Progress on all fronts reported at Friends of Holcomb Farm annual meeting

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Friends of Holcomb Farm annual meeting. Photo by Shirley Murtha

The Friends of Holcomb Farm board president Bob Bystrowski opened the annual meeting on August 21 with the proclamation that the Farm has kept us all focused and stable as we head into the third calendar year of the pandemic.

The physical place and its mission—to preserve, promote and utilize an historic working New England farm—continue to be a focal point for the board, the farmer and the crew. The Farm has sustained for hundreds of years prior to its recent iteration, and decades in its current form; the goal is to keep this going for the decades to come.

In lieu of treasurer Rocky Piccirillo, Bystrowski gave the financial report. It was a challenging year since our most important fund-raiser, the Harvest Dinner and Auction, had to be canceled due to the pandemic. The Friends were grateful, however, to secure a $15,000 COVID relief grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and members responded well to an appeal for help funding the Fresh Access program. In total, Fresh Access used over $50,000 in donated and grant money to provide some $80,000 worth of farm-grown produce to people in need.

Together with CSA and retail store sales each year, including this recent seventh one, Joe O’Grady’s farming practices have led to increasing revenue. Reserve accounts have been established for not just the farm itself, but also the Fresh Access program and the Tree Trail.

Regarding this summer’s challenges, O’Grady remarked that a large part of the Farm could accurately be called a swamp, thanks to the overabundance of rain, but the crew is working through it. He noted that there are many options for folks to get fresh produce in the summer, such as home gardens and many farm stands. He has been increasing the winter options by highlighting the numerous fall storage crops: having sales at Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, as well as participating in seasonal farmers’ markets at Lost Acres Vineyard. 

A plant sale in the spring has proven to be a good source of revenue, as many home gardeners appreciate a local source of organic seedlings.

O’Grady is working with the board to possibly establish an annual share for those who purchase both the summer and winter shares, which will still be available separately. He is also eager to incorporate more no-till farming practices which decrease the amount of soil erosion.

“We are helping a lot more people,” reported Mark Fiorentino, who heads the Fresh Access program in which people who do not have the resources to enjoy fresh produce are given that opportunity.

In its 6th year, the program has continually grown and now supplies produce for both local organizations and what Fiorentino calls surrounding “food deserts.” In addition to Granby’s Waste Not Want Not Community Kitchen, the Senior Center and the Healing Meals Community Project, produce is supplied to the Hispanic Health Council of Hartford and the Wheeler Clinic, both of which distribute the food in Hartford and, in the case of Wheeler Clinic, a broader region.

Increasingly, the food is accompanied by nutritional information and cooking instructions. There are plans to extend the distribution later into the fall, and Fiorentino is working with the Clark Farm to provide some apples along with the farm’s produce. Distribution is a lot easier now that a delivery van has been purchased, thanks to part of a grant from the USDA COVID Relief Fund.

In reporting on the Tree Trail progress, Eric Lukingbeal noted that Tudor Holcomb specifically suggested that having a tree trail or arboretum was a good use of the property. The all-volunteer Tree Trail group has planted over 60 trees. Labels have been affixed to them, as well as to several of the trees growing naturally on the property. Interpretive signs along the trail explain aspects of the farm, geography and facts about some of the plants. In addition to maintaining the trail, volunteers steward the hiking trails in the woods on both the east and west sides of the Farm.

Lukingbeal noted the help provided by Steve Perry and the Lions Club with the kiosk, Kirk Severance and public works crew for wood chips, removal of some invasives, Walter Ford with mowing) and those who have made donations for the purchase of trees and maintenance of the trails. A concern involves the advancing age of the volunteers. Recruiting younger generations is a high priority.

Jack Lareau noted that another priority of the Friends is to provide more educational programs. To that end, St. Joseph College’s hydrology class met on the Farm at the Salmon Brook on Sept. 25. Additional efforts are being explored through St. Joseph professor, and new Holcomb Farm Friend, Joshua Anderson.

Grants coordinator Donna Snyder reiterated the treasurer’s report’s good news that the federal government (USDA) replied to the Farm’s applications for COVID-19 relief funds, which allowed for the purchase of a cargo delivery van and replenishing the Farm’s capital reserves that had become depleted due to the purchase of a tractor in 2019. Fresh Access in particular received grants from the First Congregational Church, the Granby Community Fund and the Hartford Foundation’s Fischer Family Fund. Also contributing to Fresh Access, the Hartford Foundations for Public Giving’s Granby-focused Pomeroy-Brace Fund awarded the Farm grants for the purchase of farm equipment and improvements to the Tree Trail. The Granby Lions Club helped to fund the construction and installation of an informational kiosk near the start of the Tree Trail. The Connecticut Ornithological Association provided money to purchase over a dozen native shrubs to improve bird habitat on the Tree Trail.

Sue Canavan explained that the Friends of Holcomb Farm now provide two ways of becoming members. The original method of simply contributing a minimum $25 annually still holds, but anyone who purchases a CSA share is now automatically recognized as a member, increasing our membership as of June 2021 to 697. Canavan noted that in addition to the Farm’s website, the organization also has a presence on FaceBook and Instagram, where there are separate accounts for the CSA. Trail maps are available online, and QR codes are being established on the trails for both general information and specifics for particular trees.

In presenting the candidates for election or re-election to the board, Bystrowski introduced two new members. Keturah Kinch, the site director at The Wheeler Clinic Family Health and Wellness Center in Hartford, helps at the organization’s Fresh Access distribution table, where she regularly hears comments of appreciation for the produce. Wheeler recently decided to incorporate more holistic practices into its behavioral health services and Kinch’s election to the Friend’s board will facilitate that as well as help Fresh Access. 

Amy Eisler, a master gardener and Food Share volunteer, assisted O’Grady with Fresh Access distribution in West Hartford and he knew she would be a good addition to the Friends board. She has had a lot of experience with non-profits, including counseling and supervision of volunteers. She will be working in various capacities with the board, including as a liaison with the volunteers in several program areas.

Reporter’s note: Subsequent to this meeting, because of hurricanes Fred, Henri and Ida, the farm has suffered significant crop losses and will be scaling back winter 2021-2022 CSA share plans. Still, it reports that with its commitment to sustainable farming and financial practices, its long-term strategic goals recently described in a previous issue of the Drummer remain intact.