Farm's new life pleases Jake Sullivan
At 91, George "Jake'' Sullivan Jr. may no longer be an active farmer, but farming is still in his blood.
A dean of New Milford's farmers and his wife, Beth, 88, with whom he has been married 65 years, still live in the home they built in 1953 alongside the original farm homestead that dates back to the 1840s.
Each day, he can look out his front door and see the rolling hills and fields of the 104-acre farm his family sold to the town back in 1997 for just more than $1.25 million.
Mr. Sullivan has a perfect view of the bright red barn the Youth Agency crews have renovated over the last decade, the large vegetable garden they tend and the farm stand where they sell produce they grow, as well as the syrup they make in the sugar house.
Even though it is not the farm of his youth, Mr. Sullivan is pleased it is still fertile land rather than asphalt pavement winding through a housing subdivision or apartment complex.
"When I look out and it's not covered with houses, I'm happy as hell,'' said Mr. Sullivan, the father of four adult children and nine grandchildren.
Once he became "too old'' to keep up with the dairy farm, Mr. Sullivan said he needed to figure out a way to afford retirement without allowing development.
He sold off the dairy cows when he was 65, and then cut and sold hay until he sold the property to the town.
It was his great-grandfather, William Sullivan, a stone mason, who started the farm.
As a 19th-century newlywed, William Sullivan bought from neighbor Isaac Stone a skinny, 13.5-acre stretch of land on the west side of Park Lane Road (now Route 202) that wound back across a hill and over to the East Aspetuck River.
The land he purchased was part of the Stone family farm dating back to before the Revolutionary War, according to research by Mr. Sullivan's daughter, Sharon Racis of South Dakota.
A part-time farmer, William Sullivan raised tobacco. From logs dating to a four-year stretch in 1870, Ms. Racis determined he also grew buckwheat and oats, and raised pigs and sheep. He used oxen and farm horses to plow the fields, she said.
During the next 80 to 90 years, more pieces were added -- the southern, 43-acre piece that today is home to the main barn and the vegetable garden was bought from Thomas Wells in 1859 and the remainder was purchased over time from the Stone family.
Like her father, Ms. Racis is glad the town was willing to make a deal that allowed Mr. Sullivan to retain the agricultural integrity of the property and educate local youth how to farm.
"The Youth Agency has done a great job in keeping the farm open and available to the public,'' said Ms. Racis, a New Milford High School graduate. "It could have just gone to weeds.''
Her father shares the sentiment, with one caveat.
Mr. Sullivan said he commends Youth Agency director Mark Mankin for his keen ability to teach adolescents that "food does not grow on grocery shelves.''
"They should know you have to sweat a little to get your food," he remarked. "It doesn't just show up at the table.''
Then Mr. Sullivan tosses a zinger.
"But he (Mr. Mankin) is not a farmer,'' the old farmer said.
Mr. Mankin has heard that statement from Mr. Sullivan himself more than once over the years. He simply laughs.
As for the future, Mr. Sullivan is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Ms. Racis is optimistic.
"I'm looking forward to being part of Friends of Sullivan Farm going forward," she concluded, "and seeing what we might do with it."