Thanks in part to a gruff farmer who answers to the moniker "Uncle Buck," three acres of organic vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers are ripening smack dab in the middle of Stamford's big town hustle and bustle.
Rows upon rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, potatoes, kale, eggplant, lettuce, herbs, pumpkins and squash now prosper on land that was once part of the city's most fashionable district, an estate area known as Hubbard Heights. Over a century ago, this is where the town's doctors built their stately manses to be near the new Stamford Hospital just down the block. Even today, historic Hubbard Heights remains one of the most elegant streets in town.
But let’s go Way Back to the Future, more than two and a half centuries ago. You would be standing in the middle of Hubbard Farms, a vast bucolic acreage farmed by the Hubbard family, newly arrived in Connecticut. Their fields stretch almost to the horizon; the abundant crops leafy, tall and green, free of herbicides, fungicides or growth hormones.
Dissolve to the present: as the re-incarnated Hubbard Heights Farm invokes its past, a dedicated farmer growing food naturally, allowing plant sugars to form without recourse to any chemicals -- just sun, soil, rain and sweat.
Though the Hubbards no longer own the historic land, another food-centric family, the Sclafani's of New Canaan, hold title to three acres of it. (Yep, they are the same people who import San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, pasta, and vinegar from Italy to supermarkets in America.) Over a year ago, the Sclafani's had planned to put new houses on their grandfather's homestead. But when they learned New Caanan’s Randy Brown (aka “Uncle Buck”), was looking for city land to grow an urban organic farm, their passion for food quality prevailed over their pocketbooks. The family invited the Cornell trained Farmer Brown to transform their Stamford estate into a farm. Within days, Uncle Buck was hard at work, spreading a carpet of rich, organic topsoil over the barren acreage.
Thanks to his resourceful husbandry, the first vegetables soon sprouted and were ready for harvesting by mid-summer 2012. This year, he has begun servicing CSA's to the Stamford community, and has just re-opened a farm stand to the public. Available now are the first heirloom tomatoes of the season as well as cukes, kale and greens.
But it’s the heritage tomatoes that steal the show. Because the seedlings (domestic and foreign) are grafted onto disease resistant roots, Brown can keep most of the heirloom’s multitude of enemies at bay without chemicals. He produces over 20 cultivars of delicious, natural tomatoes. Of course, cracks, colors and shapes abound, but bite into one, and its sugary, full bodied flavor may approach what the Hubbards also savored, once upon a vine.
Most of these tomatoes are so delicate they cannot be shipped without damage. That’s why they are rare and only available from a small, horticultural farm like Hubbard Heights. They can also be cultivated in your back yard. This past Spring Uncle Buck sold his seedlings to home gardeners, many of whom are now tending gigantic plants that have grown to over seven feet tall.
By fall, the summer crop of vegetables will be replaced by pumpkins and winter squash. In January, Uncle Buck will accept applications for limited CSA's on a first come first serve basis. He hopes to expand a wholesale business to local stores and restaurants, and envisions holding educational classes for the community. .
Yet, for all its success, Hubbard Heights Farm remains a fragile, and relatively unprofitable, experiment. The ground may now be fertile, but it is very shaky! When a tractor broke down this spring, Uncle Buck had to beg neighbors and customers to chip in to get it up and running. The man is so devoted; he didn't have time to escape his never ending farm chores to sit down for a full interview.
Uncle Buck toils well over a hundred hours a week, growing simple, natural food on a farm in the center of Stamford, as if the burgeoning metropolis around him were still a sleepy, rural burg nestled in the Connecticut countryside.
Hubbard Heights Farm 202 Hubbard Avenue, Stamford.
Tues-Fri 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. and on Weekends from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Closed Mondays.