From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut #2

In the spring, 

at the end of the day, 

you should smell like dirt.

      -Margaret Atwood

By C. Dennis Pierce

Spring is four weeks away! Many of the local maple trees already are feeding intravenously, through a zig zag network of tubing, large white containers which hold the sap that will later become maple syrup. Yes, a true sign of spring. As I write this column once again, I feel the frustration of being unprepared for the upcoming gardening season. This might be called the “spring shoulder season” but as I look out my window I think “patches” is a better name. It is that time of the year when the ground is warming up and the last snow begins to fade away and plants are waking up from the dormancy of winter. On a positive note, it is the best time of year as the air mixes with the warming soil, that earthy smell that reminds you don’t give up warmer weather will soon be here keeping you excited about what’s to come. Many here in the Northeast may refer to this as mud season.  The combination of rapidly melting snow, thawing ground, and even rain causes only one thing…mud, and lots of it. Here in Mansfield, I recently experienced several back roads were closed or limited to travel due to the impassible muddy roads.  

The “spring shoulder season” is encouraging for hobby gardeners like myself but for the local farmer it is a time where they are working on the first steps of garden production. It is a crucial time for indoor planting. Hundreds if not thousands of seeds will have their first opportunity to snuggle in the enriched starter soil. Farmers begin the process of coddling, transplanting and carefully waiting for the right time when the soil is warm enough to be placed in the ground. Some planting methods bypass this step and seeds are placed directly in the garden beds. The early spring starter method jump starts the little seedlings so they can beat the growing season and show up at the local markets earlier. So why does our local farmers start early? For one, they grow produce that goes directly to the market. The key for market farmers is to produce a product for their customers that they like and cannot find elsewhere. Sometimes this means growing unique varieties not usually found on traditional market shelves. Sometimes it simply means growing a familiar crop at a time when it is difficult to find fresh elsewhere.  If you have not developed the habit of buying locally, perhaps this is the year to start. With inflation impacting the prices of items in traditional stores and you have always thought framer’s markets are too expensive now maybe the time to rethink your choices.      

If you read my column on a regular basis, you will recall that my column was absent from the last issue. Some thought I have given up on advocating for Connecticut Grown and the local farmer or sharing recipes that may incorporate local offerings. While a break in the process of crafting this column for the past ten years has given me the opportunities to reflect on what to focus on in the future. Despite the fact that it is a tremendous struggle for the younger generation to buy or rent farmland, establish a footing in the farming community (which by the way receives them with open arms) and sometimes fight the bureaucracy of local towns, young farmers are now beginning to sprout up like mushrooms after a rainstorm.

Interested in meeting those who ventured into local farming as a career? On Saturday, March 9th,  plan on visiting the upcoming “Know Your Farmer Fair” which is held annually in Willimantic. This year it is at the relatively new Community Center that is across for the Willimantic Food Co-op. “The Know Your Farmer Fair” is an opportunity for residents, chefs, food service directors and restaurant owners  to meet local farmers and to look ahead to the upcoming growing season. Residents can shop at the farmer’s market as well as discuss local Community Supported Agriculture Programs (CSA), farm stands and pick-your-own opportunities. What to learn more? Check it out at

Typically, most individuals who are in search of local produce or products fulfill their quest at  local farmer’s markets. As a localvore, (one who purchases local farm produce and products) are you aware the Willimantic Co-op offers produce that is in season and products that are Connecticut Grown? I recently asked Patty Smith, the new General Manager of the Willimantic Co-op, if she could share with me a list of those that provide product to the Co-op and also, I asked her for a clarification on membership requirements to purchase from the Co-op. Patty sent me the following which I thought it would be great to share with our readers. “ The Co-op is not currently charging the 10% surcharge to non-members. We stopped doing that when the pandemic hit and haven’t reinstated it. We believe it is an outdated practice that no longer serves the Co-op, its members, or the community, especially as we attempt to become more accessible and welcoming to all members of our community who are interested in what the Co-op has to offer, even if they are not ready to become members yet. All shoppers are prospective members, and we believe the surcharge is an obstacle to our ability to serve shoppers who either can’t afford the price of a member share ($120 at $20/year for 6 years) or who simply don’t yet see the value in joining. However, members still receive special benefits for joining, such as a 15% discount on most case pre orders, a 10% coupon upon joining, and other member-only specials and coupons throughout the year, in addition to the benefit of participating in collective and democratic ownership of a community grocery store. We’re currently running a member survey on the topic, to gauge the level of member support in permanently eliminating the non-member surcharge.”

Patty also shared an extensive list of those farms and individuals who already provide product to the Co-op. I have shortened this list since I wanted to focus on local Connecticut products and Connecticut Grown.  The original list contained over 135 vendors. Due to a lack of space for my column I have chosen  local farms from the surrounding communities as an example: A&Z Apiaries / Honey, Alice Rubin / farmer / plants, Still River Farm / eggs, grains and flour, Apis Verde / produce, Baldwin Brook farm / dairy products, Bats of Bedlam/ maple syrup, Berry Bird Farmstead / eggs, Bliss Farm / plants and flowers, Bluebird Hill Farm / produce, BOTL Farm / eggs and meat, Bright Acres farm / produce, Brown Farm / flowers, Bruce the Goose / Eggs, Buddha’s Bees / honey,  Cambera Farm / baked goods, Cato Farm / cheese, Cloverleigh Farm / produce, Cobblestone Farm / produce, KDCrop Farm/ eggs, jams and jellies, Kim Bowers / eggs and maple syrup, Kindred Crossings / meat, Lara Skirvan / produce, Maggie’s Farm / produce, Mary Hawley / eggs, Mathew Olkin / produce, Matt Pulk / produce, Melinda Fields / eggs and produce, Monument Hill Farm / produce, Mountain Dairy / dairy products, Proctor Hill Farm / meat, Rachael Landry / flowers, Raptor Ridge Farm / eggs, Shooks Apiaries / honey, Shundahai Farm / produce, Swift Acre Farm / produce, The Clucking Chicken Farm / eggs, The Loved Hen Farm / eggs, Tiny Acre Farm / produce, Tobacco Farm / produce, Waddicor’s Winterplace / cheese, Wayne Sweet / eggs, Willow Valley farm / produce, and Winterplace Farm Creamery / cheese. 

If you have a farm and are interested in selling to the Willimantic Co-op Patty suggested  you can use the Contact Us form on the Co-op’s website or if it is produce their local produce buyer Mark at

Egg Salad, Yup, But Not Your Mom’s

Filling for four sandwiches


4 large eggs, preferably local.

5 tablespoons of mayonnaise

1 cup of finely chopped celery ( 1 stalk)

¼ cup of minced parsley

1 scallion, minced (you can substitute with a ½ of a small onion)

1 granny smith apple, peeled, core removed, and apple grated into salad.

1 tablespoon of minced dill weed

Salt and pepper to taste


Cover eggs with lightly salted water in a pot

Bring to a boil. Boil 12 minutes

Drain hot water and immediately submerge in cold water.

Let water run over eggs until eggs are cooled.

Peel eggs. 

If you are peeling fresh local eggs don’t be surprised if they are a pain to peel.

Chop eggs, add mayonnaise, chopped vegetables / apple

Season with salt and pepper

Cover mixture and place in refrigerator for one hour.

Serve on a whole wheat bread or bagel with lettuce and tomato.

Eggs are the sign of spring. The local hens have begun laying and we will begin to see a lot of signs pop up on the highways and byways offering local eggs for sale. Did you know that egg salad sandwiches is a favorite in Singapore?  This egg salad sandwich is actually a Japanese favorite called Tamago Sando. It is tucked between two slices of sweet milk bread, and it is prepared with kewpie mayonnaise.

Starting with this column I am planning to incorporate some tips I have picked up along the way from farmers, markets, and local gardening associations. As birds are making their way back to the area, welcome them  with some nesting materials. Do you have one of those suet holders laying around? Leave it by your clothes dryer and every time you take out the fluff from your filter add it to the suet holder. When full hang it by your bird feeder. Birds will think they died and went to heaven.  Also, my experience last year, while taking the UConn Master Gardener program (which I highly recommend) is that when gardening do not state that your growing matter is dirt. Instead call it soil. Dirt is what you track into the house. Another tip is when going to purchase soil to fill your raised beds do not fall for the expensive marketing of raised bed soil. Instead purchase several bags of a lesser priced substrate and purchase a bag of compost and a bag of peat moss and make your own mixture. You may also want to add vermiculite for water retention.  Countless recipes can be found online. Lastly, as it will soon be early spring, if you have not done this recently have your soil tested. Think about it. How can you invest in expensive seeds or pre grown plants if you do not know the composition and attributes of the soil you are planning to grow in. For a reasonable price you can send it or drop it off to the University. A great article and contact information can be found here: 

If you find that you enjoy reading this column every month or if you have some gardening hacks you would like to share with others? Please drop me a line and let me know  at I am grateful to those who let me know that they missed my column when it was absent in the last issue. Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table!

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