Sullivan Farm begins a new chapter
Published 6:29 pm, Wednesday, April 4, 2012
On Joe Listro's first visit to Sullivan Farm, the sweet scent of maple syrup wafted into his nostrils and his eyes were treated to a postcard beautiful view of rolling hills, rock walls and tall trees.
"As soon as I stepped foot on the farm, and I looked over the 100 acres, I said, `This is it,'' said the 25-year-old New Britain native, just hired by Friends of Sullivan Farm as their first farm manager for the Route 202 site in New Milford.
The nonprofit agency was scheduled to finalize a five-year lease this week with the town to operate what, for the last decade, has been an agro-educational program managed through the town's Youth Agency.
The property had previously been a working farm operated by the Sullivan family, dating to the mid-19th century.
Hundreds of teens have worked or volunteered at the farm under the Youth Agency's auspices, and many school-aged children have visited the farm on school field trips. The farm stand is a community staple.
A year ago, the Town Council agreed to turn over the operation of the farm to the new organization as the Youth Agency opted to refocus its efforts on other programs oriented towards youth and families.
The Friends' mission is to build upon the agency's legacy of educating youth about agriculture through actual farm labor.
Yet they needed to find just the right person to orchestrate the vision.
In Mr. Listro, Friends' board member Katy Francis said the organization has found the someone they wanted to be the "face of the farm to our community.''
A congenial, soft-spoken man with a passion for educating children, teens and adults about the importance of sustainable agriculture and organic gardening, the candidate chosen from a field of about 50 men and women earned his bachelor's degree in environmental science at the University of Southern Maine.
As part of his degree program, Mr. Listro did an internship on an organic farm in Maine including training high school students about farming. After just one summer, Mr. Listro said he knew "this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.''
"I fell in love with growing food and fell in love with (agricultural) education,'' Mr. Listro said during a break from chores at the farm. "I wanted to be a farmer, but more than that I really wanted to teach others so they could pass it on.''
Mark Mankin, the Youth Agency's executive director, who founded and nurtured the farm program, said he is "very impressed'' with Mr. Listro's credentials.
As for advice, Mr. Mankin said he hopes Mr. Listro takes advantage of the agency's institutional knowledge and resources, yet is unafraid to set a new agenda.
"Don't be afraid to try new things,'' Mr. Mankin said.
Mr. Listro has operated a small, community agriculture business through the Community Farm of Simsbury and worked part-time as an after-school educator with elementary children at the Urban Oaks Organic Farm in New Britain.
The joy of that job was helping children compost with worms and eat vegetables like kale because they grew them in their own garden, he said.
In his new job, Mr. Listro is brimming with ideas, even entertaining the possibility of raising chickens and goats on the farm.
First on the list, however, is launching a paid internship program for 18 boys and girls who have never before worked on a farm. In small groups, the students will learn how to do everything from soil tests and food preservation to growing vegetables and flowers they will then market, Mr. Listro said.
The farm will continue its tradition of hiring experienced youth for up to six or eight staff positions. Volunteer opportunities will also be plentiful, Mr. Listro said.
Sullivan Farm is the perfect classroom, he remarked, a place where youth of all ages can learn life lessons by getting their hands dirty.
Admitting he still has much to learn, Mr. Listro said he is eager to embrace any and all possibilities.
"This is one of the greatest opportunities of my life -- easily,'' Mr. Listro concluded.
Mr. Listro's hours beginning in May will be sunup to sundown, Mondays through Saturdays.
For more information about programs and applications at the farm, visit sullivanfarmnm.org
"As soon as I stepped foot on the farm, and I looked over the 100 acres, I said, `This is it.''
Sullivan Farm manager
Photography by Norm Cummings