Darien Farmers Market goods benefit from mild winter
Vendors at the Darien Farmers Market stayed under tents and awnings in the municipal parking lot behind Mechanic Street while rain fell around them on Wednesday afternoon. Despite only having a few customers at the time, these folks seemed content. It was almost the end of the workday for them.
"I get up at like 4, 4:30," Ed Gazy said, soft-spoken, of the time he wakes up each morning to run his farm. He runs Gazy Brothers Farm in Oxford, a family-run business since 1910 that he took over in 1986.
Every Wednesday since May 9, when the market opened this year, Gazy wakes up early to prepare for the day. He said many crops -- like lettuce, broccoli, turnips and basil -- are picked the day of sale.
"I like to keep it as fresh as possible," he said, listing beets, carrots and squash among the vegetables he picked the night before.
"Yesterday, we picked 70 baskets of squash," he said. "This time of year is usually like that."
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But this year was also unique for Gazy and other farmers who experienced the mild winter. Gazy said he was able to pick crops as early as the end of March.
"It was dryer than usual, so it was easier," he said. "The ground didn't freeze, and when the ground doesn't freeze water doesn't sit on top of the ground."
Jessi Bautista, who started working at Riverbank Farm in Roxbury this year, agreed. "We planted stuff earlier because it wasn't cold and the ground warmed up quicker," Bautista said. "It was a warm winter, but it had cold snaps."
Farmhand Ted Stevenson said, "We took a risk on some early stuff. We planted peas, which are doing well."
This is Stevenson's second season working at Riverbank Farm. He said one problem with the mild winter, however, is that pests don't die off as easily.
"Usually, if you get a deep freeze, it kills off most of the bugs," he said.
As Stevenson packed strawberries into a crate at the end of the day, Mark Maynard walked over from his tent for a snack.
Maynard, who raises cows, pigs and chicken at Ox Hollow Farm in Roxbury, said he hasn't seen an increase in bug activity yet. Actually, Maynard said, aside from muddier fields, the mild winter worked out for the farm.
"A cow will usually eat, in a regular winter, 70 to 80 pounds of hay a day, and this year they ate 50, which is like a bale of hay," he said, saying hay provides warmth to cattle.
Maynard said ground beef is his best seller.
Business is "pretty good because people demand local food," he said.
Maynard also sells his products at farmers markets in New Canaan and Westport. He drives about an hour south to come to the area, like many other farmers.
But Darien residents interested in growing their own fruits and vegetables have a local option, Cherry Lawn Community Gardens at 120 Brookside Drive.
Dorothy Shergalis, a coordinator of the gardens committee, said she has been gardening there for more than 20 years.
"It's actually lovely," she said. "On a Saturday afternoon it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting."
The garden, she said, has 64 plots that are roughly 20 feet by 30 feet in a fenced-in area near the Darien Nature Center, with picnic tables and a shed for shared gardening tools.
"It's basically a kitchen garden," she said, naming peppers, strawberries and perennial raspberry bushes among the foods grown there. "But it's mostly veggies."
This year, Shergalis said, the gardeners were able to start planting several weeks earlier than usual.
"Usually it's after Memorial Day, but here we started about two weeks before Memorial Day," she said, and added that most members of the community do their gardening on the weekends.
"It's just an early start and everyone was very happy about that," she said. "But now everyone is worried about all this rain."
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