After nearly 46 years in the Wutka family, Lost Acres Orchard passes seamlessly to its new family: The Bennetts

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Lost Acres Orchard’s new owners Greg and Melissa Bennett and their dog Bailey. Submitted photo

In 1977, our parents, Tom and Ginny Wutka, had the crazy idea to sell their spacious custom colonial and buy the orchard up the street where my big brother had been working picking apples on the weekends.

While mom and dad figured out the ropes of this new farming adventure, we helped a little and learned a lot. We learned about apples and cider, about picking and pruning and thinning and weeding, about building barns and repairing old things. We learned about cellars with dirt floors, old bathtubs with claw feet, and how to drive tractors when you were old enough to reach the pedals. We learned about deer and bears and bees—and humans too—about solid work ethic, about giving back to the community, about the joys and responsibilities of creating a place where folks like to gather.

One of the first projects we completed when we moved to the orchard was building the cider mill. Back in the day, folks could bring their own jugs to fill from the tap. That policy has long-since changed but the old press is still kickin’.

In 1998, when I closed my coffeehouse in the center of town, we decided to build the farm kitchen. That operation grew over time, first adding a small front porch where a handful of folks could sit for a spell, then expanding the kitchen and wrapping the porch around the side of the building, and eventually transforming the porch into a three-season space with bright, airy windows. From warm cinnamon buns and grilled panini to hot apple crisp and Thanksgiving pies, we have had the pleasure of preparing countless meals and hosting hundreds of special events, and the honor of being included in so many of your family traditions.

Of all the lessons we’ve learned over the years, though, the most important was this: with hard work, perseverance, and a little bit of luck, you can forge your own path and do whatever you want to do. And that’s what we kids did. We became our own entrepreneurs, accountants, builders, bakers, artists, ministers, moms and dads. And our children—Tom and Ginny’s grandchildren—are becoming designers, executives, nurses, athletes, engineers, equestrians, musicians, mechanics and more.

Our family cherishes the orchard property—those knotted old apple trees, the quirky barns filled with hiding places, the bubbling brook where we used to swim—and we are overwhelmingly blessed to have grown up in such a magical place.

The time has come, however, to pass the baton, to hand this treasure over to an amazing family who, like ours 45 years ago, has the energy and enthusiasm to nurture the land and the trees and who will maintain and build upon those family traditions that so many of you have enjoyed at the orchard over the years. Friends: Meet the Bennetts!

Greg and Melissa Bennett with their family. Submitted photo

Seven years ago, Greg and Melissa Bennett were looking to relocate to a larger home in North Granby. Their charming spot in the Poet’s Corner neighborhood was a great fit when they moved there in 2006 as a young couple with a sweet baby but it had grown a bit cozy with the addition of three more daughters and a flock of chickens.

On one very fortuitous afternoon they stopped by the orchard, stumbled upon Ginny in her golf cart, and were delivered in said golf cart to my garden where we arranged an impromptu showing of the newly listed beautiful home of a dear friend in our neighborhood. Proximity to the orchard was a bonus: they closed a few weeks later.

Evening strolls through the orchard became a regular pastime, and oldest daughter, Grace—still sweet but no longer a baby—was soon working in the farm kitchen. Greg and Melissa, avid gardeners themselves, often helped my dad with projects in the orchard—planting trees, thinning peaches, gathering pruned sticks. Melissa’s grandparents owned a large farm in Torrington, and she grew up helping her dad at the farm picking strawberries, tending to the animals and other crops.

A talented baker, and one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, she has spent the past 25 years as an oncology nurse. Melissa is magically balancing her days between a nursing career and managing the bakery. Greg works in medical IT and comes from a family of medical professionals. He does admit, however, that in a sixth-grade career discussion he declared, “I’d love to be a farmer!”, and he did grow up with lots of pets.

On a family trip to the Outer Banks early last year, Greg and Melissa were looking out over the beautiful seashore, which they adore, and realized that it was not actually the kind of place where they wanted to end up. What they wanted, they reflected, was to be like Tom and Ginny, whom they saw as dedicated stewards of a land that they loved and deeply rooted in the fabric of the community, still choosing to work the farm in their 80s. Returning from their trip, they visited with my parents on the porch of the bakery to discuss possibilities and Greg recalls that my mom’s first response was “Are you crazy?” A valid question, for sure. You might have to be just a little bit nuts to voluntarily choose to be a farmer.

Despite their day jobs, Greg and Melissa plan to be fully active at the orchard. On any given visit to the farm store, you are likely to run into a member of the Bennett family, in addition to the rest of the familiar orchard team. Devon Kaczka—our rock during this transition—will still be running the baking operations. Melissa has been working side-by-side with Devon for much of the past year learning the ropes in the kitchen. When our dad’s health was declining last fall,

Greg stepped in and helped peel apples for pies. Greg has been navigating through the haystack of farm tasks: tractor repair, fence mending, tree pruning, predator patrol and so on.

Sadly, the living, loving, breathing user manual for the orchard was lost when our dad passed in December. He knew how everything functioned, or malfunctioned, and had engineered  myriad creative custom fixes and repairs. We are all working together to decipher how all of the pieces fit together as Greg steps into the Farmer Tom role. Ginny is still nearby in the farmhouse, sharing knowledge of the gardens and plantings and the many nuances of the orchard while the Bennett family acclimates to this crazy farm life.

So, what’s next? Greg and Melissa simply want to build on Tom and Ginny’s legacy. To keep Lost Acres Orchard a small family community treasure. To work with the local farm community to maintain the agricultural beauty of this town. To be stewards of the land. They look forward to getting to know our fabulous orchard family—friends who visit once a week, families who come apple-picking in the fall, or folks who can’t imagine Thanksgiving without Lost Acres pies. They fully appreciate the challenges ahead of them, but look forward to the adventure.

This transition has certainly been bittersweet, but we feel so fortunate that such good people will be carrying on our family tradition. Thank you to the Bennett Family for nurturing this place that means so much to so many. And thank you to mom and dad for all of the lessons learned and memories made—and for giving us wings.