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Slow Down for Local Farm Stands

– by Deb Thomas.

More on McLean Farms …

McLean Farms owner-operator Karen Mclean recently pointed out: “..we are not a CSA farm at this time. Mostly because farming is not our day job, although we wish it were!” Her words eloquently describe the rigors and dedication of the farmers who have Community Supported Agriculture farms, “I think CSA’s are becoming more and more relevant every year. It is a direct response to people wanting to be more connected to their sources of food. When you find out how long your vegetables were in cold storage on a truck and then find that your local farmer can pick your CSA basket the same day you get it, it is an easy choice. It is not for everyone, but for the health conscious and ‘foodies’ that can afford the initial investment, it is a great option. I give credit to farmers like the Gibsons at Wellstone Farm and the Halls at Maple Breeze; they have committed a large period of time and a large return from their fields to their CSA customers. People are relying on them to provide even when weather is bad and crops may fail. We can’t imagine the pressure! Being part time farmers ourselves, we are unable to commit to a CSA but we feel our farmers market and stand sales are the best way for us to bring the product to our community.”


Karen went on further to say it was her husband’s late father Fred McLean (who) owned the farm and raised Hereford cows and had a small vegetable stand there before he passed about 8 years ago. Brian bought the property and raised his 2 children there. We met at work and married last March. I am a vegetarian and love to cook and had always wanted a garden. That idea turned into a revitalization of the farm. We found that both of us believed in the idea of supplying high quality, chemical free produce to our friends, neighbors and the local community. Issues of GMOs , pesticide use and food safety inspired us to farm the way Brian’s father did, the old school way, lots of hand work and no spraying. We found New England Seed in Hartford, an all non-GMO seed company that was happy to supply us. The response was so positive last year that we added 20 raised beds and a new farm stand this year.


Both Karen and her husband Brian work full time at Essex Meadows Retirement Community, and spend every free minute farming and selling at local markets, and at their wonderful roadside stand on Route 154/Saybrook Road. “Working and our 4 children take up the rest of our time.”


Karen also commented about the future of their land saying, “We call it McLean Farms because we own about 5 acres of land which is not all connected. We hope to farm the rest in the future. At this time we are growing on 1 acre.”


The future of farming looks good for the state of CT, with recent statistics pointing to a rise in the overall number of farms. To which Karen added, “In the next 5 years we hope to grow the farm to the point that one of us may be able to do this work full time. We enjoy farming and farming life in general. We have met many wonderful people through farming and see it as our future. We are hopeful that some of our children might take a long term interest in it and work with us.”


When asked about the McLeans who live in East Haddam, and if they were part of the McLean family, she indicated they are not related (Chris McLean in East Haddam operates New Hope Farm, which had previously been in the Luther family for seven generations-keeping that farm land in production). However, Karen said that her husband belongs to the CT Farm Bureau of Middlesex County and is on their Board of Directors with Rebecca McLean from that other farm.


With all the publicity regarding organic growing and the GMO controversy, the McLean Farms banner reads: “No Chemicals/No Pesticides/Non GMO.” Karen states, “We are very proud of our commitment to no pesticides, no chemicals and NON GMO seed. We want to know what is in our food for our health and the health of our family. We listen to our customers and know it is important to them also. I have a 12 year old son with autism and I have tried very hard to lower his toxic load by removing chemicals from his environment and providing him a diet of whole foods with as little additives and chemicals as possible. I meet many mothers with similar interests at our farmer’s markets. I am happy to provide this kind of food to their children also. The organic certification is costly to obtain and has also become controversial among farmers. I am impressed by farms that have gone through all that it takes to get the designation, it is not easy. We are too small at this time to consider certification but we use the organic principles/practices and have signed the NOFA Farmer’s Pledge and believe strongly in its content.”


The rest of the story about McLean Farms is a story retold by many local farms, that-their success–and our local food supply–is dependent on support from the local population. “Our farm is located at 1426 Saybrook Road in Haddam. Our stand has an ‘honor system’ box for payment. Signs hanging from the tree let customers know what is available on a given day.” They have added different kinds of produce as the summer has progressed, too. Not having extensive acres in production means that some local farms rent out acres from other farms. “Our non-GMO corn is grown exclusively for us in nearby Colchester. When it is available we will bring it to the stand on a new corn wagon that Brian just built. We are thrilled that business has been great lately and we are seeing many customers from last year. Brian and I believe in what we are doing, taking an old fashioned approach to farming, shunning modern chemicals and pesticides that might improve production but at what cost. Brian prefers to keep to the tried and true varieties like Jetstar and BigBoy tomatoes that his dad raised rather than the new types others grow. They are consistent and have great flavor that customers remember.”


There is something else to catch your eye as you pass the stand too, which can’t help to elicit admiration. Yes, the beautiful crop of produce is what you see, but there’s something else on display every now and then that’s pretty special to the McLean family. “Brain restored the old truck (1969 Ford) out front in memory of his late brother, and also collects antique farm implements and tractors. He enjoys meeting new farmers and supporting other small farms, lending a hand when its needed, just like his dad did. CT Farm Bureau has enabled him to do that and to become educated on what’s happening to farming in our state. ”

McLean Farms 1969 Truck

McLean Farms, along with Wellstone Farm on Candlewood Hill Road (who sell at the Higganum Village Farmers’ Market on Fridays) are must-visit places along the hills and dales of Haddam. Worth a drive from anywhere.


Stay tuned for more information about other area farms and CSAs, as well as local sustainable agriculture and our regional food supply, and how you can get involved.


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