Friends of Holcomb Farm

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Submitted photo

A small selection of the bounty available at the Farm Store.

Friends of Holcomb Farm turns 28

2021 marks the 28th year since the creation of the Friends of Holcomb Farm. Formed shortly after ownership of the property transitioned from the University of Connecticut to the Town of Granby—per the will of siblings Tudor and Laura Holcomb—the volunteer, not-for-profit Friends have stewarded the property on behalf of the town, and within the Board of Selectman-adopted “Plan of Use,” which outlined agriculture, education, arts, and passive recreation purposes.

Since then, Holcomb Farm, and the Friends, have “been through several major eras and seen much change.” As documented by historian and friend of the farm Peggy Lareau’s book, Holcomb Farm Heritage: Struggles and Successes, and as is true of so many of the wonderful volunteer organizations in Granby, this community treasure owes so much to so many who have supported the Friends from the beginning.

Early Years: 1993-2003

The first decade saw much donor-funded investment—composed of time, talent, and treasure—in the property, including major repairs and renovations to the historic main barn. Built in the 1930s, this modern, gambrel-roofed Wisconsin dairy barn, was constructed without any rafters in its open loft. The Hartford Food Systems leased the agricultural land and built what was at the time one of the first and most successful CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) in the region. Granby artisans used the facilities for numerous programs. A trail system was developed, the foundation of the 10+ miles of trails enjoyed by so many, today. Along the way, the volunteer Board of Directors explored ways to make the property financially sustainable within the parameters of the Plan of Use.

The Holcomb Farm Learning Center 2003-2012

During the second decade the Friends secured a large grant from the state and transitioned into the “Holcomb Farm Learning Center,” which included the Link and Learn program, bringing inner-city kids out to join with Granby kids in educational pursuits. That grant allowed the Friends to engage an Executive Director, taking some of the burden off the volunteers. Recognizing the immense upkeep required for the buildings and barns, a major capital campaign was launched and successfully raised and invested some $850,000 in the buildings, before the financial crisis that began in 2008 changed the environment for contributions. Along the way, the sustainability of the State Link and Learn grant wavered. In 2012, the grant disappeared, as did the paid executive director and the learning center era closed.

Recent Years

Through a collaborative study by the Town of Granby and the Friends, a new relationship was entered to create a better foundation for financial sustainability of the Town-owned, Friends-stewarded property. The Town assumed financial and operational responsibility for the main campus of buildings. The Friends, as tenants on the agricultural acreage, assumed ownership and operations of the CSA, leasing the farmhouse for the farm manager. Through another state grant, along with the remaining funds raised in the Friends’ capital campaign, the North Barn and Pavilion were built, now a sought-after wedding and event venue and a revenue-generator. It anchors campus-based programs now run by Granby’s Recreation and Leisure Services department. 

The Friends’ Mission: “Preserve, protect and utilize an authentic New England farm”

The growth of both its membership and donor base, have resulted in a healthy level of sustainability. Making the produce available to food-insecure people in Granby and the greater Hartford Region through the Fresh Access program, fulfills the philanthropic part of the original vision. 

Sustainable farming practices have allowed more production from the same land. Improvements to the farm store and agricultural facilities have allowed more of the community to participate as CSA and retail customers for more of the calendar year. With the recent development of the Tree Trail, opportunities for environmental education are available. Given all the challenges of preserving land and making agriculture sustainable in today’s world, Tudor and Laura would be pleased.

Annual Meeting August 21

The Friends of Holcomb Farm will hold its Annual Meeting on Aug. 21, at 10:30 a.m. The meeting will take place on the Knoll near the Seat on the Holcomb Tree Trail overlooking the main Holcomb Farm complex—the same location where we met last year. All “members” are welcome; a member is anyone who has donated at least $25 in the past year, and/or is a CSA shareholder. We will offer guided tree trail tours before the meeting as well. If you are a Friends of Holcomb Farm member, you will receive an invitation email in August with more event details. Please note there is no rain date scheduled for this meeting.

What you see on the Tree Trail 

The Tree Trail, in the east fields across from the main campus of the Holcomb Farm, is growing and changing every day. By the time you read this, a new kiosk welcoming walkers should be in place. Tree Trail volunteers have shared what one should look for on a walk there.

“A design principle we follow at the Holcomb Tree Trail is to plant trees with spring bloom and/or fall color. When we were doing our several years of due diligence before planting a single tree, we talked to a retired official at Arnold Arboretum. Sitting across from Gordon DeWolfe at his kitchen table in North Brookfield, Mass., he told us, ‘Plant trees with pretty flowers.’

“So, we planted a red horse chestnut sourced from Whitman Nursery in Salem, Ore. It’s a hybrid of the American red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the European common horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastrum). Our lone tree is an old cultivar from the mid-1800s called Briotii. It has deep red flowers occurring in inflorescences as long as 10 inches.

“Ours is now only about five feet tall and had only a single bloom this year. It is common in England, but not here. It is a rather slow grower, reaching 30 to 40 feet. There is one on Day Street that size, which was planted 35 years ago. It has hundreds of blooms, as this photo shows.

“It is a wonderful tree in bloom, according to leading authority Michael Dirr in The Tree Book, one ‘that every arboretum should include.’ The only downside is that its leaves are subject to leaf scorch in the dryness of late summer, as are most horse chestnuts.”

Farm Store is open to all

Not a member of our CSA? Fear not, you can still purchase our produce—along with a wide variety of other delicious, locally sourced products, including meats, eggs, coffee, maple syrup, honey, and more—in our Farm Store. The Farm Store is located in our CSA Barn, next to the Methodist Church, at 111 Simsbury Road. It will be open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through mid-October. A complete list of the products we stock can be found on our website.