When Al and Patti Popp planted some corn, tomatoes, and zucchini 20 years ago, they weren’t sure what would happen. Since then, they’ve grown as Sport Hill Farm, offering a wide variety of locally grown, seasonal produce. But they never lost that adventurous spirit that got them started in the first place.
“Every year, I have to do something different to bring back my passion for the farm,” Patti says. Over the years, she’s tried out different crops, participated in various farmers’ markets, offered different customer loyalty programs, and used the farm for a number of community programs. “I’m the type of person that can’t sit still,” she adds.
In addition to the main farm at 596 Sport Hill Road, Easton, Conn., the Popps now grow products in three additional locations on Orchard Lane, Maple Road, and Wilson Road. Their main property on Sport Hill Road is also home to their chicken coop and farm stand. Customers can shop for fresh farm products and take some bread to feed the chickens.
Both Popps are involved in the day-to-day operations of the farm, with Al taking most of the responsibility for planting and picking. Patti manages the sales and marketing aspect of the business.
Although farming is a male-dominated field, that hasn’t deterred Patti. She believes the farm wouldn’t be the same without her feminine touch, and is often thinking about the customer’s experience.
“I want my barn (where the product is sold) to look nice,” she says. Patti wants each visit to the farm to give people a respite from otherwise busy days. Her goal is to give customers a chance to enjoy nature and relax while shopping for their items.
The Farm and Community Connection
Patti will be the first person to tell you about how strenuous running a farm can be. It is a job with nonstop duties from dusk until dawn and little vacation time for a business whose product lives and dies depending on the weather.
What keeps the Popps going, though, is the local community. Patti’s favorite part of the year?
“Opening the doors and seeing people’s faces,” she says. Sport Hill Farm is open seasonally, and the Popps miss seeing their customers when they close down the farm stand around December and start planning for the next year.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Patti’s ability to host events at the farm like she has done in pervious summers, she’s still looking for ways to connect with the community. She plans to host outdoor concerts on the third Sunday of the month from July through October.
The COVID Impact
Sport Hill Farm usually opens for the season in March. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when Sport Hill Farm opened up this year, they were limited to curbside pickup. This offered its own set of logistical challenges, but many were grateful to have the option to get the local product.
In June, Patti decided to open up the farm stand. It’s gone smoothly, and she appreciates the renewed interest in supporting small, local businesses.
“People are thankful,” says Patti. They don’t have to enter a large supermarket, packed with people “[They] feel safer coming into a farm stand.”
Although Sport Hill Farm has participated in a number of farmers’ markets in the past, with the COVID-19 pandemic many of the markets are shut down. In addition to the farm stand, however, they sell their product wholesale to caterers and some local restaurants.
No Frills Farming in Easton
Al refers to Sport Hill Farm as “no frills farming.” Although there is some basic equipment used around the farm, most of the work is done manually, from seeding to picking. All in all, Sport Hill employs about 10 people.
Sport Hill Farm is one of a number of farms around Easton. It prides itself on being part of the small, local economy.
Says Patti, “Easton is a beautiful town; we’re grateful we have so much around us.”