At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic canceled most summer activities, Silverman’s Farm’s pick-your-own orchard, animal farm and country market remain open for safe outdoor recreation for all ages.
Plucking plump peaches or sweet blueberries in the orchard yields so much more than a container of juicy fruit. Time at the farm also provides a pleasurable place to socialize safely with friends and family at a time when get-togethers are extremely limited.
Silverman’s Farm, 451 Sport Hill Rd, Easton, Conn., turns 100 years old this year. A big birthday celebration is in the works for the fall harvest season. The 50-acre farm is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with plenty of parking and fun farm-related activities.
Silverman’s follows the Connecticut Department of Agriculture Covid-19 guidance for farm markets, requiring patrons to wear masks and socially distance at least six feet apart from one another.
Irving “Irv” Silverman, farmer and owner, grew up on the landmark farm and has lived there his whole life. At 77, he no longer plants the crops or does the heavy labor, leaving those tasks to his trusted staff. He employs 15 people year round and as many as 40 during the busy harvest season.
“He loves what he does with a passion,” said Nancy Silverman, his wife of 50 years. “He’s here seven days, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
Irv’s body language and friendly smile leave no doubt that Nancy has it right. He still refers to her as “honey bunch” after all these years.
Irv supervises the operation and troubleshoots problems. Nancy buys many of the gifts and sundries on sale in the country market, along with baked goods, specialty items and bins filled with fresh produce. The market’s open front assists with fresh air circulation during the pandemic, and arrows on the floor indicate the traffic flow for social distancing.
A pictorial wall exhibit traces the growth of the family farm ever since Irv’s father purchased it in 1920. The hand-written deed is stored at the Easton Town Clerk’s officer.
Thousands of people from the Tri-State area flock to the farm each fall for the apple harvest season. This year Irv plans to set up a big-top tent for additional, socially distanced market space. It will also supply a festive backdrop for the 100th birthday bash.
Silverman’s won’t be operating its popular tractor rides up to the apple orchard, due to the pandemic. People who aren’t able to hike up the hill will be able to buy their favorite apple varieties, freshly picked and ready for purchase under the big top.
The Silverman’s Farm story began when a school teacher in New York City assigned her students to plant some seeds in a five-foot plot of dirt and see what happened. Through that school project, Irv’s Dad, Benjamin “Ben” Silverman, discovered that he loved growing things. So in 1916, when he was 18 years old, he left New York and moved to Bridgeport.
“My Dad worked at $1 a day cow farms,” Irv said. “But There was a lot of anti-Semitism at the time, and he got fired when he took off a day to celebrate the Jewish holidays. ”
Fortunately, Ben found a better-paying job at Remington Arms, making munitions for World War I. “He saved his money, bought an acre of land in Easton and built a cider mill,” Irv said.
Ben brought his mother to Easton, and they shared two rooms in the cider mill. Families from Easton and surrounding towns would bring their apples to be pressed into sweet cider. Ben also delivered it to Speakeasies in Bridgeport during Prohibition, Irv said.
By 1920, Ben had saved enough money to buy the hilly parcel that now comprises the 50-acre Silverman’s Farm. He met and fell in love with Rose Hartz, who was working at a factory in Bridgeport. The couple returned to New York so a rabbi could marry them.They moved into the cider mill temporarily and later into the family homestead, which has a story all its own.
“My Dad bought a house for $50 when the water company was flooding the area around Black Rock Turnpike to build the Aspetuck Reservoir,” Irv said. “He took the house apart and brought it here by horse and wagon.”
Over time, Ben enlarged the house, and he and Rose moved in. Irv, who was the youngest of eight siblings — six sisters and a brother — grew up in the house with their parents. The farm market was later built next to the house on Sport Hill Road where they both still stand.
“People had large families in those days, and everyone worked on the farm,” Irv said. He described it as a truck farm, where people would drive from surrounding towns and stock up on all kinds of produce for the winter. His sister Janet was named “Vegetable Queen” by the Vegetable Growers Association.
“People bought bushels of potatoes, tomatoes, fruits and vegetables,” he said. “It was before the big box stores. They froze and canned everything.”
The farm grew and evolved over time, and the market opened in 1945. Although the entire family worked on the farm when the children were growing up, Irv was the only one of his siblings who stayed and became a farmer, after earning a degree in business from the University of Bridgeport.
He met Nancy when she came to the farm with her father as customers. Nancy had grown up in Bridgeport but used to go to Easton as a teenager to ride horses and go to the popular Fireman’s Carnival, a town tradition that has continued until this year when the pandemic forced its cancellation. Silverman’s Farm would donate baskets of produce to be raffled off as prizes.
They married in 1970 and hired Will Tressler to design the A-frame house on the hill where they still live. Tressler also designed the animal farm, which opened in the early 1980s and has grown ever since. Kids can see and feed a variety of barnyard animals, including buffalo, llamas, alpacas, sheep, goats, fallow deer, emus, and long-horn cattle.
When Irv took over the farm, he tried out various products and eventually branched out to a pick-your-own, agritourism model. He and Nancy have three grown daughters: Jodi, Wendy and Shayna, all of whom grew up on the farm and now live out of state. Jodi is a clinical psychologist in private practice in the Philadelphia area. Wendy is the master gardener coordinator for the New River Valley Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. Shayna teaches school and violin in Birmingham, England.
Silverman’s Farm was featured in the 2004 Sesame Street DVD A Magical Halloween Adventure with Irv explaining how the cider mill works. The mill has since been retired, after health regulations for cider-making changed, and is now on display in the market.
In addition to his busy life as a farmer, Irv found time to volunteer at the Easton Volunteer Fire Department, where he is a life member. He is also a constable, an elected town position.
The Farm’s Future
Farm work, however, is never done. Workers prune the fruit trees and bushes year round. Preparations for the next growing season are ongoing all year round.
Irv and Nancy love their life on the farm. “We’re lucky,” Irv said. “We have a great life.” They also like to take a little time off to relax and travel when the market shuts down in late December for three months.
Although the Silvermans’ three daughters don’t plan to take over the farm someday, Irv doesn’t see that as a problem. Jake Conover manages the farm at its main Sport Hill Road location and at Candee Farm on Morehouse Road, where they grow vegetables. Conover is married to Brittany Conover, manager of nearby Shaggy Coos Farm.
Irv eventually would like to turn over the farm to Jake through a long-term lease so he can continue to run the farm and someday take it over. Jake has an agricultural background and a good business mind, Irv said. Negotiations are in the works.
“Silverman’s will stay, there is no question,” he said.
Nancy added a measure of levity, considering the ongoing pandemic coupled with the recent days-long power outage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias. “That’s the plan, but can anyone really control the future?”
But Irv remains confident and optimistic. Jake is “a natural-born farmer,” he said. “He has farming in his bones.”
It takes one to know one.