A Bunch Of Farmers

Before we were hedge fund wizards — before we were a world marketing capital — before we were an artists’ colony, even, we were farmers.

Back in the day, Westport was a farming community.  And by “the day,” I mean not only the early Puritan settlers, but the Indians we snagged the land from.

The Westport Historical Society has partnered with Wakeman Town Farm and the Westport Farmers’ Market to honor our agrarian tradition.  “Back to the Roots” includes not only the 4-part WHS exhibit on display across from Town Hall, but a summer-long series of programs and field trips.

Barns, stone walls, fresh food — they’re all part of “Roots.”

So are these fun facts:

  • “Long Lots” got its name from the shape of early farming plots.
  • Westport’s incorporation in 1835 resulted in large part from our successful maritime exportation of fish and produce to New York, Boston and beyond.
  • Onion farmers used nutrient-rich seaweed as fertilizer.  During the Civil War, Westport was the leading onion supplier to the Union army.
  • After 2 blights, onion growers switched to apples and cidering.  However, shellfishing continued, and Lloyd Nash developed a major ice harvesting business, revolutionizing local food preservation.

If you’re downtown for today’s parade, check out the Historical Society exhibit.  You’re sure to look at this afternoon’s cookout with fresh eyes.

(Special “Back to Our Roots” programs for food and farm lovers of all ages will run every Saturday at Wakeman Town Farm, Thursdays at the Farmer’s Market, and at various times at the Historical Society.  Click here for details.

34 responses to “A Bunch Of Farmers

  1. I really like farmer’s markets. Next week, I may rob a bank so I can actually buy something at Westport’s.

  2. Katie Chase

    Thanks, Dan, for your usual good & interesting coverage of local happenings, exhibits, etc. Westport’s farming/agriculture past probably isn’t known by most of us–but with Wakeman Town Farm, Farmers’ Markets, and restaurants serving local produce, we can all become more aware of today’s agriculture and appreciate the past.

  3. To anonymous…the prices at the farmer’s market aren’t that high. Especially when you consider the quality relative to what you get at Stop and Shop or Stew’s. If you want to buy cheap, pesticide-sprayed food from some multi-national corporation, picked by barely-paid Hispanics in Florida go ahead. Most of the stuff at the farmer’s market is high because it takes a lot more time and costs are higher to produce the product. The food (in general) tastes far better than anything I get at Stew’s, etc.

  4. Whole Foods, which is not my favorite business to patronize, has organic produce at far more reasonable prices than the farmers’ markets (Trader Joe’s too, but their selection is limited. Hopefully, that will change with their expansion). I primarily buy organic, but rarely from the over-priced farmer’s markets in town. My affinity to farmers’ markets is that they cut out the middle man, and let me get fresh produce at a reasonable price – that has not been my experience at the either of town’s farmer’s market.

    My guess is the farmer’s who come to Westport add on a “rich town vig” to their prices, and the folks running the market are either oblivious, could care less, or they really believe that if you pay more for something it just must be better than something that costs less.

  5. The Dude Abides

    Well, if you have to pay a little more to get fresh produce from a local farmer, so be it. Better than “feeding” the big corporate farms of today. Thanks, Professor, for the historical perspective. Puts our “roots” in the proper light.

    • If it was only “a little more” that would not be a problem, but that is not the case. When selecting (or accepting) vendors to the markets , value does not seem to be a consideration – which from my perspective defeats the whole purpose of a farmer’s market. The Thursday market is just another over-priced downtown retailer, and that’s a lost opportunity and a shame.

    • The fresh produce of which you speak costs more to buy because it costs more to produce. The yield on “organic” (whatever than means) farms are lower than yields on other farms. It takes more land to produce the same amount of food, and more labor. BTW have you ever seen or tasted a non-organic apple? How about a non-organic peach? Is there any other kind of food besides organic food? I think some of us are being duped.

  6. The Dude Abides

    Can you give me a specific example?? BTW, that little stand on Bayberry has terrific buys on flowers as well as produce.

    • I haven’t been yet this year, so I do not have specific examples handy – but my recollection is bread and meat are priced at levels beyond reasonable (I kind of get it with exotic cuts of meat, but not with a loaf bread – even when it’s the good stuff). Produce is not priced competitively – even the non-organic produce. The ostrich eggs seem reasonable, though. Next time I go, I will gather some examples.

      I love farmer’s markets and crafts shows – the connection with the creator of the product is special, but I also hate getting ripped off. In Westport, the vendors’ desire to exploit the affluent market in the town, and the inability of the farmer’s market managers to incorporate value into their consideration set keeps my rip-off radar on high alert (and usually my money in my pocket).

  7. The Dude Abides

    Don’t blame you. Sort of going to a flea market (“estate sales” here) and seeing something twice the price of it new. Check out the Bayberry stand on Thursdays. Just south of Cross Highway and all is grown on their small farm there. Nice folks too.

  8. If I was shopping for more than 2, I would sign on to one of the co-op harvesting deals (which I believe someone in town offers, Bayberry?) . Value is built into the proposition. I just don’t consume enough to make it worthwhile . I think the local food movement is great and eagerly look forward to more competition and better value in the future.

    Dude, thanks for Bayberry tip – I will check them out soon.

  9. Westport Expat

    I’m well aware of Westport’s agricultural past, as our house was built on an old onion farm. Whenever we cut the grass, the aroma of green onions would waft through the air – the smell is heavenly. And my husband’s family owned a large farm on the Post Road where Lansdowne and a shopping center (and in between, a bowling alley and driving range) are now located. We look forward to checking out the exhibit later this summer.

    • The Dude Abides

      Did you well-up or cry when mowed the lawn??? Seriously.

      • Westport Expat

        Naw, it was a gentle onion-y scent with lots of room for it to disperse. Quite pleasant.

      • There’s onion grass all over Westport, Dude. I remember standing in the outfield at Gault Field in the late 50s pulling the stuff out of the ground and chomping on it. We all did it. At the Saugatuck El lower field as well and, I think, Greens Farms School. We weren’t very aromatic but the onions tasted great.

  10. John Huminski

    Does anyone know the history of Nyala Farm? I vaguely can recall it was a dairy farm. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Absolutely a dairy farm — I remember the cows when I was young. I think that, pre-I-95, it was part of the 52-acre Bedford estate on Beachside Avenue. “Nyala” means antelope in Africa, and one of the Bedfords named it after returning from a safari.

      I don’t know the zoning details of how Stauffer Chemical came to own the property for offices, but I am glad someone or some legislative body had the foresight to keep the building footprint low and relative small, and retain the open space aspect that remains today.

    • The Dude Abides

      I can attest to riding the cows in the summer of ’67, drunk as a skunk from a trip to Port Chester. Lively beasts. Mooo!

    • Westport Expat

      I took a little tour (sanctioned, no tipping involved) of Nyala Farm when I was quite young. I remember the cows were pretty ….. but I’m so glad they kept the old farmhouse and well-thingy.

  11. Field trips to Nyala farm were a regular thing as I recall in late 50’s early 60’s for scouts, elementary school, etc. They had stalls with the names of each cow and the gallons of milk each one produced listed. Cows would graze in the fields and come right up to the stone wall by the road. Cars would pull over and brown bag lunch and just watch the cows. They had leather belts around their necks with brass buckles and (drum roll) “cow bells” hanging off. Bells were great to listen to as the “herd” walked around. However, the belts were discovered by local teens to hold up their own pants and several were liberated before the farm I believe eliminated them.

    I recall the fields getting seriously overgrown after the farm stopped the dairy operation and much speculation over what would happen to the place: subdivision, corporate park, etc. When a corporation came in the design was to keep the farmhouse and barn views intact with as little “commercial” view as possible. I vaguely recall they had to process or haul their own trash and possibly have some sort of waste treatment (?) as part of the proposal to P&Z. I believe there was much debate at the time. To allow the entire plan through I believe the thinking was there were many worse alternatives, and the corporation was willing to work with the town in preserving the main buildings and scenic views.

    • Ironic that a chemical company was more considerate and responsible to the town’s environmental well-being decades ago, than the Westport YMCA is today. I guess you zone with the P&Z you have not the ones you want.

      • Oh Please!

        Get over it!

        • Why should he get over it? The construction hasn’t even started on the YMCA and there are environmental concerns. You have a serious attitude Wrecker on the YMCA considering that it will cost 45 million and they are just beginning. No done deal. The sale to Stauffer was the real beginning of the commercialization of Westport when all the New York firms were getting the hell out of the Big Apple because of the taxes. Stamford boomed overnight. Many towns resisted, including here, but Westport decided to sell its soul for the almighty buck. I must say they did a nice job hiding the buildings with the open farmland there. Not so much downtown and in other areas.

          • Yeah but we fooled those greedy corporations trying to escape high taxes; we put in place an income tax and raised all sorts of other tax rates, we showed them.

  12. OK….I’ll Bite…..

    What “Environmental Concerns”?

    This project was the most thoroughly vetted in the history of the Conservation Commission, the P&Z Commission, the ZBA, etc. etc.
    and guess what??

    It passed all of the reviews, appeals, etc. and was accepted.

    I will repeat myself:

    Get Over It.

  13. The Dude Abides

    I believe we had this discussion on another blog site. Your attitude ain’t gonna help raise the 45 million, that is for sure. And in that aspect, it is hardly over.

  14. Getting over it will be easy – getting around it will be hard.

  15. I do believe there is a EPA complaint still pending and any builder will tell you that you don’t know what you got till you dig. I don’t quite understand the bravado of folks like “Wrecker??” Is this some kind of victory in a Red Sox-Yankee battle. It is the damn Y for God’s sakes.

    • The animosity on the part of the anti-Y cabal is not endearing them to anyone.

      • Just Meyer

        If not careful, your free market will create a 24 Hour Fitness that will easily undercut the dues/programs and bye bye Y.

        • The people who run the Y should be able to experience the consequences of their judgements; good or bad. Animosity is not a productive use of energy, and free advice is worth exactly what you paid for it. I have not heard to too many willing to put their money where their open mouths are.