Exciting things happening at Wilhelm Farm

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By Shirley Murtha

For those who still miss having the Wilhelm farm stand open and stocked with fresh vegetables and fruits in the summer, take heart. You will soon see the results of collaboration with Sven Pihl of CT Edible Ecosystems, who has leased some of the farmland and plans to grow some old favorites.

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Sven Pihl constructs a “high tunnel” on the Wilhelm Farm to serve as a holding area for transplants and seedlings. Photo by Shirley Murtha

A native of Guilford, veteran of the Persian Gulf War and holder of an engineering degree, Pihl was laid off from his job as a home improvement contractor when the economy crashed in 2008. To learn to better care for himself and his community, he developed a strong interest in personal food production, especially permaculture—ecological landscape design for human use that fosters the health of the ecosystem. Using this protocol, he urban homesteaded in New Britain until 2013, teaching children where food comes from, working to implement the first community gardens in the city and donating food to needy neighbors. He moved back to Guilford in 2013, enrolling in a work/study program at Southern Connecticut State College when he learned that they were planning a seven-acre urban agriculture demonstration area.
When the university project did not come to fruition, Pihl began working in Hartford in 2015, where he developed an incubator farming project that teaches beginning farmers how to farm using sustainable methods that add to the health of the environment. He traveled throughout New England, presenting the program to new farmers, some from ethnic immigrant cultures. Through the New Entry program at Tufts University, he developed additional “best practices” to augment the body of knowledge for these beginning farmers.
During the winter of 2016, Ann Wilhelm posted an advertisement on CT Farm Link, looking for someone interested in permaculture, forest farming  (cultivation of products such as mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns and woodland medicinals) and silvopasture, which combines the grazing of domesticated animals in pasture that includes stands of trees. The trees provide shelter and shade (and sometimes fruit) for the animals. In the case of the Wilhelm Farm, the animals will be used for brush control after logging operations. Pihl saw Wilhelm’s advertisement, and shortly after met her at an event at the Knox Foundation.
The result of this meeting was a plan for 2017. Pihl is leasing some of the farm land to grow vegetables and re-open the farm stand. A longer term agroforestry lease with Wilhelm’s husband, Bill Bentley, is being developed. (More about that in an interview with Bentley in an upcoming issue of the Drummer.)
For now, Pihl plans to grow the “standard Granby vegetables,” picking up where the Wilhelm’s left off, but he will begin to introduce some slightly more exotic, perhaps ethnic, varieties as time goes on. Although he served on the board of the Northeast Organic Farming Association from 2011 to 2013, as did other Granby farmers, he finds the paperwork and costs involved with being officially deemed organic time-consuming and expensive. Rest assured that everything grown at the farm will be free of artificial fertilizers, inorganic pesticides and herbicides.
For those interested in sharing information about favorite vegetables, learning about permaculture practices or having Pihl help design an eco-friendly garden or yard, visit ctedibleecosystems.com or contact him at ctedibleecosystems@gmail.com.

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