Bumble bees zip purposely from flower to flower while ladybugs make themselves at home on painted bamboo sticks that support row upon row of tomato plants.
In the perpetual warmth of the greenhouses at Holbrook farm, Ben Saunders, gardener, speaks in low, relaxed tones as he works his way down the rows, pruning each plant. He inspects every one with care, pinching off “suckers” as he goes.
“Suckers are tiny shoots that sprout between the leaf stem and the stalks,” Saunders explains, showing how the suckers will drain the plant, causing inferior tomatoes.
The gardener explained that everything in the greenhouse is there by design. “The bumblebees are the best for pollenating tomato plants and the ladybugs eat aphids.” He added that even the cilantro growing sporadically along the rows had a purpose in keeping certain insects away.
Strolling through the greenhouses, Saunders pointed out the growing phases of the soon-to-be summer bounty. “There’s Brazilian eggplant. The yellow flowers are kale.”
Pointing to lovely puff balls sprouted atop delicately curving stems, he said, “Those are leeks.”
Life on the Bethel farm seems to be made up of daily, concentrated, zen-like activity as evidenced by the peaceful intensity of those who were working the gardens. (See the photo gallery.)
A family who had come to see the chickens and kittens proved that Bethel-ites come to Holbrooks Farm as much for a peaceful interlude as for the organically grown greens, eggs, raw milk, local cheeses, baked goods and jams.
Inside the old barn, John Holbrook was the very picture of a farmer in work-worn clothes and a crumpled cloth cap. He talked about the farm as if he had been doing this all of his life. Having spent years in marketing before committing himself to his obvious passion, he explained, “We moved the barn up here from Westport in 1985-86.” Before that, they had begun farming on a smaller scale.
Pointing to the refrigerated case, as quaint and photogenic as everything else about the farm, Lynn Holbrook pointed out the bounty they are already producing. “We have fields of spinach, and there are already lettuces. We have bags filled with braising greens to be sauteed with onions and garlic, and mixed salad greens.”
John said, “Local tomatoes have started coming in from the March Farm in Bethlehem. They are delicious. They are the next best thing to being grown out in the field.” He added, “Ours will be ready in a few weeks.”
Describing the March Farm, Holbrook said, “He grows them in his own compost, and doesn't use any fungicide or herbicide. He is a cudge-mudgeon, and doesn’t want anyone messing with the way he does things. His strawberries are the best in the state. People flock here to buy them.”
Beside the care they put into their own farm, the Holbrooks take local farming in Connecticut equally seriously. “We support all of the local farms, even a mile away. If I am out of eggs, we get them from Steitzels. We sell their watercress. Have you ever had watercress?”
Asked for his advice on buying honey, John said, “Eat local honey. A lot of people can reduce their allergies, but the honey has to be local and it can’t be cooked. Store bought honey that has been pasteurized, and it kills anything good that is in there, same as raw milk. In the local honey, there is pollen and that is what is good for you.”