STONINGTON — Cold, barren fields encrusted with wisps of snow belied the long rows of lush, green vegetables growing inside Stone Acres Farm’s hoop houses Friday.
“We’re working on spring seeding today,” said Andy Meek, 30, farm manager for the operation, who was wearing a T-shirt and work pants in the warm, humid space.
Laid across wooden tables were black tray grids where hundreds of tiny green sprigs of kale, cilantro, and nasturtiums poked up from the dirt.
“We are starting some stuff for outdoor planting in the spring, mostly flowers and herbs that take a long time,” he said. “And then we’ve got some stuff where it’s plants from last year where we saved the root stock and we’re taking cuttings from them for propagation this summer.”
Meek was inside one of Stone Acres Farm’s three hoop houses, or high tunnels, as the modern-day greenhouses are called, which allow the farm to stay in production year-round. The structures are angled with a southern exposure to gather maximum solar gain in the winter.
“This heat you’re feeling right now is just from the sun, and you can feel the difference as the solar elevation changes throughout the year,” Meek said.
The farm sells its winter crops, such as mustard greens and arrugula, to local restaurants. It also has a community-supported agriculture program for 14 weeks in the summer, plus a farmers market.
But that’s not all.
Farming, food and education are the three pillars of the farm’s mission, said Jane Simmons Meiser, 40, the farm’s director of operations and a part owner. Meiser is married to Dan Meiser, co-owner of the Oyster Club, Engine Room and Grass and Bone restaurants.
“We are a for-profit farm and a nonprofit education center under the Agricultural Heritage District, which was approved in March 2018,” she said. “We put together a master plan that is very focused on establishing this as a working farm, historic gardens, historic buildings, an education center and a space for food artisans to collaborate.”
The 1765 farm has been in her family for 10 generations and was formerly a dairy operation. About two years ago the 65-acre property was sold to a group of investors, some of whom were family members, Meiser said.
“It was a group of people who were passionate about saving an old historic farm and creating open space for the public,” she said. “The plans that we have for this property are over a ten-year period; we’re phasing them in what we feel is a responsible way.”
Some of the plans include creating a small farm-to-table restaurant in the “grapery,” an old greenhouse that was once used to grow lemons and limes.
“The menu will change daily with everything coming directly off the farm,” she said.
Stone Acres will also have structured classes about farming for children and adults taught by Jen Rothman, education director.
“People can become more educated about what they’re putting on their plate and how important small farms are to our bodies, our health, the economy and this area,” said Meiser.
The community supported agriculture program is one of the keys to the financial viability of the farm she said.
“This time of year is when farmers need to invest money for seeds and get ready for spring,” she said. The program is $350 for an individual share and $500 for a family share, paid in advance.
The farm could feed about 200 to 300 families when it’s in full operation, said Meek.
“And we have a lot of room to grow,” said Meiser.