Chelsey and Casey Greer put out a farm stand on the honor system about six years ago, and after a few years the business attracted enough traffic that they decided to turn it into a business – Walden Farm of Moodus.
Now, the husband and wife pair sell their produce year-round at a stand at the end of their driveway, and at farmers markets in Higganum, Ivoryton and Chester. They’re part-time farmers with full-time day jobs – Chelsey a teacher in Windham and Casey an engineer at the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant – but they have their sights on reviving Chelsey’s family farm into a pick-your-own operation that they could run full time.
Helping them take that next step is a new irrigation system that they’ll be installing with the help of a Farm Transition Grant from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, which this year included a new category of grants for new farmers like the Greers.
The tractor attachment they plan to buy raises the planting beds at Walden Farm and covers them with black sheet plastic to prevent weeds from sprouting in the beds. The sheet irrigates the beds with drip tape underneath that is more efficient than overhead irrigation. That means the family can use less water and spend less time pulling weeds, Casey said.
“I just got back from being in the field, and I’ve got weeds everywhere,” Casey said. “We are a small family farm that sometimes can’t keep up with the other things in life that come up.”
The department awarded $497,000 in grants to 24 projects, with the program redesigned into four grant categories to fit the industry: new farmers, research and development, innovation and diversification and infrastructure investment.
Four Root Farm in East Haddam received an infrastructure grant to develop a new irrigation system – a necessity, given that the well they installed when they started seven years ago has run dry, and that keeping the flower and vegetable beds watered during the dry spring this year was a challenge.
It’s difficult to draw water where the small farm is located in East Haddam, said Aaron Taylor, who manages the farm’s infrastructure. They drilled 400 feet deep, but the well still didn’t produce much until they hydrofracked it open. But the well has started to fill in again, and fracking it every three or four years doesn’t seem sustainable, so they applied for a grant to drill a more productive well.
“It was getting a little touch-and-go for a while, maybe a month back, then we had a big storm that caught us up, so it hasn’t gotten super dire yet,” Taylor said. “There’s been at least enough to keep us moving along, but you don’t want to just be limping, you want to be thriving.”
Four Root grows flowers and less common vegetables like Chinese broccoli, pattypan squash and hot peppers – the “strange and beautiful things that you’ve never seen at the grocery store,” Taylor said. They sell at a farm stand, through community supported agriculture shares and at farmers markets in Madison and New Haven.
“There will always be more projects, but this feels like, once we can get our water situation sorted out, this is kind of the last start up infrastructure project,” Aaron Taylor said. “We have a bunch of greenhouses, we have a deer fence, we have a wash and pack house we built a couple years ago, so it feels like the farm has gotten to a really good place – the water is our last, big problem.”
This was the second time Four Root Farm has received the Farm Transition Grant – having been awarded a grant in 2017 to build their wash and pack house, Taylor said. He said he thought the new categories were a good way for the program to adjust to the changing face of Connecticut agriculture and the growth of start up farms and new people entering the space – like Walden.
There has been a Walden farm in some form for close to the past century, but it died down for a while after transitioning from a dairy and cattle farm to a smaller operation with just chickens and vegetables, Greer said.
Chelsey Greer had been helping on that family farm for her entire life, and when she and Casey were married, he put his civil engineering degree to work to advance the farm further – though his experience in agriculture was limited to helping his mother with her vegetable garden in East Lyme, he said.
Casey said he’s looked to local farmers and message boards to learn the ins and outs of running a farm over the last few years, including a nearby farmer who helped him learn to run the baler.
“I know where the hay goes in and the hay comes out, but all the mechanics in between, I’m as confused as confused could be,” Greer said. “But he has been over the last two, three years explaining every little in and out and how to adjust the baler to make it work.”
The Greers are looking to develop a two- or three-season pick-your-own operation – selling hay and fruits and vegetables to save up enough to fund buying thousands of strawberry and blueberry plants, and turning 15 acres of forest into an orchard of apples, peaches and pears, he said.
“We are definitely a work in progress, but getting this attachment for the tractor will speed up our timeline for being able to move over to a pick-your-own operation,” Greer said.