Having been born in Farmersville, Ohio near Dayton, and having two sets of grandparents who were farmers, Eric Lukingbeal is no stranger to agriculture. Although his first job was not what you’d call romantic (picking big green cutworms off of tobacco leaves), he developed what would become a life-long appreciation for farming.
He and his wife Sally King moved to Granby from Barkhamsted in 1984. King was, and still is, on the Board of Selectmen, and came to know about Holcomb Farm in the early 1990s when UConn conveyed to the Town of Granby the 300+ acres that Tudor and Laura Holcomb had earlier left to the university.
Too far from campus to be useful, the farm’s buildings were beginning to deteriorate and the fields filled with invasives. In 2005, then Holcomb Board President Al Wilke asked Lukingbeal to serve on the board, he agreed because of his affection for farms and especially the idea of community supported agriculture (CSA.)
Now, as secretary of the board, Lukingbeal is charged with keeping notes and writing up the minutes of the monthly board meetings. He notes that, “As members of a small working board, we are always looking to find ways to fulfill our mission to ‘preserve, promote and utilize’ an historic working farm.”
As with almost all small non-profits, the board has to communicate with the public to raise money, and to provide components that please the public. In the past, the Farm had a substantial educational program, but dwindling and uncertain state funding led to its demise. Today the big three components of the Farm are the CSA run by farmer Joe O’Grady, the arboretum and the Fresh Access program run by Mark Fiorentino. In addition to the folks of Granby and surrounding towns being able to purchase an amazing variety of organic products, Fresh Access provides about eight tons of fresh vegetables every year to folks in Hartford, Bristol, New Britain and Waterbury, as well as the Farmington Valley who could not otherwise afford or obtain it.
The arboretum, which Holcomb calls the Tree Trail, came into being through the persistent work of Lukingbeal, who saw the East Fields as a prime spot for a collection of trees and shrubs for public enjoyment, education and scientific study. In fact, Tudor Holcomb himself suggested it when, in his late 1970s deed of the gift, he refered to “arboretum purposes” as appropriate for the Farm.
Lukingbeal and a group of hardy helper volunteers planted, staked and watered the first bare-root specimens in the fall of 2018 and have done so every year since for a current total of 54 trees. “Watering is most interesting in droughty times,” says Lukingbeal. The group drives five-gallon buckets of water uphill in the back of a Subaru or lawn tractor—a true labor of love. Because the average age of the volunteers is higher than would be considered ideal, recruiting some younger bodies is an important concern.
Identification labels have been applied to the newly planted trees, and also to about 70 matures ones living on the Farm’s several miles of trails in the woods. A variety of interpretive signs has also been installed. These placards are installed near an identified tree or shrub and explain in about 300 words more about that particular plant’s characteristics, how it is suitable for that particular environment, its world-wide distribution, how it is used in different cultures, etc. Some of the signs also give information about the Farm’s history, geology and invasive plants.
All of this work is done with the permission of the Town of Granby and the support of individual donors, a grant from the Granby Education Foundation, and a grant from the Pomeroy Brace Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Kirk Severance and the staff at Public Works have been very helpful when the use of machinery for the removal of large downed trees is required.
“To get our Holcomb Tree Trail on firm footing for the long haul” is Lukingbeal’s personal goal. An arboretum can last hundreds of years if tended properly. His substantial efforts to that end are to be admired, and possible partly because he is now retired from his 40-year career as a trial lawyer with Robinson and Cole in Hartford. Although in his early days there his cases included dog bites and divorces, he eventually specialized in environmental cases such as groundwater contamination.
When Lukingbeal is not working on the Tree Trail, he enjoys biking the roads of Granby, planting trees, daffodils and lilies at his home on Day Street and walking his dogs. He serves on the board of the Granby Land Trust, and stewards the Trust’s Granby Oak property where he oversaw the planting of hundreds of daffodils last year. He also volunteers as a Master Gardener in Simsbury and Torrington, and serves as one of Granby’s representatives on the Lower Farmington and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic River committee, and, oh, yes—he’s on Granby’s Planning and Zoning Commission!