South Farms: Something Good Grows in Morris
By Jacque Lynn Schiller
Lately, I must confess, Instagram has been providing a map of sorts with its intriguing photos of new places to visit. A couple of months ago, venerable Chef Joel Viehland (formerly of Community Table) posted a photo of an old Ford AA truck with a logo for “south farms Morris, Conn.” painted on its side. Intrigued by the typography as much as the vehicle, I wondered what else might be going on at this homestead. Curiosity paid off, leading not only to a model of preservation and agri-tourism, but also a lively Sunday market, stunning event space and, just in time for fall, an impressive corn maze – a real map being essential to navigate in this case.
Ben Paletsky, business manager of South Farms Agricultural, shared the property’s Native American and farming history (including an outspoken, wall-building sheriff), tracing it to more modern times and Sam Paletsky, the Connecticut farmer who purchased it in the late ‘40s. It has remained in the Paletsky family for four generations.
Sam’s grandson, Ben, has committed to revitalizing the iconic 150-acre historic homestead and is the driving force behind making the family farm, now called South Farms, into one of the state’s most ambitious agricultural place-making endeavors. Partnering with lifelong family friends and fellow neighboring farmers Erica Dorsett-Mathews and husband Corey Mathews, Paletsky has launched a heritage breed meats business, which expanded to include the very fun Morris Marketplace featuring live music, an array of local vendors and even a sit-down lunch area.
“We felt that by selling our meats off-farm, our mission of connecting customers with the goodness of the farmland experience was compromised,” he says. “So, we invited a selection of awesome farms and artisans, both old and new, to come together with us at the homestead on Sundays.”
The community is receptive to the bucolic vistas and naturally inviting atmosphere, making it a true weekly gathering. “We want guests to feel welcome at the farm and stay for a while, not just grab and go, so we mixed in live music, free crafts for kiddos, and, of course, unbelievably good farm-fresh food.”
“Small towns need — correction, small towns thrive — when there exists a cultural centerpiece that everyone can appreciate, enjoy and rally behind,” Paletsky says. “We intended to design an experience at South Farms that would drive agricultural and economic growth while cultivating positive cultural involvement for the community and visitors to the area. Our guests embraced the idea and they have become some of the market’s best advocates.”
And what an amazing assemblage of area farms and artisans! CIA graduate Amanda Glover serves incredible made-from-scratch pastries from her converted Airstream trailer, Sweetie. There’s fruit and cider from March Farms, a neighboring multi-generational family farm and orchard. Fresh chicken – and turkey for anyone thinking ahead to Thanksgiving – is on offer from Pond’s Poultry. The list of vendors also includes fresh Bantam Breads, hot sauce from Dragon’s Blood Elixirs, organic veggies (and an awesome bloody Mary mix) from Waldingfield’s Farm and refreshing treats like Chet’s Italian Ice and Hardcore Cupcakes. Area restaurant Oliva’s provides prepared food and Winvian Farms boasts not only a veggie stand but also a mobile lunch.
Beyond food, there’s a revolving collection of artisans and merchants selling anything from jewelry, paintings and photography to alpaca wool, children’s books and soaps. In addition, every week the market features an area non-profit in order to help promote awareness of their cause. The goodness just grows, along with the corn.
Corn, you say? Oh yes, the eating kind and the get-lost-within variety. For the second year, South Farms has created a remarkable corn maze. Two, in fact, one a bit shorter for the not so adventurous. I heeded the advice from the ticket booth to orient myself by noting the position of the sun upon entering the path (seven-foot stalks and nothing but blue skies can throw off one’s sense of direction). The view of the barns on the hill is always pretty, but looks downright magnificent after triumphantly navigating the maze.
Which brings us to another aspect of South Farms; it also makes quite an attractive event space. This fall they’ll host a number of weddings, the weekly market will run through the end of October and they’ll likely have a few “pop-up” markets in the barn near the holiday seasons.
And they’re just getting started in terms of expansion. Pioneer Hops of Connecticut has co-located onto South Farms, creating one of the state’s largest commercial hops yards. There’s a plan for the portfolio of farm and agri-tourism businesses partnered with South Farms to expand in a lot of exciting directions and investments.
“Our vision includes South Farms’ role as a cultural, educational and ag investment hub for Litchfield County and the state,” says Paletsky. “In parallel, we’re thinking about ways to maximize the use of our farmland. South Farms intends to create new models for farming in the state – models that highlight both business viability for agricultural production and connect non-farmers to the farmland experience.”
South Farms’ giant white barn just might mark the spot where inspiration leads to even more action.
21 Higbie Road, Morris, CT
The South Farms Corn Maze is open for the season and will run through the end of October as well on Sundays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Sundays 11 a.m.-2 p.m. from mid June-late October.
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