Last month we profiled Jenny Emery, the new executive director of Holcomb Farm. In this issue, and each upcoming one, we will feature other members of the Friends of Holcomb Farm and the staff. Following is a recently conducted interview with Bob Bystrowski, the president of the Friends group. After reading this, we think you will understand why the Friends is extraordinarily lucky to have him in this leadership position.
When did you move to Granby; how did you become familiar with Holcomb Farm?
My wife Catherine and I, along with our children Jonathan and Catie, moved to Granby in the summer of 2003. Our daughter Caroline, who is now a sophomore at GMHS, was born that November. Prior to Granby, we lived in a wonderful neighborhood in West Hartford, but sought the lifestyle of a more rural community to raise our children and perhaps a few farm animals. My mother grew up on an onion farm from which my grandfather would truck the onions to sell in the New York City produce markets, so I was familiar with farming, and having grown up watching Green Acres on TV, I found the idea of moving to the country appealing. I immediately purchased several antique tractors, with the intention of doing my own farming, or at least haying to feed the horses we had acquired. Frequent breakdowns of equipment, frustration at reliance on the weather, and recognition of the tremendous work ethic and skill required to be a successful farmer led me to conclude that I was wholly unfit for that life. Perhaps sensing this, Catherine contacted Sam Hammer, Holcomb Farm’s manager at the time, who was seeking additional land for the CSA program. Sam performed soil tests and agreed that our Spring Hill Farm on Wells Road would be a good place to grow squash and kale.
What attracted you to the Farm and motivated you to become a part of the Friends?
In addition to the farming operation, the Farm had educational programs, including “Link and Learn,” which brought together students from Granby and urban areas. Jonathan and Catie participated in these. The more I learned about the Farm and the volunteers who generously give of their time and money to support its programs, the more I wanted to play a more significant role. I spoke with Jim Lofink, who was then executive director, and Eric Lukingbeal, who was the board president. They offered me the privilege of serving on the board of directors.
What are your duties as president of the Friends? What do you like best?
My duties are myriad and subject to interpretation and improvisation. I am blessed to work in tandem with an extremely talented and motivated board of directors and executive director Jenny Emery. An important and essential part of my mandate is to maintain the relationship with the Town of Granby. The positive relationship established by former First Selectman John Adams and former Town Manager Bill Smith has thrived and continued to grow with the support of Scott Kuhnly and John Ward.
Although the physical plant of the Farm is owned by the town, the Friends receive no direct financial support from it, and in fact, pay for our use of the CSA barn, fields and farmhouse. Over time, the Friends have provided many hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of the Farm by facilitating grants and donations.
My favorite job, without question, is interacting and communicating with our numerous legacy volunteers and generous donors to the Friends organization. Many of the volunteers have participated at the Farm for decades, and our legacy donors can always be counted on to provide much needed support for both ongoing and new programs. Although I love getting together with our volunteers and members at our Farm events such as the Progressive Dinner, Harvest Dinner and Annual Meeting, many of my “meetings” are spontaneous and informal—taking place at Geissler’s, a coffee shop or a school concert or sporting event. There is always someone who wants to learn more about the Farm and/or provide a helping hand.
Do you have any personal goals as you navigate another year of your presidency?
COVID has impacted the Farm as it has the entire country and world, but my goals remain the same as they were in January, but with renewed focus and energy. Under the leadership of Joe O’Grady, our farming program has never been stronger, and has paid off in the form of sold out summer 2020 CSA shares and the upcoming winter shares as well. This year, our Fresh Access program is especially important. Working with local community and religious organizations and limited select non-profits outside of Granby, this program donates thousands of tons of nutritious, chemical-free produce to persons in need—and we will keep doing so throughout the duration of the pandemic and beyond. A silver lining to the pandemic is that many Granby people have come to know the Farm by exploring the dozens of miles of well-marked and maintained hiking trails—all of which are stewarded by volunteers of the Friends organization. We have also established a Tree Trail on the east side of the Farm. It includes mowed paths, tree identification and interpretive signs, highlighting the sights and history encountered along the trail. You can check out our website www.holcombfarm.org for trail information and follow us on Instagram at holcombfarmcsa
What is your career background?
I grew up in Newington, and after graduating from college in New Jersey, came home to attend UConn law school. I am a partner with Morrison Mahoney, a Hartford law firm.
What do you like to do in your “down time?”
My down time has been dominated by Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Rovers practices—and I have loved every minute of it. We still have one soccer player left in Granby, Caroline. Jonathan and Catie are attending university in Europe. I have a barn in West Granby where I dream of pursuing hobbies such as woodworking, metal working and car restoration. At the moment, however, I am taking a deeper dive into the phenomenal opportunities to explore nature that Granby provides—especially the Land Trust properties and McLean Game Refuge in addition to the Farm. Our family moved this summer from the farm on Wells Road to Reed Hill, where ironically, I find myself surrounded by more nature than I did at my farm: I have visits from hawks, turtles, turkeys, deer and the occasional bear.