When it was announced last fall that Holbrook Farm in Bethel would close after the previous manager did not renew the lease, many locals, and chefs in particular, were dismayed. People have long relied on Holbrook’s for its bountiful produce, including radishes, beets and asparagus.
But fears were short-lived, as a collection of culinary champions right around the corner were ready to fill the void. Chefs equidistant to the farm, Jeff Taibe of Taproot in Bethel, and Shawn Reilly of Redding Roadhouse in Redding, joined forces along with their significant others, Stephanie Sweeney, who had previous experience with the Holbrooks’ market, and Erin Reilly, a designer. The couples embraced the challenge of reviving the area gem, which sits on land that John and Lynn Holbrook have owned for 40 years.
With their successful restaurant experience, the chefs hope to add to the hearty connections that Holbrook already had with local restaurants. They work with 10 to 15 restaurants now, and hope to one day reach 30 to 40. Forging such a bond would not only ensure the restaurants are truly serving quality ingredients, but allow the farm to work more directly with chefs to experiment with growing products they’d like to use in inventive ways.
Although it has just been a couple of months, the collaborative efforts are beginning to reap rewards. On a hazy June morning, I walk along the many rows of little gem lettuce ready to harvest with farmer Alec Gifford. He’s worked at Holbrook in the past, spent many years at an oyster farm in Westport, is a local forager, and grows his own shiitake mushrooms.
Inside the charming market are colorful, rustic displays of jams, sauces, reusable totes, and spices. The refrigerators hold things like eggs, cheese and fresh raw milk. “There’s a growing group of people who know Tuesdays and Fridays are raw milk days and they’ll make the trip just for it,” Sweeney says. The market will eventually morph into a cafe/market space where they will continue to sell local wares and products, as well as package their own Holbrook Farm grab-and-go prepared meals.
As many farms are doing these days, Holbrook is trying to be as sustainable as possible — for example, finding creative ways to eliminate waste, or ways to reuse and repurpose unsellable produce. They will continue to host events, such as cookouts and demos, and be active with local chefs and consumers.
45 Turkey Plain Road, Bethel
Hours: Tue.-Fri. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Mon.