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Keeping the Land in the Family
Tim Perry does what it takes to make his ancestral farm profitable

Location, location, location. As farms succumb to development, those that manage to survive often find themselves surrounded by more houses, in high-traffic areas, and with fewer nearby farms  that compete for customers. This all helps to build a retail business.

Such is the case with Norton Brothers Fruit Farm. After nearly 300 years of family ownership, the farm now finds itself on a very busy road in Cheshire. To exploit the growth in traffic, Tim Perry has built a larger farm store, an example of how adaptation to changing conditions is critical to survival and can even lead to prosperity. (CONTINUED BELOW)

Tim Perry

Norton Bros. Fruit Farm

Cheshire

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From a king, a gift that keeps giving

My first relative came over from England, and he was a topographical mapmaker for the king of England. The land was given to him by the king for the job he did for him. And from there it went into a dairy farm and, at the same time, egg-laying production and vegetables. And, at one point it was tobacco. So, Iím the seventh generation. 

My father worked outside the farm for a lot of years and then, when he retired from his other job, came into it with me. That was about the same time I graduated high school. When dairy prices really started falling off, we started planting apple trees and getting more and more into fruit, and wholesaling the fruit in town and around the state.

At Norton Bros., we grow apples, berries, raspberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, yellow raspberries, blueberries, peaches, nectarines, Japanese plums, European plums, or prune plums, and European and Asian pears. And, we do about 10,000 bales of hay per year.  Now, we take care of pretty much the whole state where we do business.

Weíve been in the process now, our fifth year, doing retail market out of the farm. We actually just moved from our original farm stand, which was a small two-car garage. We Ė just me, my father and a couple guys that work for us Ė just rebuilt a 150-year-old dairy barn, redid all the floors, straightened it up, put a new roof on it. 

Our retail stand has really taken off well. Itís been well-accepted by old customers and actually new customers.  We had three new people come in today that were just moving into the area.  They came in this morning when we were setting up and all three of them bought something. They must like it.

Serving customers with the fruits of your labor Ė and a little help

The customer base for us is anyone probably within a 20-mile distance. Core customers Ė there are probably 100 that are in here at least three times a week. We have a lot of people that drive a long way once or twice a week to come here and buy from us Ė from Meriden, Wallingford, all the surrounding towns.  We have some families that, in the fall, are here every weekend, and theyíre driving up from Seymour, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls. Itís trying to please everyone Ė although you canít please everyone Ė with your products and stuff. You got to please as many as you can. 

For apples we pretty much cover our gambit for what we need for our stand. Same with raspberries, blueberries.  But certain things like peaches and nectarines weíre just getting into it, we need a little help from outside growers.  We purchase as much as we can from local farms, whether it be flowers, fruits, vegetables. Probably almost 90 percent comes from within a 10-mile radius for most of our season.

Sometimes we trade back and forth with what weíve produced and what they produced. If someone comes in right now and they want eggplant, well, youíre not picking eggplant, July 7th in Connecticut. You got to find it from New Jersey or whatever and bring it in and pretty much cover all your bases. Thatís what makes you more profitable. 

Itís definitely a place for agriculture here. We seem to be able to say that because the customers just keep driving in, buying the stuff.  They want local, they want Connecticut farms. It seems to be in demand. So, if we can keep a truck here and not put it out on the road where gas is two dollars and 35 cents a gallon for the cheap stuff, itís saving us a lot of money because trucks use a lot of fuel. And, time to put two guys out at a farm market, it takes a lot of time and energy, and pre-planning. 

Agriculture in Connecticut is over a 2 billion dollar industry. One of the biggest changes is the way we produce, nowadays we have to produce more with less to cover the same amount of people or, actually, an increase in people. 

We keep on diversifying out and trying new niche market products, getting into agri-tourism. Weíve done weddings here, a lot of birthday parties, school tours, anniversary parties. If someone wants to rent out our place because they like the way it looks, then they can rent it out. Itís called income. When it gets down to it, it helps us diversify even more by having people come here.  They might never know what we did and the next thing you know theyíre here for an anniversary party and then theyíre here once or twice a week picking up our products. 

Preserving the farming way of life is critical

For years, you make your living off the land. But right now land around here is going for premiums.  Itís actually sad what people are willing to pay for an acre of land, especially in Cheshire. Actually, the surrounding towns are just getting as bad.  It really breaks your heart to see perfectly good land, and the next thing you know itís condos or apartments or houses.

Although, that farming business might have been competing with me, so I pick up their customer clientele and it makes me some more money Ö so I canít Ö it just seems to be the way it works.

They couldnít pay me enough [to buy my land].  I like getting up every day Ė and my wife doesnít know how or why Ė but I like getting up every day and knowing where Iím going to be all day, most of the time, anyways.  I enjoy the working outside all winter. Itís cool, even though 95 percent of the people couldnít do it.   Iím not trying to be Paul Bunyan or anything, but itís just the way it seems to be.

Copyright 2008 SimonPure Productions, LLC

Working the Land: The Story of Connecticut Agriculture
is a Co-Production of
SimonPure Productions and Connecticut Humanities Council

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