Tucked away in the quiet, tree-covered hills of Beffa Road in Stafford Springs – just after the asphalt gives way to dirt – rows of lush bushes are laden with indigo-colored berries. The peace and tranquility of the country serves as a warm greeting to those looking for this season’s haul of healthy fruit, but for the family behind Winterbrook Farm, this is home. Kirby Judd is the patriarch of the farm, an endeavor he took on over four decades ago.
Kirby – originally from Queens – moved to Somers with his wife, Laura Jo, after deciding they didn’t want to raise a family in the city. He worked in Longmeadow as an English teacher for thirty years. The family’s interest in farming began when they were gifted a pony and her mother by friends - soon their 2 acre property was filled with a variety of animals and birds. Kirby and Jo took to the hills of Stafford, looking for a rustic getaway to assist in their agricultural efforts.
“We looked at farms for about four years,” recalls Kirby. “The first thing I would do [at a new property] is get out of the car and listen. If I could hear a highway or noise, I would say no and keep looking.”
The two found their 62.5-acre farm by accident, having to reroute from an adjacent back road during a winter’s storm. While the land wasn’t available right away, they were eventually able to purchase the parcel and with it came bountiful blueberry bushes. They started keeping sheep when one of their children needed a Vo-Ag project- long after their children left home Kirby and Jo were maintaining a flock of 80. They grew a business that involved the sale of spring lambs, producing wool yarn for The CT Blanket, and Jo taught many to knit, spin and weave. Homeschoolers came to the farm for their lessons.
“The story is – and I don’t know how accurate this is – that the previous owners went down to New Jersey and worked all night digging up a blueberry patch, bringing them up here to plant them…I assume in the dark because they didn’t leave much room between the rows. That’s the story of how they got here.”
Having been planted for over fifty years, the bushes are rugged and hardy. Each representative of a lasting family tradition, one shared with his four children and now, grandchildren. Extremely involved in the operation is his granddaughter, Miranda. Entering eleventh grade this fall, she oversees technical aspects of the business, like social media, research and ordering supplies, everything from reflective tape to bird repellent balloons. This year’s provisions were focused on battling the gypsy moth infestation. To combat, Miranda employed an organic spray with naturally occurring bacteria that is commonly found in soil. When eaten by caterpillars, the bacteria produce proteins that paralyze the caterpillar’s digestive system, which causes them to stop feeding and die. They also spent many long hours – as a family – handpicking the devastating pests from their beloved bushes.
“Instead of being sent to daycare or pre-K, I would come up here and hang out with my Nonny- I picked up a lot from her,” says Miranda. “A lot of the stories I’ve heard a million times, I’ve just been storing all of those facts.”
This month Miranda – and the rest of her family – utilizes those hands-on experiences to produce abundant crops of firm, flavorful, aromatic blueberries. Together they maintain approximately 200 bushes in conjunction with a maple syrup and hay business, which they’ve always counted on to support the expenses of the farm. The bushes require some off-season maintenance, such as pruning in the winter, mowing and putting up flash tape to scare away birds. Raising and selling berries is a lot of work, Kirby says, but he certainly enjoyed welcoming people for U-pick over the years.
Though it’s easy enough to pick up a pint of berries in clear plastic vented containers at the store, there’s a certain enlightenment walking through the patch. The property is quiet and private; picking at the rural spot is nothing short of a therapeutic experience. Besides, nothing tastes sweeter or juicier than berries personally picked. Winterbook Farm has five different varieties of blueberries, all planted together in the patch. The season extends through the end of August, but exact picking dates vary from year to year.
While U-pick berries have been a lasting tradition for Kirby over the years, preserving this land he loves is his number one priority these days.
“I like the quiet and beauty of this land and have put 46 acres in the Forest Legacy Program – now I want to protect the rest – my wife and I decided that was the most important thing; we didn’t want the land developed,” says Kirby. “That’s the major goal in my life right now; I love the land here.”
With a beautiful 18th-century farmhouse, barn, and tidy rows of easy picking berries, it’s easy to fall in love with the landscape here. To experience the bounty this season, call ahead for conditions and hours at (860) 684-2124 or visit Winterbook Farm on Facebook.