Talk to Tom Sherwood, and you will quickly find yourself drawn into a fascinating conversation about his farm’s 350-year history and “the unique things that other places don’t have,” as he explains it. Sitting at a picnic table overlooking fields at the back of the farmhouse with daughters Jessica “Jess,” and Natasha “Tasha,” Tom focused on the things he holds most dear about Easton’s historic Sherwood Farm.
The house and attic are full of the belongings of Sherwood family members who have lived on the farm for 17 generations. The remains of the old smokehouse still stand, and the property is dotted with old wells that have sentimental value for him. Even the stone walls are a reminder of the hard work it took to build the farm. “When the rocks fall down, I don’t even put them back on,” Tom said.
Sherwood Farm, at 355 Sport Hill Road, is the oldest farm in Easton, Conn. and one of the oldest continually family-owned and operated farms in the United States. In 1634, Thomas Sherwood and his family sailed from Ipswich, England on the ship Francis. After arriving in Boston and first settling in Wethersfield, he arrived in Fairfield in about 1648.
Matthew Sherwood, one of the Easton area’s earliest settlers, purchased the “Long Lots” property in 1670, and he and his son Thomas began farming the land in 1713.
The first building on the property was a barn, which housed the family for two years until the farmhouse was built. It’s where the Sherwood family still resides today and retains many of the original windows, fittings, and woodwork. “Few things have needed replacing over the years,” Tom said. “It’s a part of us.”
Tom marvels at the accuracy of surveying methods dating back 300 to 400 years ago and also makes special note of the many “really nasty storms” over the past 300 years, many of which are documented in old family diaries. Tom notes, however, that thunderstorms have become much more severe and violent in recent years. “Too little rain is always better than too much,” he said.
Three generations of Sherwoods currently live on the farm, making the Sherwood daughters 17th generation farmers. But life on the farm has definitely evolved with the times. One historic development is that Tom, who was previously a carpenter, has become the first full-time time farmer in the history of the farm. “My grandfather and dad had to have full-time jobs in order to keep the farm going,” he said.
“People used to have gardens,” Tom explains, and they would grow much of their own produce. These days, most people have other commitments and farmers have developed better methods to raise larger crop yields on less property.
The Sherwoods plant 60 acres of vegetables and 20 acres of orchards. They practice sustainable agriculture with natural methods to provide locally grown and healthy food using traditional techniques, while also relying on their natural farming instincts. Tom also acknowledges the benefits that native wildlife and insects provide, and said the inter-connectedness is very important. “You can feel and taste the difference here,” he said.
Clearly customers agree. The farm market, housed in a converted red barn, was packed with customers loading up on fruits, vegetables, dairy products and freshly picked flowers on a recent Monday afternoon. Many of the customers have been coming to the farm for years. Jess points out that her grandmother used to sell them corn, and now she is continuing that tradition herself. There are many newcomers and tourists who visit the market as well.
The Sherwood Farm market is furnished with recycled barn materials, giving it a traditional, old-time feel. It has air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter, and plenty of room for selecting favorite fruits, vegetables, meat, and honey. The market has also adapted to the current reality of a global pandemic with careful spacing to allow for social distancing. Signs direct customers to a separate entrance and exits, and remind them that masks are required to enter the store.
Jess, 16, will take over the farm at some time in the future and has lots of exciting ideas that she would like to explore. She is a rising junior at the Trumbull Agriscience and Biotechnology Center with a major in plant science. Jess hopes to build greenhouses with a focus on raising plants and flowers and she is also interested in trying new watering systems.
Tasha, 18, is a recent graduate of the Trumbull Agriscience and Biotechnology Center where she majored in veterinary science and will be attending the University of New Haven this fall. Her love of animals is evident throughout the conversation and included an introduction to the family dog, Lolly, a mini Australian Shepherd with her very own Instagram account, https://www.instagram.com/lollythefarmdog/. “Aussies” like Lolly were bred for herding, which means she likes to herd the sheep and many of the chickens on the farm too.
Other favorite animals on the farm include two goats, Lady and Pebbles, who share big personalities and a love of raisins, as well as a miniature pony and a miniature mule “that are inseparable,” according to Tasha. The mule is “very protective of the pony,” she said.
A particularly interesting resident is a Jacob sheep with three horns. The Jacob is a British breed of domestic sheep that combines two unusual characteristics: it is piebald, meaning dark-colored with irregular patches of black and white wool, and can also grow as many as six horns. New baby goats have recently joined the family as well.
The fall harvest will bring an abundance of fresh produce for purchase at the farm market. Visit the animals, buy fall products, experience the warmth and ambiance of Easton’s oldest farm. The Sherwoods invite everyone to stop by and say “hi”!