essential to early farmers
During the Revolutionary War the farms were all provision farms
around here, but I think we are probably one of the last ones
still operating under the same family. Iím the last commercial
salt hay harvester in Connecticut.
What you are looking at here are ďThe Continental Marshes,Ē so
named and deeded in the Stonington Town Hall. They used to come
down, my ancestors did, and mow this marsh by hand with a scythe
and rig it up by hand, and it was hauled up to the farm and
When Washingtonís supply trains came through from New York to
Boston, they had a campground out here in Center Groton. The
scouts would notify the farms that they needed fodder Ė corn and
hay for 100 oxen. And then the farmers would load it on their
ox carts and take it there and restack it. The guards would stay
there to guard the scouts and the haystacks because the British
sympathizers from Norwich would come down and burn the
haystacks. And so thatís where they got the name of ďThe
Continental Marshes,Ē Ďcause it went to supply the Continental
army, wagon trains and supplies.
Most of the early settlements along Connecticut and Rhode Island
were on the coast because of the salt marshes. They were used by
all the farmers or anyone who had a cow or two, or 30 or 40
cows, or beefers, or any kind of livestock. If they didnít have
this salt marsh, it was a dead issue. You just could not survive
without it. There was no way.
Where do you go to get grass seed to put in the big field of
hay? If you went backcountry you had no place to buy grass
seed, like at the garden centers today. And this was just here
for the taking. It grew by itself and you can mow it every
year. You didnít have to plow or harrow, seed or fertilize -- it
You couldnít grow corn enough. You had to tear up the ground and
harrow it and plow it. Plow and harrow. And weed it. And take
care of it. And hope that the raccoon and the crows didnít eat
it all up, and the wild turkeys. With the marsh, all you had to
do was just go cut it. And that was worth a lot.
It was all done by hand work, It was all hand scythed and hand
rakes and hand pitch forks. It was pitched onto wagons, ox
carts, and taken up to the barns, if you had a barn. I donít
know what year it was but in the mid to late 1880s they came
along with a horse-drawn mowing machine.
There were five varieties of this marsh grass. Three of them
are very good and excellent livestock feed, and the other two
varieties go for mulch. And they use it for bedding for the
cattle and livestock.
hay a delicate task
Salt hay is a crop, and some people think that you do damage to
the marshes by mowing them. Well, you probably would if you went
in the soft spots with the heavy equipment. But I got a little
tractor and I drive in it mostly when the ground is either
frozen or very dry. In the wet places I wait until the ground is
frozen. Then there is no problem.
But we use a small tractor today on the marsh because itís
light. We donít want to do any damage Ė we think a lot of our
I bought a small John Deere 650. Itís a 20-horse, four-wheel
drive. It has weighted tires the calcium liquid in the tires. I
had that drained out so it would be lighter. I have a six-foot
cutter bar that goes on there, a circle bar, and thatís what I
We donít go out there with the bailers or anything. Youíd get
stuck. So we pitch it all by hand, the old-time way, and bring
it out onto the meadows here and pitch it off again into rows.
Then we take our big tractors and go through with our tethers
and shakers and dry it, then re-rake it, and bail it.
It goes to the nurseries. This last year I shipped 100 bales out
to Fisherís Island this past spring. And this is part of our
income, when we can get it. I have 1,000 bales that are ordered
every year, but last year due to the weather Ė ice and snow and
the marshes frozen Ė they only got 300 bales.
We get all the hay we can and we have about eight acres of
vegetables including squash, broccoli, lettuce, cucumbers,
tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, the flat Italian beans
and sweet corn.
developers, protecting the land
Iíve worked here on the farm since I was able to walk. Seven
days a week. We used to grow dairy and beef cattle here, and we
had our work teams of horses and had some Morgan horses, saddle
horses, at one time, and sheep. But weíve gone out of the
livestock business because if it doesnít pay, it doesnít stay.
My family, weíve worked hard and resisted developers right up
Ďtil today. And pressure was on pretty heavy. So I turned to the
state. I went to the Abalonia Land Trust, which has several
thousand acres around here, and I gave them the best prime
piece. That was the key to the whole area, right across this
stitch here. So the Abalonia Land Trust owns that piece there,
but I kept the mowing rights for as long as we remain a farm.
Well, thatís a pretty good deal. I got 257 acres in it, but I
didnít put the house in it.
Well the way itís tied up with the state it canít be built on,
and it can only be used for agriculture. So if it passes out of
the family, than it can only be used for hay, corn, cattle. If
anyone wanted to go into vegetable business they could. They
could put in a nursery, or a winery, a vineyard, but they canít
build houses on it.
We are kind of proud of our old farm here. Even though it
doesnít look too good today, nevertheless. Weíre short of help
so we do the necessary things to keep going. Itís just
something that I wanted to preserve for the town and for the
state. Itís disappearing so fast. I go out to the country and
I see a four-acre field thatís being built -- three, four houses
on it. Nice, flat, fertile land, there it goes. Once itís gone,
making any more land, and I figure that the land is here for us
to use and survive on, not to destroy. So I made up my mind that
they arenít going to build here. I kind of like to preserve
things as they were.