Friends of Holcomb Farm

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On Open Farm Day Holcomb Farm offered special activities and presentations all day, including a cooking demonstration by Chris Prosperi of Metro Bis Restaurant in Simsbury and a nature scavenger hunt for kids. Photo by Shirley Murtha

Dear Readers,

Please stop dancing!

Signed, Joe the Holcomb Farm Farmer

In the May 2021 Drummer, we spoke of the continuing drought conditions in our region and encouraged believers to embrace the practices of our indigenous peoples and do a rain dance. Well, that was then, and this is now.

On top of a normally wet summer, the remnants of Hurricane Fred, followed by Henri, and finally capped off by Ida, have taken their toll. Growing food in wet fields—especially absent the use of chemical fungus-fighting agents, as is our practice—is a challenge. Farm Manager Joe O’Grady and his team have done what magic they can, but Mother Nature calls the shots. 

Produce-wise, we are looking at curtailing the popular CSA winter shares, to assure that commitments to summer shareholders and Fresh Access partners can be met. Fortunately, our middle name is “sustainability,” and this applies to financial strength, as well. The Friends will get through this season; further, future plans and farming practices will increasingly take into account the changing climate. We want to thank all the members and supporters who have reached out with concern and encourage all who want to support us to do so through an upcoming Fresh Access fundraising effort, and the year-end Annual Appeal. Donations are welcomed any time at

Then there was the bridge. Behind the main campus and barn, a lovely footbridge built by the Friends in 2006, through grants and in-kind contributions, is no more. Ida did it in. Its loss eliminates easy access to the trails on the western hills, and efforts are already underway, working with the town, to determine how to resurrect it. The Friends’ own expert hydrologist, Jack Lareau, opines that the stream itself is moving east, bridge or no bridge, so issues beyond trail access may come into play. We will continue to report on plans to replace and/or relocate the bridge, as we work with the town.

Recognizing Shirley Murtha

Also on this pageis a report by our ever-ready reporter and tireless volunteer, Shirley Murtha, on the Friends’ Annual Meeting, held Aug. 21. What that report does not mention is that her considerable and ongoing volunteer contributions to the Friends of Holcomb Farm were recognized with a Holcomb Farm Friend award. The award—a sign made of 100-year-old original barn board—was created and donated by town artist Debbie Reelitz, for which we offer our thanks.

No Fresh Access Harvest Dinner

With the delta variant taking its toll, we have made the tough decision, again this year, to forgo the Harvest Dinner and Silent Auction fund raising event for the Fresh Access Program. Still, our work goes on and people who otherwise would not have access to fresh local produce do—because of the Friends and its donors. A special appeal will be happening soon, so watch for the opportunity to contribute. Every dollar donated to Fresh Access translates to $1.40 worth of fresh produce; money really does grow in the (albeit wet) fields of Holcomb Farm.

Lessons from the Holcomb Tree Trail

The first trees on the Tree Trail at Holcomb Farm were planted in October 2018. We chose trees by following the advice of a retired high-ranking executive at the Arnold Arboretum near Boston, Gordon DeWolf, who told us to plant trees with spring bloom and/or fall color. That’s what the public likes.

Of the more than 60 trees planted since, the one with the most potential to be spectacular in both spring and fall is the sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum). Ours is not very big—only a bit over six feet, and it is slow growing. It was planted in 2020.

It is not native to Connecticut but is found from Virginia to Kentucky and then south to Western Florida and Louisiana. It is not common in Connecticut, either, though there is a 20-footer on the west side of Day Street. You’ll see it if you slow down after passing the Granby Oak heading north. O’Brien Nursery and Bosco’s Garden Center do carry it.

The sourwood tree on the Tree Trail is a stunner. In early summer, it is covered with long-lasting white flowers, which bloom after the leaves are fully out. In the fall, it boasts among the brightest colors of any tree—red, yellow, maroon, purple—and the colors last a long time before the leaves fall. Photo by Eric Lukingbeal

The sourwood is not a big tree; 30 feet tall by 20 feet wide is the norm in the landscape here, but it grows much taller in the warmer south. The book, Connecticut’s Notable Trees (Glenn D. Dreyer) says the tallest in our state is a 35-footer in Greenwich.

Sourwood seems a poor name for this tree. It’s rarely-used other names are lily-of-the-valley tree, sorreltree, and arrowwood.

In the southern Appalachians, sourwood honey is much prized but rarely available in commercial markets. It must be bought by knocking on a farmer’s door. There, the trees are called “bee gums.”

On Open Farm Day Holcomb Farm offered special activities and presentations all day, including a cooking demonstration by Chris Prosperi of Metro Bis Restaurant in Simsbury and a nature scavenger hunt for kids. Photo by Shirley Murtha