Tag Archives: Supporting local agriculture

Partnership would preserve Gilbertie property Land and greenhouses would be protected for open space and farming

Dan Levinson, president of Main Street Resources, and Sal Gilbertie shake hands to seal their business deal.

A third-generation farmer, Sal Gilbertie gets up every morning and goes to work all day in his four acres of greenhouses on Adams Road. He grows petite edibles, cut greens and other USDA-certified organic products to sell to leading food markets in the tri-state area.

He and his family own and operate Gilbertie’s Herbs and Garden Center in Westport, begun by his grandfather, in addition to farming the wholesale operation in Easton.

Farming is what Gilbertie loves, and at 79, he shows no signs of slowing down or wanting to do anything else.

“I hope I can keep doing it all my life,” he said at the end of a busy workday.

But farming has challenges beyond dawn-to-dusk hard work and the whims of Mother Nature.

Three years ago, financial reality forced him to sell the 34-acre property on Adams and Keller roads that he and his wife, Marie, purchased in 1984. Dan Levinson, president of Main Street Resources, a limited liability company in Westport, bought it. Gilbertie continues to operate his business through a lease with Levinson.

Levinson and David Brant, executive director of the Aspetuck Land Trust, want to create a conservation easement that would preserve 15.4 acres of the property as open space and have approached the town of Easton about forming a partnership.

The site abuts Randall’s Farm Preserve, the 34-acre former farm that Joan DuPont donated to the land trust three years ago.

Brant and Ross Ogden, a Planning and Zoning Commission alternate, presented a broad overview of the proposed partnership to the Board of Selectmen, subject to negotiations and taxpayer approval.

The other half of the property, with its working greenhouses and buildings, plus the house, which sits on three acres, would continue to be a farm.

Brant said the proposed venture would be “a nice extension” to the 34 acres Joan Dupont donated, and that the land trust “would work very hard to come to some kind of a deal.”

“We love Easton, which has a great agricultural heritage and ongoing agricultural enterprises,” Brant said. “Preventing Gilbertie’s farm from being developed is a good thing. It’s fortunate that Dan has the means and inclination to preserve it as an agricultural enterprise.”

Sport Hill Farm also grows vegetables on the site, Brant said.

With regard to the 14 acres that would be preserved as open space, Brant said the land trust would undertake fund raising to come up with the money to purchase it, if the town is able to be a partner.

“We’d like to see Gilbertie’s Farm preserved, and we’re going to try to make it happen,” First Selectman Adam Dunsby said.

The town has a fund for fees in lieu of open space that can be used only for open space purchases. People who come before the Planning and Zoning Commission for subdivision approvals have the choice of donating 15% of the land they are developing or the cash equivalent. Over the years the fund has accrued $806,916.

Two other funds might be able to be tapped for money for this purpose, the agriculture land preservation fund, which has $66,595 and the land acquisition fund, which has $8,752.

“So the town is in the rare position of actually having money that could be used for this purpose as I understand it,” Dunsby said. “If the town participated, there would be no tax impact. We would be drawing on existing funds.”

Since the partnership involves a purchase, it would require a referral to the Planning and Zoning Commission, meetings with the Board of Finance and a Town Meeting. Nothing is set in stone since the idea is in the conceptual stage, subject to negotiations, but the parties are anxious to move it forward.

“We purchased the property from Sal three years ago to protect it and are hoping to work with the land trust, the town and Sal to put a transaction together that protects the farm long-term for the community,” Levinson said. “We would love to keep it as an operating farm and protect it from rising prices and fear of future development.”

Levinson said Easton is one of the few parts of the world that has a shot at preserving small, working farms, “preserving something really beautiful.”

“We believe that the local food system is really critical in New England, and places like Gilbertie’s can play a critical role in bringing local farming back to life,” Levinson said.

He is cofounder to the Green Village Initiative, a nonprofit in Bridgeport, whose mission is to create social, economic and environmental change through a network of ,  and . The initiative promotes and educates the community about nutrition, healthy eating, agriculture, and gardening in an urban setting.

“We have a strong interest to get something done in the town’s and land trust’s interest, as we set out to protect the farm,” Levinson said.

Gilbertie said he just had his best quarter selling petite edibles and is excited about the prospect of working with Brant and Levinson, whom he considers friends, and the town to preserve the farming legacy in Easton.

A renowned expert on herbs and vegetables,Gilbertie has written half a dozen books, available on Amazon.com, and appeared on the Martha Stewart Show.

Stewart had this to say about Gilbertie’s fifth book, Small-Plot, High-Yield Gardening: “Whether you have a real garden or just a window box, I can think of no better guide to creating a sustainable herb and vegetable garden than Sal Gilbertie,” she said. “For more than 30 years I have turned to Sal for healthy, productive plants. With this useful and informative book, he can help you, too, cultivate your garden.”

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

cfe-new-york-times-symbolEaston, Conn.: Embracing a Farming Culture

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.


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.

Easton Town Meeting to vote on Agricultural Commision

At the annual town meeting  this Monday Easton will vote to determine if the current Easton Agricultural Committee will become a commission. CFE sees this as a big step forward in showing support for local agriculture and farmers. Please be there to make your voice heard!