Farming operations have changed drastically over the last 100 years: mechanization, scale, specialized markets and modified crops. But while acres of farmland under production across the nation continues to decline, Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge is a shining example of why we’ve seen a 22 percent growth in farms and farmers in Connecticut in recent years.
We know from census records that John and Mary Massaro arrived in Woodbridge, Connecticut in 1916 to take up dairy farming and start a family. The property, now 57 acres, was originally just over 100 acres and supported a herd of dairy cows, a large contingent of chickens, a vegetable garden and fruit trees. The remaining son was persuaded prior to his death to deed the remaining acreage to the Town of Woodbridge under a conservation easement so that it would be protected from future development.
In 2008, a group of Woodbridge residents received approval from the Board of Selectmen to renovate the property
“The town was seriously considering an alternate proposal to use the land for athletic fields and park land,” says Maria Kayne, a town resident and founding board member. “It was only after a teenager spoke up at a selectmen’s meeting, saying that today’s youth needs to know where its food comes from that the Board of Selectmen voted to approve the proposal to go forward with reviving the farming operation.”
The new board of Massaro Community Farm, Inc. and volunteers raised enough funds to make the necessary infrastructure improvements—house renovations, installation of deer fencing and a greenhouse, and purchase of equipment—to allow farming to begin again. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro provided strong support, which helped the group secure a USDA grant that covered significant costs of the renovations.
In 2010, Steve Munno was recruited to be the farm manager. Prior to coming to Massaro, Munno managed a 400-member community supported agriculture (CSA) model at the Food Project in Massachusetts. Munno has been key to the farm’s revival and success. The Massaro Community Farm operation currently grows enough vegetables on eight acres to support a 200-member CSA as well as two seasonal farmer’s markets. The farm also supplies vegetables and its signature organic strawberries to several restaurants that feature locally-grown produce, including Zinc, Caseus, Heirloom and Miya’s.
In addition to reviving the farming operation, the founding board members felt it was important to maintain the legacy that a farm be an active community member. The primary pillar of the nonprofit farm’s mission is to donate at least 10 percent of its weekly harvest to local hunger relief agencies. Area recipients have included BH Care, The Salvation Army, Jewish Family Services, Columbus House and CT Food Bank. The farm has donated more than 33,000 pounds of food to these agencies since 2010. The farm also holds several big events each year, including a plant sale each spring (featuring a Maypole Dance), an annual farm-to-table dinner each Labor Day weekend that routinely sells out, and a Family Fun Day each fall.
While one of the primary reasons of reviving the farm was to create an inclusive space where people could explore nature and observe a working farm, one area that has seen surprising growth is farm-based education. Since 2012, the farm has been hosting farm field trips as well as adult workshops on topics related to organic and care.
Sharon A. See, a long-time member of the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce, was picked to be Executive Director Caty Poole’s chamber ambassador when Massaro Community Farm joined the organization a year and a half ago. The two quickly realized they shared a passion for locally grown food, connecting people with local resources, and enhancing their quality of life through education and resources. The idea for a farm workshop series to demystify gardening and fresh food preparation was born. Held one Wednesday evening a month, the Health & Wellness Series began in May and runs through October.
On July 20 and August 23, Maximizing Your CSA and Farm Stand Offerings will be the focus. With the growing season in full swing, learn how to store and protect fresh vegetables against spoilage as well as discover recipe menu suggestions for the vegetables in season at the time. The October 18 workshop will be about embracing hearty fall crops. Cold weather storage, what crops store best, and how to extend the local seasonal eating into the winter months will be several of the topics covered.
“It is really about the strategies to make it accessible, easy to do and affordable. If people embrace the idea of eating natural foods, it helps their health. Massaro provides the venue and crop and I provides the technique,” says See, a certified holistic health and nutrition counselor and the owner of Vitalized Wellness (VitalizedWellness.com),
The farm also maintains a close partnership with the CT Beekeeper’s Association, who lead workshops on backyard beekeeping each year. An additional advantage of housing an apiary on the property is that the farm now sells its own honey each fall. Last year, Massaro Farm harvested just over 200 lbs of honey, which was available for purchase at the weekly Edgewood Park Farmer’s Market, along with other value-added products including green salsa, marinara sauce and crushed tomatoes.
Subscriptions to Massaro’s seasonal CSA have been selling out each year, thanks to the expert leadership of Farmer Steve. A 20-week subscription is $695 for the season; and a fruit option may be purchased for an additional $90.
Since the fall of 2012, the farm has also hosted a FoodCorps service member. FoodCorps, a branch of AmeriCorps service, places service members in communities where they see a need for improved nutrition education. The farm’s FoodCorps service members have helped install four school gardens, introduced students to the farm’s fresh vegetables, and helped bring thousands of students to the farm.
“The unique business model at Massaro Community Farm affirms that by using a multi-pronged approach, small farms can survive and thrive in today’s economy,” says Poole. “But as important as it is to protect small, diverse farms, we also need the community to succeed, which is why we work so hard to develop partnerships in the community.”