Once upon a time, Westport was awash in New England scenes like this:
This Post Road East fruit and vegetable stand was known as Rippe’s.
Much of the produce came from a farm on North Avenue. It’s been plowed under; today it’s the site of Greystone Farm Road, a completely made-up name. But hey, some of the homes have vague silo-looking parts on them.
As for Rippe’s stand and cider mill, pictured above: It was replaced a few decades ago by some of Westport’s first condominiums.
At least the name pays homage to its past. You know: Harvest Commons.
The Westport Farmers Market opens next Thursday (May 23). The Imperial Avenue parking lot will be filled with vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, honey, ice cream, even pet food.
Musicians will play. Food trucks will serve pizza and tacos. It’s a wonderful part of Westport — organic, sustainable, (mostly) healthy and fun.
We have Paul Newman (in part) to thank. Back in 2006, he and chef Michel Nischan created the first Westport Farmers Market, at the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot.
But that was not the actor/automobile racer/lemonade, popcorn and salad dressing king/philanthropist’s first farm stand experience.
For years, he was a customer at Rippe’s. Westporters pretended to be cool as cucumbers as they saw Newman — then “only” an actor — and his wife Joanne Woodward casually checking out ears of corn, or putting apples in a bag.
Rippe’s Farm Stand, in its early years. It later grew into a more substantial building. (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann, via Mrs. George Rippe Collection)
Rippe’s was one of several farm stands in Westport. Produce came from orchards behind it — stretching eastward, from Turkey Hill North to behind Long Lots Junior High — and fields on North Avenue, behind Burr Farms Elementary School.
The North Avenue farm is gone (so is Burr Farms School). In its place is a private road — the strangely named Greystone Farm Lane. In a nod to the past, a few of the homes include silo-like architecture.
The Post Road orchards and stand are gone too. They’ve been replaced by what — at the time — were Westport’s first and only condos.
In another nod to the past, they’re called Harvest Commons.
Oldtimers knew the plot of land on the west side of North Avenue, just up from Long Lots, as Rippe’s Farm.
Those who have been here a while remember when a guy named Buster sold fruits and vegetables there, from a roadside stand.
To newcomers it’s a cul-de-sac with homes that — in a nod to its agricultural past — were designed to look in part like silos. Greystone Farm Lane is a nonsensical name created from thin air. It might as well be called Buckingham Palace Drive, or Stonehenge Way.
But it’s a nice, neighborly area. And at least one resident pays homage to the area’s previous life.
The Beitmans’ house, and part of the old barn (right).
For the past 12 years, Julie Beitman has lived in the 1st house on the left. An original Rippe barn still sits on her property (it’s transformed into a “man cave,” where her sons play music). She and her husband have unearthed foundations from other farm buildings too.
The nutrient-rich soil is gone — the builder skimmed it off, and sold it for profit — but Julie has coaxed amazing trees and plants out of what is now hard clay.
Julie Beitman, with just some of her plants.
She planted 16 fruit trees.
She grows lettuce, tomatoes, 5 varieties of hot peppers, peas, eggplant, grapes, cucumbers, apples, cherries, 3 varieties of plums, and herbs. She and her son Andrew — a rising Staples senior – have cross-bred Bartlett and Bosc pears.
When her string beans grew 40 feet tall, she called in neighborhood kids to pick them.
I didn’t know you could grow cotton in Connecticut, but Julie does. (The seeds came from Israel.)
In the winter, Julie makes maple syrup. This summer, she’ll jar peaches.
Pears ripen in Julie’s back yard.
She’s a completely self-taught gardener. But she has learned well. Everywhere in her yard, something grows.
“It’s my therapy,” Julie — who also owns a jewelry business, and plans parties on the side — says. “It’s a labor of love.”
But beyond planting, pruning, picking and placing peppers on the ground to keep animals away, she does not do much. “It takes care of itself,” she notes.
She’s being too modest. 1 Greystone Farm Lane is a wonderful bounty.
Mr. Rippe would be very, very proud.
It’s a very green summer at 1 Greystone Farm Lane.
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