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
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
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.