Several hundred years of collective farming experience was shared Thursday during a panel discussion sponsored by the Cheshire Land Trust.
The panel consisted of: EJ Kurtz of Kurtz Farm, John Hilzinger of , Paul Zentek of Zentek Farms, Brenda Caldwell of Boulder Knoll Farm, and father and son pair Michael and Joe Arisco of T&D Growers and Michael’s Greenhouses, respectively.
Land Trust Secretary Tim Slocum pointed out how Cheshire’s early farm settlements have grown to give the town its well-known moniker as the “Bedding Plant Capital of Connecticut.” The discussion “Farming in Connecticut, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” was part of the land trust’s 42nd annual meeting, held this year at Town Hall.
As with many New England towns, Slocum said, farmers settled the area which became known as Cheshire. It was a farmer, Thomas Brooks who gave the town its name, and another farmer and former First Selectman, Burnsy B. Norton, whose name lives on at .
While a majority of the farms existed originally as vegetable or dairy farms, most have modernized to become greenhouse operations, the farmers said, growing flowers and other ornamentals for retail and wholesalers. Hilzinger said his farm supplies all the flowers for Lake Compounce amusement park in Bristol.
Zentek passed around a photo of his grandparents who started their dairy farm almost one hundred years ago. The farm on Higgins Road now produces vegetables, annuals and other flowers, he said. Zentek also farms the Brooksvale Farm Preserve on South Brooksvale Road through an agreement with the land trust. “We grow corn there and maybe pumpkins this year,” he said.
Michael Arisco said his grandfather began farming in 1924 on Jinny Hill Road and his father bought his farm on Marion Avenue in 1944. His son, Joe, said he remembers coming home from school and having to wash squash that had been harvested from the farm.
"Without my mom and dad, we wouldn’t be in farming,” Joe Arisco of T&D growers, said. He said he’s not sure if his children will continue in the family business. He joked that while they’re busy with school and sports, when the April vacation arrives, they’ll be helping out at the farm. “The kids will be packing tulips during vacation,” Joe Arisco said.
Joe Arisco also helps operate Ives Farm, which is a land trust property on Cheshire Street.
For more information on farms that have been preserved as open space land in Cheshire, go to the Cheshire Land Trust website at: cheshirelandtrust.org. To learn about the Boulder Knoll Farm, a community supported agriculture farm, go to boulderknollfarm.com and for the history of farming in Cheshire go the Cheshire Historical Society’s webpage at: www.cheshirehistory.org