Where have all the farmers gone? by LuAnn Zukowsky

“Farming is dying out in this state, say statisticians, census takers and People Who Know in High Places. And, indeed, the figures do look bad.

In 1947, there were 22,241 farmers in Connecticut and over half the state was being used for agriculture. By 1974, only 3,421 farmers remained, working 14 percent of the land. Today, the number of farmers in Connecticut is estimated at 3,000 (or less than 1 percent of the population) and still dropping.

However, there are some farmers in the state who will not go gentle into that good night. ‘We are working to preserve Connecticut agriculture and keep it in the state,’ says Keith Bishop of Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford, state chairman of the Young Farmers of Connecticut.

‘I’m concerned about what’s going to happen in the state if all these farmers are forced out of business,’ contends Jack Tiffany of Tiffany’s Dairy in Lyme, a member of the state Farm Bureau, and parent group of Young Farmers.

Both men and both organizations are trying to make the lot of the average farmer a lighter one through legislation, education and programs. But farming — always a precarious business at best — is now staggering from the combined punches of inflation, recession taxes, fuel shortages, manpower shortages, increased competition and head-on clashes with ‘civilization.’

The chief casualties in these assaults on agriculture have been the small farming operations. Like their counterparts, the ‘Mon and Pop’ corner groceries, the smalls farms have crumbled under competition with larger conglomerates.

‘Small farms are not extinct,’ explains Tiffany, ‘But they’re extremely difficult to do nowadays. When the present owners reach retirement, these farms will most likely go out of business.’

‘Farms are getting larger than they have been in previous years,’ says Bishop. ‘Agriculture is a business, just like industry. These farms need to be an economic unit sufficient to produce and make a profit. Size isn’t everything, but there has to be a break even point. Too small of an operation — whether it’s acres or heads of cattle — can’t return enough.’

Equipment, fertilizers, feed and/or seed are essential to a farmer, and they are expensive, points out Bishop. ‘The cost of agriculture a increasing the way everything is increasing,’ he says. ‘There are a lot of dollars tied up in crops, but sometimes you don’t see a return until eight or 10 years after your crop is in the ground.’

The rising cost of fuel has also rendered many small farmers helpless, maintains Bishop. ‘Agriculture uses a great deal of energy to produce food. We have to compete for the resources.’ In times of shortage, legislators generally have given priority to farmers, concedes Bishop. ‘But if there is not enough fuel available at a critical time of year, the farmer can be in deep trouble. If it’s not there right when you need it, you’re sunk.’

Manpower, too, is becoming a dwindly resource for area farmers, maintains Tiffany. ‘It’s difficult — especially in dairy farming — to find outside help, people who want to work the long hours and do that land of work. The fellows who have been successful are running their farms with home-grown help,’ he says. ‘You can automate just so much.’

Even the Age of Automation is working against the small farmer, says Tiffany. ‘Years ago, all farm machinery was designed and built for the small operations,’ he explains. ‘Today everything is geared for large operations. You can’t afford to milk 30 or 40 cows and buy equipment nowadays. The economics are not there anymore.’

Frustrated, many small farmers are selling their land here and emigrating to places like Champlain Valley in Vermont (where, Tiffany says, many former Connecticut farmers now sow their seed) or New York state (where dairy farmland is cheaper.) The land these farmers leave behind often falls to developers. ‘One of the big problems in farming and development is the best farm land is also the best for development,’ says Bishop, explaining a well-fallowed field requires much less site-work before construction than unused land.

‘In Connecticut, farm land is on the decrease,’ he says. ‘The Farm Bureau is trying to save it. Once agricultural land is lost for production, it’s lost forever. The more land we can retain and keep in farming, the better it is.’

Towards this end, the Farm Bureau supported the passage of what is popularly called Public Act 490 in the 1960’s. The bill, one of the first of its kind in the country, allows farmland to be assessed for how it’s used (rated on yield per acre) rather than it’s open market value (which is usually much higher.) ‘If it (the land) was taxed on the higher rates, the farmers would have to take more money from their crops to pay for it. Then, they’d have less to put back in the farm,’ says Bishop. “It’s a vicious circle. This is so people can afford to farm.’

Other government ‘breaks’ include reduced taxes for certain farming equipment and exemption of up to $200,000 on the inheritance tax for families of farmers, says Tiffany. A much-lauded piece of legislation designed to help farmers remain in Connecticut is the Farmland Preservation Act. Through the three-year-old program, the state buys the development right to certain selected farmlands and leases them back to the farmers.

‘They can only do with the property anything connected to agriculture,’ explains Bishop.

There is, however, one catch, says Tiffany. ‘There’s not enough money now available or enough in the foreseeable future to make a significant impact in the overall picture. Right now, we’re going around putting out brush fires. We re still not getting a large mass of agricultural land.’

Yet, some day it may be vital to have those farmlands here in Connecticut, contend the two men, ‘There’s a growing and serious problem of getting water in the far West. That water is used for irrigation of crops. If water is diverted out of agricultural interests out there, the food supply is going to be drastically reduced,’ says Tiffany.

‘Right now,’ he continues, ‘We import about 60 percent of the food consumed in this state And the problems in that are the same as those of the federal government being dependent on foreign imports — we’re at the mercy of those that are exporting.

‘Connecticut could never be self sufficient,’ agrees Bishop. ‘The only thing we could be self-suffucient in in this state is eggs.’

We may not have enough to feed the whole state, but the more farms we have in Connecticut, the more we can provide for the consumers in the state. Feeding the world is a serious problem, says Tiffany. And we’re not spending the time and money to solve that. A lot of people can see the crunch coming, but they’re not planning ahead for when that day comes. People aren’t going to be concerned about their groceries until they go to the store and there aren’t any.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, August 5, 1980

Farmers fighting neighbors

:Good fences make good neighbors, wrote the poet Robert Frost. But even good fences aren’t curbing the growing hostilities between some farmers and their suburban neighbors.

As civilization and agriculture creep closer together, vandalism, theft and misunderstandings increase, contends Keith Bishop of Guilford, state president of the Young Farmers of Connecticut.

Recently, vandals cut the strings and ropes off a crop of raspberries in the Bishops orchards, causing severe damage to the crop. In another Northford field, $1,000 worth of corn was run down by joyriders. Thieves (i.e., those who help themselves to the farmers produce) are also on the rise, says Bishop.

An even more unfortunate outcropping of the meeting of the two worlds is the number of suits being brought against area farmers by neighbors who cannot stand the normal noise and smell of farming, maintains Bishop. Occasionally, farmers are prevented from continuing the offending practices while the case is pending in court and this can be disastrous to the farmer, he says. Many states (although not Connecticut) have instituted Right to Farm legislation, which sets up zones specifically for farming. And some local farmers would like to see such a law passed here.

But Jack Tiffany of Lyme is not sure such legislation would necessarily be helpful. ‘If a neighbor has the tanacity and the finances to continue to harass a farmer in the courts, a Right to Farm law is not going to stop him. I don’t think you’re going to prevent people from finding fault. It won’t be the panacea most people think it will be.

What these neighbors have to realize, says Bishop, is that the farmer was here first. He’s just doing his job.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, August 5, 1980

“On Friday Evening Totoket Juvenile Grange welcomed Keith Bishop [as a new member.] The regular Juvenile officers conferred the degree.” -Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, December 8, 1960

J. G. Installation Tomorrow Night

The officers elect of Totoket Juvenile Grange will be installed tomorrow at 7 p.m. The installation will be proceeded by a brief business meeting at 6:45 p.m. sharp.

Officers to be installed are Master, Nathan Harrison; Overseer, Peter Dufourney; Lecturer, Ann Daly; Steward, Carl Harrison; Assistant Steward, Paul Bradley; Chaplin, Barbara Callahan; Secretary, Linda Callahan; Treasurer, Barbara Gardiner; Gate Keeper, Keith Bishop; Ceres, Linda Harrison; Pomona, Vicki Aronson; Flora, Patty Bradley; Lady Assistant Steward, Caroline Dufourney; Executive Committee for three years, Nanette Hanisch. The new Matron will be Mrs. John Dufourney.

Members of the installing team under the direction of Mrs. Harry C. Juniver are: Installing Master, Bernice Bergen; Installing Chaplin, Doris Bergen; Emblem Bearer, George Bradley Jr.; Regalia Bearer, Gerry Fishbach; Marshal, Patty Callahan and Pianist, Carole Tolles.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, September 20, 1962

Juvenile Grange Installs Officers, Lists Committees

“NORTH BRANFORD — The members of Totoket Juvenile Grange No. 81 performed the impressive installation of officers which included a special candle lighting ceremony for Chaplain Suzanne Schaeffer, before an audience of parents and friends on last Friday. Following the installation, Nathan Harrison was presented with a past master’s pin as recognition of his fine work as master during the past two years. Representing the retiring officers, past lecturer Ann Daly gave a plant to Mrs. John Dufourny in appreciation of her efforts. Mrs Dufourny will continue as Matron for the coming year.

The newly installed Master, Peter Dufourny, announced the following committee appointments: Home Economics Committee; Bettie Miller, Shirley Hammick and Linda Callahan; Community Service; Linda Aronson, Ray Hammick, Craig Bishop and Paul Dufourny; Sunshine Committee; Suzanne Schaeffer, Paul Bradley, Ann Daly, Keith Bishop, Betty Christenson and Jerry Fischbach.

Plans for the immediate future include the presentation by Totoket members of a comedy skit at New Haven County Pomona Family Night in Wallingford.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, September 26, 1963

Totoket Juv. Grange Members Dominate List of Winners In County Grange Contest

“NORTH BRANFORD — The names of Totoket Juvenile Grange members dominate the list of winners in contest sponsored by New Haven County Pomona Grange. All first place winners will go on to State contests. The winners include woven shawls, 1st Barbara Callahan, 2nd Caroline Dufourney, 3rd Susan Domenick; paper plate contest 1st Vickie Aronson, 2nd Randy Aronson; cupboard plaques, 5 to 9 age group, 1st Nora Holmquist, 2nd Keith Bishop, 3rd Craig Bishop; 10 to 15 age group, 1st Linda Aronson, 2nd Barbara Callahan; ‘Pommawonga’ game, 1st Paul Dufourny, 2nd Robert Botsford, 3rd Keith Bishop; lamp contest, 1st George Bradley, 3rd Peter Dufourny; quiz board, 1st Paul Dufourny, 2nd Nathan Harrison, 3rd Peter Dufourny; tissue paper painting, 5-9 age group, 2nd Caroline line Dufourny, 3rd, Leslie Trench; Mrs. Frank Nesi, hospitality 10-15 age group 1st Barbara Gardner, 2nd Nanette Hanisch and 3rd Susan Domenick.

Prizes will be awarded at the Pomona Family Night at Wallingford Grange Hall on October 5. A carry in supper will be served at 6:30 p.m. and the families of all J.G. members are invited to attend and bring a casserole in proportion to the size of the family. For those unable to attend the supper, the program for the evening will begin at approximately 7:45 and will include a comedy skit performed by members of Totoket Juvenile.

There will be a regular meeting of Totoket Juvenile Grange in the kitchen of the North Branford Town Hall tomorrow at 7 p.m. At this time the prizes for the local contests will be awarded.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, October 3, 1963

Totoket Juvenile Grange Holding Open House Friday

“NORTH BRANFORD — The members of Totoket Juvenile Grange No. 81 will hold an open meeting on Friday at 7 p.m. at the North Branford Town Hall. Invitations were made and presented to all parents of the members. Lecturer Barbara Callahan will present a special program including a skit ‘The Six Wise Travelers’ with Bertie Miller, Paula Zalonski, Linda Harrison, Charles Schaeffer, Brian Rielly, Paul and David Dufoumey.

Other features of the evening will be a piano solo; ‘Yellow Bird; by Susan Domenick; ‘Play Safe’ read by Keith Bishop; ‘January’s Flower’ by Patricia Manemiet and ‘Do You Hear This?’, a quiz by Paul Bradley, Ray Hammick and Randy Aronson. Of special interest will be a showing by Mrs. Harry C. Juniver of slides taken at Juvenile Grange activities during the past several years. Master Peter Dufoumey has stated that any adult friends of the Juvenile Grange or youngsters interested in membership are invited to attend.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, January 16, 1964

Juvenile Grange Plans Candy Sale For March 14; To Celebrate 6th Anniversary

“NORTH BRANFORD — Totoket Juvenile Grange will meet at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the North Branford Town Hall. The sixth anniversary of the receipt of their charter will be celebrated by the local-Juvenile Grangers.

Plans, will be finalized for the group’s third annual door to door candy sale which will be held on the afternoon of March 14. This candy canvas will be the principal fund raising effort of the young people’s group. The receipts of the project will be used as a basic working fund for running the local unit and to finance the community service projects which the members regularly perform.

This year the Juvenile Grangers hope to contribute toward the purchase of a resuscitator at Camp Berger, the Juvenile Grange Camp. In addition, donations will be made to several recognized charities as part of the State and National Grange programs. These include aid to the National Grange sponsored Greek team and the ‘Jimmy Fund.’ Also, a successful candy sale will enable the members to partially finance an excursion to the New York World’s Fair.

The members of the Candy Sale Committee are Patricia Manemelt, Keith Bishop and Nathan Harrison working under the leadership of Mrs. John Dufourney, Mrs. Harry C. Juniver and Mrs. Albert Harrison.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, March 5, 1964

A sweet-comeback for cider, by Mabel Dale

“The apple harvest is over, and cider mills on the shoreline are working overtime as the sweet juice cascades from presses hydraulically at a pressure of up to 2,000 lbs. per square inch.

Local fruit growers report a boom in cider that has not been experienced in half a century. They cite several reasons, the most practical being that it is one of the few food products available at the same prices as last year.

But the cider kick largely stems from the current back-to-nature trend, as a craving for natural, wholesome foods free of preservatives and additives. The dedicated cider drinker passes over the jugs and bottles on supermarket shelves. He goes for the pure, unadulterated drink that lasts only a week or two, at the most, in a refrigerator.

Cider, today, also has a status symbol Hostesses are.serving it at parties because it is cheaper, not detrimental to health, and palatable to a growing number of adults who are ‘on the wagon’. Could it be a coincidence that the cider ‘take-over’ has prompted the big distillers to corner part of the market by suggesting in major advertising campaigns that the fashionable combination today is cider with rum, whisky, sherry, gin or vodka?

To the devotee of the pure stuff this portends a step backwards to the bad old days of the mid 1800’s, when cider was the national drink, and a menace. As one chronicler put it: ‘The transition from cider to warmer and more potent stimulants was -easy and natural, so that whole families died drunkards and vagabond paupers from the impetus first given by cider-swilling in their rural homes.’

Cider then was ‘hard’ with a significant alcoholic content as it still has in England, where it continues to surprise visitors to the West Country with a mule-like kick. Today, parents are learning to wean their youngsters on fresh, sweet cider which can be drunk in large quantities without ill effect or fear of escalation to more spirited potables.

One of the problems confronting the cider shopper is a confusion of labeling. There is no standard laid down by the Food and Drug Administration for either cider or apple juice. Therefore the product at the supermarket or even at the roadside stand may be called ‘sweet cider’ and taste more like apple juice, or it may be labeled ‘apple juice’ and have the taste of cider that comes from the merest suggestion of fermentation.

Aging cider loses its sweetness, either turning to vinegar or producing an alcoholic content ranging from 7 to 14 percent.

In order to delay the fermentation process manufacturers have for years added a little benezoate of soda, or potassium sorbate, or more recently pasteurized the juice by heating and holding it for several minutes at a temperature of 170 degrees. The dedicated cider drinker says that while this extends the shelf life it destroys the pure freshness of untreated cider, producing a burning taste.

The growing pursuit of the raw product has led to more and more shoreline families producing their own cider, with only the professional help of an accommodating apple grower with a press to spare. The Mattachione family of Killingworth is an example.

For the second year Larry and his wife Janet have stacked away in their shed four barrels each containing 50 gallons of pure cider which will suffice them — with occasional handouts to friends and relatives — until the early spring.

The operation is a. family affair involving their five children, Tony, 13; Joey, 12; Anne Marie, 11; Nicky, 10 and even three-year-old Vinny who announced that this year he ‘picked five apples and ate three’.

The Mattachiones spent a couple of backbreaking weekends last month retrieving the ‘drops’ from the trees of friendly farmers and neighbors. The final count was 85 bushels. Last weekend they hauled the fruit tied in sacks, and four sturdy barrels on to a truck for a trip to a shoreline cider mill. There Lenny Gagne, the farm foreman, shoveled the apples into the grinder and the pulp was then smoothed into layers for the ‘squeezings.’ A couple of hours later the full barrels were hoisted on to the truck for the return journey to Killingworth.

Now the Mattachiones will wait about two weeks for enough fermentation to take place and preserve the cider for the winter months. In the shed it should stay at an ideal temperature around 40 degrees.

Larry says the toil and trouble will all be worth while when he pours the first jug to set down on the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Apart from the cost of transport and the original expenditure on barrels, the cider has cost him 50 cents a gallon.

Commercially, cider is produced in the shoreline area on a massive scale. Bishop’s Orchards is one of the biggest and its cider making operation continues throughout much of the year, with the crop from some 155 acres of apple trees stored in huge cold rooms and controlled atmosphere rooms. Like most of the other orchards production the cider is free of all preservatives and has a life of up to two weeks. For the second year, Keith Bishop, a member of the family, is in charge of cider production. Already at the age of 20 he has expertise and confidence in handling a daily pressing and bottling of some 1,200 gallons. From long range, Keith can single out a Baldwin from a McCoun, a Cortland from a Winesap or any other of the 20 varieties grown on the farm. At least five of these are present in every batch of cider to create a unique blend. His great-great-grandfather, Walter Goodrich Bishop, who started the farm in 1871, would be proud of the way in which this young man carries out the operation with the help of Tim Love and Bob Naylor, who in the shed above the great press and racks, deftly sorts out and removes the damaged fruit s|o that only sound, clean apples drop into the grinder.

Keith pointed out that cider production is one of the most efficient and economical operations in the world, since there is absolutely no waste. Local farmers haul away the mounds of squeezed pulp and rejected fruit for feed for their livestock.

The big problem affecting all applegrowers today is a shortage of labor at harvest time, which would seem astonishing in this era of high unemployment.

Keith explained: ‘Many people are reluctant to give up their unemployment or welfare checks for a temporary job harvesting fruit. This year, after trying to harvest the crop with local labor we were forced in mid-season to import Jamaican workers to augment our local paid help.’

Within a few miles of each other several big cider producers live in competitive harmony, each producing a drink that has its subtle differences and its own devoted clientele.

Kneuer’s on the Post Road which began as a general farm in 1809 claims to have the perfect soil, a clay base that holds the moisture around the trees.

Mrs. Mary Sullivan, a member of the family, who took over the orchards with her husband 13 years ago, believes in putting as many as eight varieties of apples into one pressing. With her expert foreman, Lenny Gagne, she is constantly introducing new varieties and reviving old favorites such as Laurie (very sweet) and Northern Spy.

Mrs. Sullivan also experienced labor problems during harvesting. ‘First came the rains. It looked as though we were going to have a bumper harvest for the second year in succession,’ she said. ‘Then the rain stopped picking, reducing the crop substantially, and we had trouble getting the right kind of labor.’

She and Lenny would like to see more women coming into the orchards. ‘Physically it is tough for them, but they are conscientious pickers and handle the fruit much more gently than the men.’

One way in which they hope to attract female labor is by replacing old, standard trees with dwarf varieties that grow to a mere 12 feet, about half the size. This would also reduce expenditure on sprays, and cut down the need for tall and unwieldy ladders. They pointed out that sprays cost three times as much as they did a few years ago, and a ladder that cost $18., 13 years ago, now costs $69.

Although most of their customers prefer sweet cider free from preservatives, Kneuer’s is catering to a current fad for hot, mulled cider.

‘One cold, wet Sunday recently, we had a pot of hot, spiced cider simmering on the stove,’ recalled Mrs. Sullivan. ‘Our patrons would sniff the fragrance of the spices and ask if they could try it. So we decided to keep a pot going and sell it at 30 cents a cup.’ Now, on cheerless, dank days, they do a roaring trade, and have on hand for sale the ingredients — cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, nutmeg and brown sugar.

There are two schools of thought on the nutrient virtue of apple cider. Some country doctors and health faddists claim that it is the panacea for all ills But the Food and Drug Administration has drawn attention to a mycotoxin in the apple called patulin which it says could produce unpleasant reactions in the intestines.

But cider devotees refer to the irrefutable results of a recent experiment in which a selected group of college students were given the ‘apple treatment’ for several months.

These students were found to have fewer skin and dental disorders, fewer upper respiratory problems and better circulation, because of the substance called pectin in the apple.

One shoreline devotee put it more succinctly: ‘I like cider because it’s tasty, refreshing and a third the cost of beer.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, November 13, 1975

It’s apple picking time, by Charles Walsh

“Crunch!

The apple season is upon us. and by all accounts this year’s crop is one of the largest in recent memory. One of the major worries of local apple growers is the large amount of trees that will have branches snapped off as their load of apples continues to grow in size and weight through the Fall.

Many trees have already been ‘stripped,’ a process in which a certain portion of the fruit is picked early and left to rot on the ground so that the remaining fruit will have enough room to grow.

The reason for all the bounty, say the growers, is the near perfect combination of rain and sun through the summer. That same rain, was the near ruination of the area peach crop, which was far less than usual this season.

All those apples, which look from a distance more like large bunches of grapes, mean that there will be a lot of work for apple pickers this year.

The four major apple orchards along the shoreline — Cook’s Hilltop Orchards in Branford, Bishop’s and Kneuer’s in Guilford and Scott’s on East Lyme, are all hiring pickers now, and with the huge crop fast maturing, are eager to find more help.

While few shoreline people may ever have considered apple picking as a career, this may be because they simply don’t have enough information about the job.

A good apple picker can earn a fair living — at least while the picking is good. The rate is 34 cents a bushel — straight. As with all agricultural jobs, the work continues until it is done. There is no overtime premium rate.

The really talented pickers earn close to $4 an hour. ‘We have some Jamacian pickers who earn $5 an hour,’ says Gene Bishop, of Bishop’s Orchard in Guilford.

The skills required to be a topnotch picker are physical agility, boundless energy, an ability to spend long hours on a ladder and a firm belief in the Protestant work ethic.

‘The hardest thing about the job is what standing on a ladder all day does to the back of your legs, especially during the first few weeks,’ one picker said.

All the major growers maintain small camps for the workers they import each season to harvest their crop. Most of that labor comes from Puerto Rico and Jamaica. The camps are strictly male-only dormitories and rigidly inspected by the State Department of Labor.

Migrants have their transportation to and from their homes paid at the beginning and end of each season. The growers provide local transportation as well.

For entertainment, the migrants rely heavily on television and regular visits to local discount stores. Much of their incomes, says Bishop, is spent on purchasing items which they take back home as gifts or to resell.

Local pickers supply a major part of the apple growers work force, especially in September when the apple picking reaches a near-frenzy. While not as efficient as the migrant pickers, the local labor does fairly well, says Bishop.

The least they can make is the $2.81 minimum agricultural wage, but most are easily able to exceed that rate.

A picker’s day begins at 8 a.m. When it ends depends on how much work is to be done.

One problem for the growers is finding supervisory help. The seasonal nature of the work keeps most of those with managerial skills away. While picking apples may seem a simple task, it can become very complex. Just getting them back to the central sorting station unbruised requires constant attention.

Of course, apple industry work is not all seasonal. Tending the trees is a year-round job that keeps a small crew busy through the coldest weather.

Spraying is done about 15 times a year beginning after the first green bud appears on the tree. The trees get bathed in a variety of substances. Insecticides with long, slightly frightening, names are the most common. Ail of these chemicals have short effective lives. After ten or fifteen days they lose most of their toxicity. Hormones are used to prevent the apples from falling off the trees and to encourage the smaller ones to drop away to allow the bigger ones room to develop.

Orchards have to be mowed, trees pruned and sprayed, and there is a constant battle with field mice. A family of pine mice working under the snow cover can girdle the bark of a tree and kill it in one season. One Connecticut grower lost 2,000 trees to mice over the past winter.

Automation is one thing professional apple pickers in this area do not have to worry about. While, a couple of methods of mechanically picking apples have been developed, they are not suited to the type of picking done in New England. One method uses a movable net and a mechanical arm that violently shakes the tree to bring down apples. In the process the apples are badly bruised and good only for immediate processing.

To get apples that are suitable for eating they must be individually plucked from their boughs by human hands.

The biggest change in the Industry is the trend toward small, bush-like trees that makes for easy picking. Most orchards have small patches of these trees but it will be many years before the larger trees can be replaced.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, November 13, 1975

Farming is the only life, by Mabel Dale

“Two young Guilford farmers, both in their twenties, were recently awarded special honors by Connecticut Jaycees chapters in the Outstanding Young Farmers program.

John W Dwyer, 28, a dairy farmer of Tanner Marsh Road, and Keith Bishop, of the Bishop’s Orchards family, were chosen, not only for their agricultural skills but also for their services to the community.

Both young men come from farming families — Dwyer’s has farmed in the East Haven area for 70 years, while Bishop is the great-great-grandson of Walter Goodrich Bishop who started farming in Guilford in 1871. While young Bishop entertained the idea of going into photographic science during his senior year at Guilford High School. Dwyer has had no doubts whatsoever about a farming career since he used to help his father as a youngster.

He admitted that farming was becoming increasingly difficult, especially for the small farmer, but it is a way of life he could not change for himself.

‘Take the strikes and the protest demonstrations in Washington. If I joined in, it would be just for the kicks. You’re never going to solve inequities that way. You have to work with people.’

Both Guilford farmers are active in the Farm Bureau program, and recently attended a dinner in Wallingford, at which a number of Connecticut legislators were guests. ‘We really thrashed out problems,’ said Dwyer, ‘and gave our side of the rising prices spiral.’

Keith Bishop agreed that it was difficult for a layman to engage in agricultural legislation, pointing out that only two farmers, Jack Tiffany and John Mordasky, have a voice in Hartford. John Dwyer was only 21 when he came to Guilford and rented just over 200 acres of pasture for his dairy herd.

‘I shall have to be moving on in a couple of years,’ he said. ‘I want to have my own farm, and I couldn’t begin to consider buying here. Only the other day I heard a price of $20,000 an acre quoted.’

‘What’s more, it’s difficult to get farm help. Kids here ‘don’t want to do all this hard work for what I can afford to pay, when CETA pays them $5 an hour.’

‘Up in Maine, say, you’re in an agricultural community. Land is cheaper. You might get the same price for milk, but you can get more labor for less money.’

It is often said that one of Guilford’s charms lies in its preservation of some farmland. Dwyer pointed out that although there were only three active farms left in the town — Leete’s, Haggarty’s and his own rented farm — compared with the seven being worked when he came here seven years ago — it is still possible for a motorist driving through the area to savor the sight of cows and horses grazing.

‘But there are so many people today who don’t want to live next to a farm. These cows here are gentle, but families come up from the cities, and they are scared. And they can’t stand the smells.’

‘Only the other day a lady whose property adjoins this land, said to me, ‘Would you please not spread that manure round here until I’ve sold my house?”

‘People say they can smell it for five or 10 miles. The artificial stuff doesn’t smell, but it is not nearly as efficient.’ John Dwyer may be an old-fashioned farmer in one sense, but he keeps up with new technology and scientific data, and was the first farmer in this area to have a beefalo calf actually born here.

Several examples of this cross between the wild buffalo and the domestic cow had appeared on the shoreline, but were imported.

Farmer Dwyer said he felt it was not enough to read the scientific material and accept the claim that a beefalo could mature in far less time than a traditional animal, and thus be a considerable saving in feed. He paid $20 for the frozen semen, storing it in a special tank until the appropriate moment for insemination.

He now has two more beefaloes in his herd, but is not entirely convinced that it is a significant development in cattle breeding. ‘They certainly grow more quickly, and the meat has a different taste and appearance — like veal. But I think it might be more of a gimmick to make money out of the semen.’

The recent frigid weather has not affected his herd as one might think In fact, said Dwyer, cattle have a much higher tolerance to severe cold than humans, and it even tends to increase milk yield.
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, March 1, 1979

The changing faces of farming, by LuAnn Zukowsky

“In the movie Sleeper, Woody Allen (as a man who is unthawed hundreds of years from now) comes upon a farm of the future where monstrous fruits and vegetables are connected to a central computer by long, spider-leg wires. Hungry, Woody steals a 15-foot banana.

Allen’s futuristic fantasies might not be that far from fact, contend some people. High technology in the (ahem) agricultural field keeps getting higher and higher as farmers struggle for bigger yield AND lowers costs. In fact, an American Gothic portrait of the farmers of the future might well depict a dour looking woman and man holding a test tube, or even a fisherman’s net.

Most good farmers already use science in farming, says Dr. Lester Hanken from the Connecticut Agricultural Extension Station in Hamden. Researchers there are constantly working out new means for farmers to improve their yield without increasing energy expenditure.

Recently, for instance, station scientists discovered watering greenhouse plants with warm water in the morning allowed farmers to keep the buildings at a lower temperature at night, says Hanken. Work is also being done with new pesticides, fertilizers and breeding techniques. Some farmers are even getting into single cell culture techniques and manipulating the genes. It’s most prevalent in the flower industry, explains Hanken. But it is being used for some food crops. It allows vou to get better genetic material.

Another — although more limited — area of research at the station is alternative types of crops, says Hanken. With the cost of oil rising daily much speculation is being given to growing food for fuel. Years ago there was a big industry making alcohol from grain, he explains. But the companies went out of business when the then cheaper petroleum came into prominence.

Today any crop which produces a large amount of sugar is being considered as a possible fuel source including corn, potatoes, sugar beets – and even trees. They say they’ve developed a tree which will grow to maturity in four years and you can keep harvesting it. By degrading the trees you can get sugars and from sugar you get alcohol.

The only problem with distilling trees, as with any crop which can be turned into alcohol, is the energy used to produce the fuel can be more than that produced, says Hanken. In fact, using grains for fuel could cause a food shortage, he says. ‘The economics are mind-boggling.

Some farmers have turned to alternative means of food production in their battle to feed the world’s population. Aquaculture or farming of the sea is not a new concept, but is one which is gaining in popularity, says John Baker, chief of the Aquaculture division of the state Department of Agriculture. It’s been around since 1881, predominantly in the oyster industry, he explains. Due to the pollution on many coastal areas oysters, clams and other shellfish must be moved during different stages of their growth to render them fit for human consumption. It’s the job of the aquaculturist to supervise this relocation, collect shells and silt and of course, harvest the crop. Along the shoreline, two of the biggest aquaculturists are Ed Lang in Clinton and Joe Dolan in Guilford. But as the waters of the Sound clear up. we can expect more, says Baker.

‘It’s growing because we’re expanding east all the time. It has a good place in the scheme of things because it’s a good producer of protein foods.

Sea Farms of Old Saybrook is practicing an off-shoot of aquaculture called mariculture. Unlike aquaculturists, mariculturists raise their ‘crops’ (in this case, steelhead salmon) within completely controlled environments (at Seafarms, in huge indoor vats,) explains manager Paul Meade.

The salmon are grown from eggs to one and a half pound fish within a year and a half. The full-size fish are then peddled to restaurants in New York.

Meade got into the business three years ago, but has come from a marine-minded family. My father was one of the pioneers of closed-system aquaculture, he says. Now even conglomerates such as Union Carbide and Cocoa Cola [sic] have built experimental operations of this kind.

Even more conventional crops have taken to the great indoors lately. Ralph Prince, of the Agricultural Engineering department at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, has been working on a system of growing lettuce indoors for several years now. By growing plants in nutrient-laden water, Prince is able to harvest seven head of lettuce (or enough to keep 20 people in salad) daily from a ‘garden’ placed on an eight by four foot piece of plywood in a totally controlled environment (i. e., with light, temperature, moisture, carbon dioxide and airflow all carefully monitored.)

Each day seven seeds are planted in polyester ‘wicks’ which are, in turn, held in place by a plexiglass shield covering the plywood. Water runs continually under the plants night and day. As they grow, the plants are moved by machines down the length of the plywood until they are further and further apart. At the other end of the operation seven heads are harvested daily. So far, 100 percent of the seeds planted have been harvested. The beauty of this thing is it is entirely predictable, says Prince. ‘You know you’re going to take one off each day and you know you’re going to plant one each day.’

‘Our object is to grow as many pounds as possible on each square foot of bench in a totally controlled environment,’ explains Prince. ‘It’s based on a biological growth rate. All the plants get only the space they need.’

Using this technique, Prince can grow 217 plants on 32 square feet of space. His object is to double that yield. And because machines are now needed to mine the plants down the plywood, the experimenters are working on getting the plants to move themselves. Conceivably its own growth could push it down the plywood but we haven’t worked that out yet, he says.

Agrow Nautics, a hydroponics operation in Salisbury is putting Prince’s theory into practice. The plant is a hybrid operation growing its lettuce first in a completely controlled environment, then in a greenhouse. Covering three quarters of an acre, the operation produces approximately 10,000 heads of lettuce a week (fewer in the winter) which is sold to groceries, restaurants and institutions in the area. The owners decided to take the half and half approach to hydroponics because we thought the hybrid approach would be likely be more economical, said vice president Geoffrey Drury. It didn’t make sense to throw away the free sunlight. We’re only now learning about what the dimension of the headaches are when you take this approach.

Because the lettuce in the greenhouse may grow at different speeds during different seasons there can be a back up in the hydroponics end of the operation which produces plants at a steady rate. It’s like an automatic assembly line, explains Drury. You can’t have one part of the line moving at a different speed than another.

Both Drury and Prince believe this indoor farming, which can be used for almost any type of crop, will become more prevalent in this area, as the costs of transportation become higher, and importation of food from other areas decreases.

The only question is what the timing will be, maintains Drury.

‘It’s never going to replace food production in the corn and wheat belt,’ says Prince. ‘But in industrial areas it’s going to take over. We’re going to see more and more of this type of growing. We have a long way to go in research, though.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Digital Archives of the James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford Review, “The changing faces of farming,” by LuAnn Zukowsky, August 12, 1980

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