Some practical advice came from Carol Hamilton, a retired teacher who is a state-certified master gardener and member of the Easton Garden Club. In recent months, the club and Hamilton’s fellow master gardeners have fielded plenty of questions about the effects of winter and spring storms on plants and trees.

“Whenever you have a question, talk to a master gardener – it’s a free resource,” Hamilton noted. “Or better yet, take the course.”

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CFE PRESENTATION ON 22 SOUTH PARK AVENUE

mill river from david

View of the Mill River on the 29.6 acre South Park property in Easton. This section of the Mill River is designated by the state of Connecticut as a Class 1 Wild Trout Management Area, one of only nine in the state.

Please join us at 7:30, Thursday, August 18, 2016 at the Library Community Room where CFE will present to the BOS a proposal to retain the 29.6 acres of property located at 22 South Park Avenue as open space in perpetuity.

 

Your presence at the presentation will send a strong message to the selectmen that the majority of the townspeople feel very strongly about preserving this unique piece of Easton’s character and heritage for current and future generations.

 

Please pass this email to anyone you know who is interested in preserving Easton’s future and character.

 

Also,  sign up to receive important information as we post it to our website. Simply, mouse over the bottom right corner, click the “follow” tab and enter your email address.

 

Thank you for your support!

Citizens for Easton

 

SOUTH PARK PRESENTATION-SAVE THE DATE!

Forever Yours or Forever Gone: On Thursday, August 18, 2016 (location and time to be determined by Board of Selectmen) Citizens for Easton will present to the Selectmen a proposal to retain the unique 29.6 South Park Avenue property as open space in perpetuity. This pastoral landscape is part of Easton’s rural character and abuts the Mill River, one of only nine Class A Wild Trout streams left in Connecticut. Your presence will send a strong message to the Selectmen that townspeople feel very strongly about preserving this important part of Easton’s character and heritage for current and future generations.

Please also pass this information to others interested in preserving part of what makes Easton special and safeguarding the sensitive Mill River.

Email cfe@citizensforeaston.org to signup for important updates.

Thank you for your support!

8th Annual Farm Tour Date Set

August 20, 2016-Save the date!

More info to follow!

 

 

 

 

PAINE OPEN SPACE HISTORY

To visit Paine Open Space, follow Stepney Road/ Rt 59 to a left turn onto Judd Road; turn left. Right on Maple Road (shortly past April Drive) and go 1 mile. Turn right into the main entrance.

The Easton Conservation Commission was constituted in 1970 with the responsibility of enforcing the state Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act.  Under State Statute, the commission has the following additional responsibilities:

• To develop, conserve, supervise and regulate natural resources including water resources.

• To conduct research and provide recommendations into the actual and potential use of land areas.

• To keep an index of all open areas whether public or privately owned.

• To acquire land in the name of the town when deemed advisable.

Major land acquisition

In 1975 the town completed one of the largest land acquisitions in its history.  At this time Conservation Commission members Alden Speare,  Robert J. Nicola, Pauline S. Marks, Leslie B. Warren,  Mimi J. Boyd, Jean Everett and Margaret Kerr made the recommendation that the town purchase 128 acres of land from Ralph D. Paine Jr.  for what is known as the Paine Open Space.

The purchase was a collaborative effort with a total of $435,000 being raised.  Half of the funds came from a federal grant, while the remainder was split evenly between the state of Connecticut and the town of Easton.

Paine Open Space

Easton owns the majority of the Paine Open Space, however,  the Aspetuck Land Trust owns two adjacent parcels containing approximately 10 acres. Since the original acquisition, the Conservation Commission and the town have added an additional 15 acres for a total of more than 150 acres that will be preserved forever.

All parcels are interconnected with hiking trails that meander through different habitats from open meadows to woodland areas, as well as wetlands with a number of ponds and bridges.  There is even an island that is connected by a bridge in one of the larger ponds.

The trails are great for hiking and horseback riding, as well as snowshoeing or cross country skiing in the winter.  Many residents have enjoyed ice skating on one of the ponds in the colder months.  There are 10 ponds of varying sizes on the property and seven interconnected ponds built by Paine.  Go to eastonct.gov and enter Paine in the search section for a downloadable map of the Paine Open Space trail system.

We encourage all Eastonites, young and old, to explore this beautiful piece of town-owned land. The property is on Maple Road with two entrances. The main entrance,  between #210 and #220,  has plenty of parking while a smaller entrance further down the road,  beyond  #290, can accommodate a couple of cars only.

Since federal funds were used to cover part of the Paine Open Space purchase price, the following rules are in place:

• Open daily during daylight hours.

• No motor vehicles of any kind, including ATVs, are allowed except in designated parking areas and for maintenance and emergency use.

• No hunting or discharging of firearms.

• No fires permitted for any purpose.

• No smoking allowed.

• No cutting or felling of trees or removal of plants or plant material.

• Horses restricted to designated trails.

• No camping, swimming or picnicking.

• Dogs must be leashed.

Historic hay barn

A classic English hay barn on the Paine property was built in 1847.  Today, only the stone foundation remains.  Easton wanted to repair the barn and raised funds to do so, but since the building inspector wouldn’t let preservationists onto the roof for safety reasons, the restoration was never completed.

The barn was offered to the public, and John Baldwin of Canterbury was awarded the barn by Easton’s Board of Selectmen.  Baldwin owns a home built in 1712, and he planned on rebuilding the Paine barn on the site of an old barn foundation is on his property.

Enjoyed by diverse groups

Many different groups have enjoyed the Paine Open Space over the years.  In addition to visits by Easton residents, the property was used for a Sacred Heart University student film class project entitled, “Purdy’s Crossing” about the underground railroad.

The property was also used by Easton Woods and Fields  (horse-riding group) for trail riding.  Recently, the Easton Fire Department conducted a mock fire rescue at Paine Open Space.

Various Troop 66 Eagle Scout projects have been completed on the property.  Anthony Battaglia and his team created a new trail that connected two existing trails.  Dan Gonzalo and his team built and repaired several bridges.  Other Scouts have helped with trail marking over the years.

Precious property

Over the years there have been several acts of vandalism at the Paine Open Space.  Though all residents are encouraged to use this wonderful town asset, everyone who visits should remember that Paine is a town park, for the use by the townspeople.  Each of us should safeguard it as we do our own backyards.

Ralph D. Paine Jr.

Ralph “Del” Delahaye Paine Jr. was born March 31, 1906, in New Jersey and died January 12, 1991.  He was the oldest son of author and journalist Ralph Delahaye Paine Sr. and had two younger twin brothers. Ralph Paine attended Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones and graduated in 1929.

Like some other Eastonites, Paine was a Wall Street securities analyst after college.  He became the business editor for Time magazine in 1933.

In 1938, he was the personal assistant to publisher Henry Luce, the co-founder of Time.  During World War II, Paine was in charge of The March of Time newsreel series and the European operations of Time Inc. publications.

Paine served as managing editor of Fortune from 1941 to 1953 and following the departure of Charles Douglas Jackson, he was publisher from 1953 to 1967. During his tenure, the magazine created its famous Fortune 500 list.  Paine also served as publisher of Architectural Forum from 1954 to 1963 and House and Home from 1962 to 1963.

Over the period of 1936 to 1941 the Paine family acquired the eight parcels of land that was to become the Paine Open Space.

In 1947, Paine married Nancy White, who at the time was associate fashion editor of Good Housekeeping and later became the editor of Harper’s Bazaar.

At the time of his death, Paine was president and treasurer of the Vermont real estate holdings company Barton Mountain Corporation.

Conservation Commission and Inland Wetlands Agency

As the Inland Wetlands Agency, the commission enforces the provisions of Connecticut’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act.  In this capacity, it reviews applications for regulated activities, conducts site visits and if appropriate, holds public hearings prior to approving or denying a permit.

The Conservation Commission is responsible for maintaining town-owned land designated as open space and also for planning future open space acquisitions.  To that effect, it works closely with developers and conservation groups, recommending to the Planning and Zoning Commission specific areas to be acquired by the town or otherwise protected.

Recent maintenance activities at the Paine Open Space included replacing drainage pipes under several trails, trimming trees that have been damaged in storms and other general maintenance activities.  Commission member Steve Corti has been doing most of the work along with help from a neighbor, Peter Smith.  Depending on availability, Easton’s Highway Department has been lending a helpful hand as well.

Aspetuck Land Trust

The Aspetuck Land Trust is a non-profit Connecticut Corporation devoted to preserving  open space and the natural resources of Easton, Fairfield, Weston and Westport for the benefit of the public.  You can visit their website at

— Other Conservation Commission/Inland Wetlands Agency members also contributed to this report.

STANDING ROOM ONLY AT OUR ANNUAL MEETING FEATURING DAN CRUSON

IMG_6042-3The Citizens for Easton Annual Meeting featuring guest speaker, Dan Cruson, drew a capacity crowd at the library on Wednesday night. More than 100 people showed up and stayed to question Cruson about how our local ancestors buried their dead–and their evolving religious beliefs about eternity. These beliefs were reflected in the creation of tombstones. Cruson showed a series of slides depicting remarkable written tributes and design elements in stone. His presentation was capped by a dessert buffet and lots of conversation.