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.
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.”
(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy today signed an executive order directing the state’s Water Planning Council (WPC) to immediately implement the State Water Plan that was submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly in January 2018.
The plan, which was ordered by the General Assembly through Public Act 14-163, was developed by the WPC to balance the needs of public water supply, economic development, recreation, and ecological health. It was completed through an exhaustive and transparent process that included an extended period of public comment from all stakeholders. The plan required legislative review and approval, but the legislative session ended without action from the General Assembly.
A major point of contention for some legislators was a provision in the State Water Plan’s executive summary that declares water a public trust – a declaration of public policy that has been enshrined in state statute for more than 40 years. The Governor’s executive order recommits to the definition of water as a public trust.
“The State Water Plan is a critically important initiative that puts the needs of Connecticut families ahead of the commercial interests of private water utility companies and big businesses,” Governor Malloy said. “We should all be able to agree that water is a precious resource that should be protected for the public’s interest and safeguarded for future generations in the event of emergencies. Today’s executive order does just that, ensuring that we waste no time safeguarding our clean water supply.”
In addition to implementing the State Water Plan, the executive order takes the following actions:
Directs the WPC to coordinate and work with the advisory group established pursuant to Section 25-33o(c) to help implement the State Water Plan.
Orders the WPC to resubmit the State Water Plan to the General Assembly for its review and approval by December 1.
“Connecticut’s water resources are among the purest and most well protected in the nation, and the State Water Plan ensures that this public trust resource will be wisely stewarded for future generations,” Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee said. “This plan, developed through a consensus-based stakeholder process, provides the data and guidance needed for our state to make informed choices in managing this precious resource.”
“The preservation, management and use of water is critical to Connecticut’s future,” Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Raul Pino said. “I thank the Governor for championing this important, multi-year plan that is designed to ensure a balanced use of this most precious natural resource, and we look forward to working with the administration, the legislature and the other members of the Water Planning Council to enact the State Water Plan.”
“Public Trust is a policy that recognizes the public’s inherent right to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment,” Alicea Charamut of Connecticut River Conservancy said. “Here in Connecticut, we are fortunate to have this public trust policy solidified in statute – a statute that has been in place for 40 years. But those who profit from our water resources consider this policy a threat to their bottom line and seek to undermine its principal. They claim its inclusion in Connecticut’s State Water Plan as it currently resides will introduce uncertainty and confusion. To the contrary, honoring Connecticut’s public trust policy will ensure that we have clean and adequate water for public health, the environment, recreation and the economy for generations to come.”
The WPC is comprised of representatives four agencies: the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Department of Public Health, the Office of Policy and Management and Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
The State Water Plan is the first of its kind in Connecticut.
Legal challenges to the approved Saddle Ridge housing development are slowly working their way through the courts, with no clear indication when written briefs might be filed or oral arguments will take place.
The Planning and Zoning Commission’s unanimous vote in March is being appealed by entities that both favor and oppose the controversial plan, which would have 20 affordable housing units out of 66 total units.
The developer, consisting of Saddle Ridge Developers LLC and Silver Sport Associates LP, is upset with some of the many conditions — or restrictions — put on the project’s approval by the P&Z. The Coalition to Save Easton, a group affiliated with the Citizens For Easton organization that has long focused on retaining the town’s rural character, wants the P&Z decision overturned.
The two lawsuits have been consolidated by the court and transferred to the state’s Superior Court land-use docket, and will be heard by Judge Marshall Berger. In a previous lawsuit involving a different development proposal by the Saddle Ridge developer at the same site, Berger denied the developer’s appeal and ruled in favor of the P&Z’s rejection of that project.
A conference call on the pending case for representatives of the participating parties has been scheduled for Oct. 3. A previous conference call took place Aug. 22.
The P&Z is being represented by attorney Ira Bloom of the Berchem Moses firm, who handles many matters for the town; the developer’s attorney is Matthew Ranelli of Shipman & Goodwin; and the coalition’s legal representative is attorney Janet P. Brooks, an environmental specialist.
Bloom said the judge has asked lawyers involved in the case to report in about once a month on their status in the litigation.
In the future, the attorneys will be given a date to submit written briefs by the judge and then a date set to hear oral arguments. “But that’s a ways down the road,” Bloom said.
Ranelli, the developer’s attorney, said he could offer no comment at this time. Ranelli also represented the developer in front of the P&Z during the application process.
Brooks, the Coalition to Save Easton’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment.
William J. Kupinse Jr., one of three interveners in the case on behalf of the coalition, said the case remains in “its preliminary stages. Like most litigation, it will drag along for awhile and eventually be heard by the court.”
Kupinse, a former Easton first selectman, is a practicing attorney but is not involved in this case as a legal representative, but as a town resident on behalf of the coalition. The two other coalition members listed in court papers are Leslie Minasi and Verne Gay.
The P&Z has met to discuss the legal case in executive session — which are closed to the public and media — several times before regular meetings in recent months.
P&Z Chairman Robert Maquat said he doesn’t believe any formal legal documents other than the original lawsuit papers — called “complaints” in legal jargon — have been filed with the court. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” Maquat said.
The project, the appeals
As approved, Saddle Ridge would have 30 single-family homes as well as 18 duplex structures with an additional 36 living units. All structures would be on lots of at least one acre, with about one-third of the overall site kept as homeowners’ association-owned open space. Each of the 48 lots would be served by individual septic systems and wells.
The development, known as Easton Crossing, would be built on a 110-acre site that had been zoned for three-acre, single-family houses.
The application was filed under the state’s affordable housing law, known as statute 8-30g, which puts an extra burden on local land-use boards when rejecting an application.
In its appeal, the developer claims the P&Z’s numerous conditions of approval “essentially denies Saddle Ridge’s application because it will have a substantial adverse impact on the viability and degree of affordability of Saddle Ridge’s development.”
The appeal states the P&Z’s 77 conditions “do not clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing in Easton” and “could have been addressed by reasonable changes to the application plans.”
The Coalition to Save Easton, in its lawsuit, questions having have one septic system for each two-unit duplex structure based on a town ordinance, the P&Z concluding a new inland wetlands application wasn’t needed, and if the project’s regional environmental impact was fully vetted.
In addition to the above article published in the Easton Courier, the project is reasonably likely to have the effect of unreasonable polluting the waters of the State as concluded by our experts,. And, as partially stated in the last paragraph in the Courier article, the project contains community septic, which is contrary to Town Ordinance. Also, among our other concerns, the application bypassed the Conservation Commission usurping their role in determining the licensing of regulated activities .
President Donald Trump’s June 1 announcement that the United States is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord has spawned reactions from environmental activists on local, state and national levels. The resounding message locally is that work to combat climate change and threats to the environment is stronger than ever in Easton and other communities.
Verne Gay, president of Citizens for Easton (CFE), terms Trump’s decision “a spectacular disappointment. It’s frustrating for people like me, people who are community activists interested in environmental issues,” he said,
CFE’s goal is to preserve the town’s rural and natural character.
The federal government is “ceding moral leadership,” Gay said, and local communities “have to be the one to take the lead. It means everyone has to double down and be more dedicated. If the country is going to cede that position, it’s more incumbent on communities and individuals to step into the breach. You lead from the bottom up.” Gay referred to the familiar phrase, “Think globally, act locally” to sum up his feelings.
Click the Paypal button to donate. You can direct your contribution either to CSE or to CFE (general conservation purposes). Your gift(s) is tax deductible to the extent allowed by the law. Citizens for Easton is a registered 501(c)(3 )organization.
You can also mail your contribution to :
Citizens for Easton
PO Box 151
Easton, CT 06612