A Family Farm

Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Sheep with Heirloom Apple Trees in Background in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Sheep with Heirloom Apple Trees in Background (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

On a sunny spring day in 1978, a young couple wed; she, with glistening copper hair flowing down her back, and he, with a smile so bright it rivaled the sun.  They both had strong farming backgrounds; hers were deeply tied to the family farm where she grew up and his were with the neighboring dairy farm where he was raised.  They met when he returned from a months-long bicycle adventure, he pedaled into her life and neither ever looked back.  Little did they know how their vows would be tested in the years to come.

Heirloom Apple Tree with Multiple Grafts in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Cathy & Howie’s Favorite Apple Tree (photo credit: K. D.)

The first challenge came within a few years, when Cathleen (Hurlbut) Bronson and her new husband, Howard Bronson, Jr. decided to carry on Maple Bank Farm’s operations.  It was the first time since the farm’s origin in 1730 that a woman would continue on the family’s legacy.  And like everything else this young couple did, they took each others hand and jumped in with all feet landing firmly on the fertile ground below.

Maple Bank Farm's Stand in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Maple Bank Farm’s Stand and Rustic Fence (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Knowing that produce was their livelihood, this dedicated, hard working couple spent the first years building green houses, planting more fruit trees, modernizing older structures and equipment, and expanding the property to its present eighty three acres, with an additional twenty that are leased.  The farm stand built by Lewis Hurlbut in 1963, was updated in 1986 employing one of Howie’s many talents-carpentry skills.  With efficient systems in place, Cathy and Howie began implementing their ideas to fill their farm stand (open April through December) with stunning annuals, robust vegetable and herb plants, fresh fruits, vegetables, yarn from the wool of their own sheep, even including local produce from area farms and bakeries to provide variety for customers.

Rows of Blueberries in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Rows of Blueberries (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Impossible as it may seem, this fun loving, power plant couple, with some help from their daughter, son and several employees, also tend to “behind-the-scene” animal husbandry; raising a flock of sheep, cows and chickens, and all that that entails.  They maintain four greenhouses, multiple barns, farm equipment, and during the growing season cultivate and tend eight acres of vegetables, two acres of pumpkins, ten acres of sweet corn, an acre of blueberries, and 275 apple trees (including 21 heirloom varieties).  Oh, and did I mention a few fat cats?

Hundreds of Young Vegetables Ready to Plant in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Hundreds of Young Vegetables Ready to Plant (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Yet none of these tasks, as daunting as they may seem, caused alarm for this committed couple until Mother Nature sent hail storms and hurricanes to wreak havoc on their otherwise peaceful domain. In 2002, a severe June hail storm destroyed every crop, including all the fruit on the trees, even damaging the greenhouses.  Almost a decade later, hurricane Irene blew in with so much water that twenty acres of crops and several pieces of farm equipment were completely under  water.  But, these are resilient people, and they keep on “keepin’ on,” come what may.  Cathy said: “This is the reason we diversify our crops, in the event of a tragedy we can try to limit the damage.”

Irrigation Pond for Fishing and Native Habitat in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Irrigation Pond for Fishing and Native Habitat (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Cathy and Howie use the same practical, upbeat attitude when other problems come down the pike.  Aphids on the greenhouse plants, “We release lady bugs, they’re voracious eaters, chomping down the unwanted pests.” Cathy said, adding: “The trick is to release them at night, as they fly up to the ceiling during the day, instead of landing on the plants.”  They also use beneficial insects for mite control, as it works better than anything else they’ve tried.  Rotating crops, using manure, and planting cover crops are a few of the measures taken to help preserve and restore the land.  And when geese flew in to devour the rye grass, Howie brought in three faux coyotes, strategically placing them in the field.  Viola! No more geese visitations.

Baby Sheep in Hay Trough in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Baby Sheep in Hay Trough (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

You might wonder, as I did, why this dynamic duo continues to perform such hard, physical work year after year?  Especially since until recently the general public didn’t recognize the importance of farmers or fresh produce.  Howie said a boost in interest started about six years ago, when people went from thinking farming was just a nice hobby, to understanding that farming was essential.  But, even with growing awareness and appreciation from the public, one still ponders how this team remains so passionate about farming.  What is it that inspires them when their backs ache from a laborious day of weeding or when the refrigerator in cold storage breaks down on the hottest day in August?

Cathy & Howie Bronson in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Cathy & Howie Bronson (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

These are folks that wholly embrace the concept of living off the land, and whose roots are deeply entrenched in their community.  So, when challenges arise, the analyzing and problem solving are exactly what unites and excites them.  Like setting daily priorities and evaluating crops.  Each morning, Cathy and Howie discuss ideas for different approaches or methods, ultimately helping them to evolve and become more efficient.  Using his farmer’s ingenuity, Howie will either fix something, or fabricate a replacement; a skill so necessary to keeping the farm running smoothly while minimizing expenses. They both love experimenting with new fruits or vegetables, often trying different produce because a customer requests it.  And once in a while, they’ll grow something because they like it.

Cathy Weaving at Her Loom in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Cathy Weaving at Her Loom (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

As I was getting ready to go, we started talking about grand children, and reminiscing about our lives as children.  Their grandson, Flynn, not quite three, has already mastered the art of gathering eggs and carefully carrying them back to the house in a small basket.  With a smile, Cathy shared that she, too, had gathered eggs as one of her farm chores when she was around his age.  And by the time she was ten, she was riding with her dad delivering eggs to nearby towns.

National Bicentennial Sign in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

National Bicentennial Sign Proudly Displayed (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Every improvement in husbandry should be gratefully received and peculiarly fostered in this Country, not only as promoting the interests and lessening the labour of the farmer, but as advancing our respectability in a national point of view; for in the present State of America, our welfare and prosperity depend upon the cultivation of our lands and turning the produce of them to the best advantage. ” ~ George Washington

Please visit: www.maplebankfarm.com for more info and directions to this wonderful farm.

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Comments

  1. I have the utmost respect for anybody who chooses farming as a way of life. One of the family farms I frequent in South Glastonbury does dinners on picnic tables in their orchard every other week throughout the summer. It must be a heck of alot of extra work for them but every dinner is fabulous and usually sold out. As soon as they post the schedule for 2013 I’m going to reserve every date in advance.

    On my way to work I drive by a house with a small pond in the front. Recently I noticed a couple of those fake coyotes positioned around it. However, usually there is also a Canada goose or two poking in the grass nearby. I’ve been meaning to stop and try to get a picture. Glad Cathy and Howie had better luck! If I’m ever in the area I’ll be sure to stop by their farmstand.

    • Oh, yes! When farmers put on a shindig, one should be there with bells on! Food is always phenomenal, but so is the down to earth, unpretentious conversation. Some of the best meals I’ve had were with the Bronson/Hurlbut extended family, when I worked part time at the farm. As always, thanks for writing Sue! And enjoy the sunshine~

  2. Don Carleton says:

    Being tangentially related to the Hurlbuts thru my brother’s wife Carolyn Hurlbut and my niece and nephew, i really enjoyed this glimpse into their lives. I live in a small beach town in Costa Rica now and am friends with Mike and Yvonne Humphery who are farming in the Carib sur with free range chickens and a community garden project. I honor the people who as Woody Gutherie said “are the ones who feed us all”.

    • Wow, I’m thrilled to hear from someone so far from my neck of the woods! It’s wonderful to know that your friends are involved with gardening and raising chickens. I hoped that by sharing Cathy and Howie’s story, others might not only have a better understanding of farming, but also become inspired to “get back to the basics” once and a while as well. I truly appreciate you taking the time to write and share your thoughts. ~Cheers!

  3. Sally Seibel says:

    Oh my –Quick Kathy !!! so good to hear from you– AND—Kathy and Howie are GRANDPARENTS !!!!!! I remember Lynnea crawling up their driveway collecting garnets when she was 6 !!! I took her to my house so she could collect amathyst–and now she’s got a little one !! WOW Stay well–love to see you. hugs, Sal the gal

    • Yes, it’s funny how time flies . . . but with that, lots of wonderful memories are created and treasured. Thanks for writing Sally ~

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