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Farm Fest 2012: A Commitment to Preserving our Agricultural Legacy in Suffield, CT

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I live in Suffield, Connecticut, a small, rural community with a rich, farming history dating back to the 1600s. Each year, the town  gathers to celebrate our past and commit to preserving the town’s agricultural legacy at “Farm Fest.”  This past Labor Day weekend, we participated in the 10th Annual Farm Fest at Hilltop Farm, the focus of which is clearly on entertaining and educating the children about the importance of respecting and caring for our farmland and community. Our children enjoyed activities from harvesting potatoes to shucking corn, milking cows to riding ponies, riding in a tractor parade and observing bees making honey.

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Next year, I think I'll bring real chickens and eggs to give the town's kids the full experience.

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The tractor parade is always a highlight for us.

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 My friend, Lauren Hastings Kaplan, preparing for a milking demonstration.

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 Digging for potatoes.

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Being a backyard chicken-keeper has fostered in me a genuine sense of connectedness to the land, my food and my community that I had never previously felt. My hope is that in sowing the seeds of rural pride with our children, their appreciation for the land and sustainability will grow into a feeling of civic responsibility for maintaining it.  

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 You know you live in a farm town when you can recognize the cows by name. This is Ginger (left). She lives at Hastings Farm, where I sell my fresh eggs.

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 The Wingmasters, Birds of Prey demonstration was riveting. The Red-tailed hawk was once on the brink of extinction due to the use of DDT but is no longer in danger due in part to the efforts of raptor rehabilitators such as Anne Collier (shown).  This partiular hawk was hit by a car and cannot be released back into the wild.

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 This 33 year old Golden Eagle named Dakota weighs 17 pounds and has a wing span of 7 feet. She used to be able to fly at speeds up to 100 miles per hour and take down an adult antelope until someone shot her in the wing, permanently disabling her.

 

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 This Barn Owl is not indigenous to New England and despite having found his way here, is not cold-hardy, which explains why he and his friends can be found in barns seeking warmth.

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A little bit about the history of Hilltop Farm: George M. Hendee, of Indian Motorcycle fame, founded Hilltop Farm in 1913, completing his “Monster Barn” at the beginning of World War I in 1914. Two years later, he retired to this 500-acre farm, raising a prized herd of Guernsey cows known as Hilltop Butterfats, which became well-known throughout the cattle breeding industry. He also established a model poultry plant for the breeding of White Leghorn chickens. Hilltop Farm became an important producer of milk, dairy and poultry
products. 

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The Hilltop Farm property:

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In 1940, Charles Stroh, a prominent Connecticut attorney and public servant, bought the farm from Hendee, who died in 1943.
Over the years, Stroh downsized operations and subdivided the farm. After Stroh died in 1992, farming on the remaining 250 acres soon ceased. In 2002, the Town of Suffield acquired 117 acres and “The Friends of the Farm at Hilltop,”a non-profit, all volunteer organization, was formed to save George Hendee’s 20,000-square-foot dairy barn from sale and possible demolition. 

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The vision of The Friends of the Farm at Hilltop is to help people connect with the land and learn from it. They believe there is nothing that can’t be learned on a farm: caring for the land, growing food, building and repairing, responsibility, creativity, leadership, recycling, teamwork and more.  It is for these reasons that The Friends work to rehabilitate structures and bring the farmland back into production with crops, animals, conservation areas and hands-on learning opportunities. Personally, I'm looking forward to the day when this chicke coop might be restored to its former glory. It was a beauty in its time.

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 For more images and information about this historic property that is the heart of the place I call home, please visit:   http://www.hilltopfarmsuffield.org/ 

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