Once one of many farms, Rosedale survives suburbanization
1920, my grandfather Morris Epstein came from New York and was
here for about seven years before he unfortunately fell off a
silo while doing some work. My father, his two sisters and his
mother continued farming. And from that point on he part-time
farmed, raising tobacco, having chickens and cows.
father established a pretty good milk route in Hartford in the
1940s. And then he realized that that was short-lived in terms
of making any money, So he went to vegetables in the late ‘40s
early ‘50s. When my sister was born and I was born, to add to
farm income, he got a job at Pratt and Whitney, second-shift. So
he worked almost 30 years at Pratt and Whitney.
farm grew as Simsbury grew. Simsbury was a really small town.
On this street alone, there were farms sprinkled all throughout
the street. As the town kept growing what happens is most of the
farms get sold because they’re the ones that are getting sold
out for more building lots.
We’re the last man standing but were able to keep growing. The
original farm is only 42 acres. Now the farm is about 110 acres.
I grew to love the farm and the things it represented and the
things that we could do. After college, I worked for Cigna for a
few years, then Society for Savings. I was very fortunate. I was
able to start teaching at American International College up in
Springfield. So, if you look for a lifestyle, a
college-professor-and-farmer kind of works out pretty well with
regards to the timing. I took over in 1983. And the next
generation now has been able to continue.
A family affair with help from local teens
wife’s involved, she does the wine bar and the flowers and does
a lot of the different administrative work. We have three
daughters, my oldest daughter lives in town with her husband and
two children. They come out on weekends and help, her husband
comes out on the weekend. He’s in advertising, so when he has
free time he comes and helps out. And, my middle daughter,
she’s a teacher so she has summers off. She’s actually working
today in West Hartford with my other daughter, manning our farm
stand over there. My middle daughter Lisa and her husband John
have become involved with the farm, and John is now the senior
manager. And, then my youngest daughter is a senior in school,
she’s just finishing up at University of Montana.
September’s the worst month, because we don’t hire migrant
workers. Our philosophy is to enrich the community, so we
involve basically high school and college kids. They go back to
school, so we get kind of a skeleton crew in September. So, that
becomes really hairy.
labor force, mostly consists of kids from Simsbury, either
Simsbury High or they go to the colleges in the area. Basically,
they can start farming at age 14, so we have some of those types
of labor, picking beans and strawberries and that type of thing,
and then when they get to be 15, 16 and older they come to work
in the fields and also on the farm markets.
average kid, once they start with us, averages five or six
years. They’ll go all through high school and into college until
they get an internship or something.
Experience and the zen of farming
thing that I really enjoy about farming is the aspect of
beginning the season, the excitement of a new season -- try to
improve on the year before. But we have a great marketplace, we
enjoy our customers, and I think we have a product that is
really unique, and I like that type of position to be in, I
really try to get the best type of sweet corn and different
types of tomatoes and heirlooms, and my wife does a ton of cut
really got to be easy-going in this business because the
weather’s just relentless. It’s never right. Today is a hot day,
but we really don’t mind this. We’d rather have it hot because
we can irrigate. It’s when it’s 65 or 70 and it rains for 2
weeks, then things don’t grow -- not so great, really.
This is one of those types of jobs that I think experience
really helps you, and what to expect. And you know you take
almost as a rhythm each season. I think most farmers are very
aware of that and that’s only through experience. So, for a
young person to be successful I think you know, unless you’ve
made a lot of money somewhere else and you really enjoy this --
that’s why you see a lot of new wineries -- people who have made
it in something else and have a passion to enjoy wine and say,
“You know, what’s a million dollars? I’ve made this money, this
is a great way to do something.”
A cooperative family effort keeps the farm going
Davis from the Simsbury land trust, I’m known him over the
years. And, they really wanted to get more involved and he felt
very ambitious that there was a couple cornerstones of Rosedale
and Tall Meadow, two working farms that they’d really like to
save. About two years ago the process began and we were very
fortunate. Yeah, we probably could have got twice as much at
some point down the line, but then, there wouldn’t be a farm.
So, this is something that really, we felt was important that
the amount of money was worthwhile for us now, and would give us
a cushion or whatever. And have a succession planned.
this will always be a farm and people can enjoy it. We’re
putting a trail in and putting a bridge across some of the
brooks so people can walk all the way to the river. So, yeah,
this I think is a win-win for everyone, for everybody. There
will never be any homes here and there will always be a farm,
whether we farm it or we sell to someone else.
What’s difficult is it’s a small business. We need chemicals
and the fertilizers and just all the different little things
that any small business owner has to deal with. Insurance and
taxes and everything else. Every year you’ve got to ante up a
little more. All our costs go up two or three fold in the last
10 years, yet our pricing has, you know, goes 10 or 15% higher,
so you are constantly struggling with just the mechanics of
running a business.
it’s cash flow. I mean we start spending money in February and
we don’t get a dime until early June. So, you’ve got four
months and everything is sitting out here, you know, a big
investment before you get anything. You could have hail, you
could have storms, you could have drought.
How to run a successful farming business
Well, I think what’s happening is there’s so few farms that it’s
become almost entertainment. People want to visit the farm.
You better give them a darn good reason to come visit.. Yes, you
have to have great vegetables and fruits. But also, we just put
in a corn maze. Last year we started pick your own pumpkins.
We’ve also added a few other products inside that are more
fun-orientated -- having a wine bar, wine tasting on weekends,
think to be successful you have to have a season-long plan.
Certain types of lands can produce certain types of crops and
you have to be familiar with what you can, what you can
potentially raise. We’re real sandy so we’ve gone with high
tech, we have a lot of drip irrigation so we can feed it
constantly to river bottom, which is very rich in texture, so it
doesn’t need quite as much but can have a variety of different
products that we can raise.
what we have done is we start in June with strawberries and
peas. to get us going in the season. As we go along, July and
August, your typical fruits and vegetables. You might see
raspberries, corn is our big product. Sweet corn takes a lot of
acres to maintain that because you get one or two years and
that’s it. It doesn’t replenish itself. Summer squash,
zucchini, string beans and cucumbers and pickles and peppers.
Carrots, basil, dill. Melons, water melon, yellow water melon.
All types of tomatoes – cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes,
heirloom tomatoes, purple ones.
we raise the whole gamut for the summer months and then the
fall, we now have entertainment with a corn maze and we have
pick your own pumpkins and we have put in a few Christmas trees
to extend the season all the way. And the grapes for the wine
that we can sell probably all the way through the summer. So,
it’s having a combination of having something in season the
whole time that you are open.