Come join us for a fun-filled day of music, food and entertainment. On May 26, 2013, owner Jere Gettle of Comstock, Ferre & Co. will be hosting the third annual Heirloom Festival. This free event will be held rain or shine from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. at our historic location at 263 Main Street, in Old Wethersfield, Connecticut.
Among the speakers will be food historian William Woys Weaver, speaking on “The Kitchen Garden: Its History and Bright Future.” Dr Weaver will survey the kitchen garden as it evolved in the Middle Ages through to the nineteenth century in America, and will then enumerate the reasons why we should continue this rich horticultural heritage due to its sustainability and potential benefits to personal health and well being. Scott Chaskey, poet, farmer, educator, and Director of Quail Hill Farm, will speak on “Resilience.” Starting with the ground we share the challenge now is to build resilience in people, plants, and soil, now that “food is back on the mainstream agenda.”
One way we can do this is by sowing diverse seeds, saving seeds, and sharing seeds. The job of a farmer or gardener is to promote diversity–for our health, the health of our soils, and to foster food security. And it begins with seeds, and the one who sows the seed. James Weaver will be talk about “Heirloom Tomatoes- The Names and Stories Behind Them.” Also speaking will be Lawrence Davis Hollander, on “Backyard conservation: the simplicity of seed saving,” and author Laura Mattews. Dr. Marie Mammone will speak on nutrition from the garden, and Lynnette Pate will talk about fueling the body and GMOs. Also, Analiese Paik will be speaking on a hand-holding consumer guide to GMO’s and the move to require labeling of GMO-containing food in Connecticut. Local farmer Brenda Sullivan will address SPIN farming, or the small plot intensive farming program.
The festival will feature great musicians, including Poor Old Shine, The Please and Thank You String Band, ShoreGrass, Cece Borjeson and Ruth George, Melodye Whately and the Silas Deane Middle School Chorale. Children may enjoy vegetable-themed stories by storyteller Jackson Gilman. Puppeteer Grian MacGregor will also be here to entertain the kids. The festival will feature old-time crafters and wood carvers, along with vendors, food, and films. Seedlings and plants from our own heirloom seeds will be available for purchase.
Bring your family and help us celebrate the heritage of Comstock Ferre and Old Wethersfield
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How does picking fresh greens inside your own home in the middle of
winter sound? Pretty inviting I’d say. Well you can do it with
a little effort, time and artificial lighting. That’s right, with any kind of
grow light you could grow and pick your own salad greens, from a mix of
lettuces, kale, spinach and arugula. Since lettuces and greens in
general have shallow root systems, a 4-inch pot would be plenty to grow
greens in for months and be able to harvest a plethora of salads.
The first thing you need to get started is a Grow Light. There are so many on the
market I would suggest Googling grow lights and you will encounter a
variety of different options. Only you can determine what will work best
for you. You can go simple or more complex. There are many, many
options to choose from.
Then you will need a good quality seed to start
your plants with, such as Comstock,Ferre or Baker Creek varieties. And
choosing a good quality professional growing mix is of utmost importance.
You will want a potting soil that comes from good organic matter with good
Once you have planted your seeds and they start to sprout you
will want to get them under your lights. Proper light will
keep your plants from becoming to leggy. I find giving the plants 12 hours
of light a day is sufficient. Once they start to develop their second set of
leaves you can start picking individual leaves. So make sure you grow
enough so you have plenty to pick from.
Once a month you should give your plants a good organic fertilizer. I usually use a liquid fish emulsion
fertilizer, but this does cause a slight odor for 24 hours. Another option is
an organic granular type such as Espoma vegetable fertilizer. See what
works best for you. Once your plants are established it is amazing how
quick your plants develop. Investing in a timer to plug your lights into
will make your life a lot easier. The timer turns the lights on and off at
what times you set it to. I grow my greens in my basement where it is on
the cooler side. Lettuce’s and other greens prefer cooler temperature for
It is so gratifying to be able to walk down to my basement
and harvest a variety of greens and come back upstairs and put together
a salad that is full of so many different tastes from sweet lettuces to bitter
kale, spicy arugula and tangy mesclun mixes. The nutrition is second to
none because it was grown in a totally organic environment and picked
and eaten at its peak. Most of all you don’t have to go to supermarket
chains and overpay for a product that was probably drenched in all kinds
of pesticides and chemicals and possibly not even grown in the USA. There
is absolutely, positively no comparison to growing your own greens. Yes,
even in the dead of winter. You can do it, try it and you will be amazed.
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On Thursday, December 6, Comstock will be joining other Old Wethersfield merchants for the annual “Holidays on Main Street” festival. Comstock and other area merchants will open their doors for a special showing between 5PM and 9 PM. Visitors can attend the ceremonial lighting of the town’s 60-foot Christmas tree, kids can confide their hearts’ desires to Santa Claus, savor the sound of traditional carolers, and more! Read more here: http://www.wethersfieldct.org/node/3342
Here at Comstock, we’ve been decking the halls! And we’ve got a fantastic line-up of gift items, entertainment and more!
Local musicians have graciously donated their time and expertise to set the holiday mood. At Comstock you’ll see and hear:
5:30-6:30 PM–Jeanne Freemen and Claudine Langille, instructors at the Connecticut Academy of Irish Music–read more about them here: http://www.jeannefreemanmusic.com/connecticutacademyofirishmusic.cfm
6:30-8:00 PM–Tony Gabriel, a superb professional guitarist, well known locally. Read about him here: http://tonygabriel.com/
We’re equally thrilled to be featuring local craftspeople, demonstrating their crafts, answering questions and just sharing good fellowship with the public.We’ll be serving cookies and hot cider. We’ll also be unveiling our expanded line of artisanal New England products. And last but not least, we’ll offer hundreds of heirloom, open-pollinated, strictly non-GMO seed varieties all ready to go for the 2013 gardening season, featuring both the Comstock, Ferre and Baker Creek product lines.
So make room on your calendar–come join us for some good company and wonderful holiday cheer!
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On August 26, 2012, Comstock, Ferre and Company is hosting a seed saving workshop. A joint project presented by CT NOFA in conjunction with Comstock, Ferre and Co., the workshop will run from 1:00 P.M. through 4:00 P.M. featuring several sessions. The first session will cover the basics of seed saving-hybrid vs. open pollinated, what is an heirloom, annual vs. biennial, self fertile vs. needing to cross pollinate, different ways of pollination (insect, wind, other). It will also cover easy seed to save, such as tomatoes, peppers, and legumes. The second session will focus on techniques for crops that need isolation, and the third on growing seed commercially. The cost for the workshop is $30 for members, $40 for non-members. There is a scholarship fund available for beginning farmers, or those with less than ten years experience. For scholarship information or to register, contact Kristiane at 203-888-5146 or http://ctnofa.org/events/OnFarmWorkshops/2012_seed_saving_workshop.html, or contact Comstock Ferre at 640-571-6590, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A large and enthusiastic crowd turned out on June 3rd to enjoy and participate in Comstock, Ferre & Co’s 201st year of selling seeds in New England. After a full day of rain on the previous day, Sunday dawned sunny and warm to create a perfect setting for the celebration.
Beginning at 10 am, the earliest festival goers were treated to the music of singer, songwriter, and drum circle facilitator/organizer Jami Ray with his “Garden of Beats” in the Gazebo.
Moving inside to the second floor of the seed store, Grian MacGregor delighted audiences of all ages with her Ivy Vine Players Puppet Theater. Grian and her cast of characters celebrated the beauty and bounty of the garden with their music and stories at various times throughout the day.
A major highlight of the morning’s entertainment was Colonel John Chester’s Fife and Drum Corps. The award-winning junior fife and drum corps played traditional music which included “Yankee Doodle” and other popular tunes. The audience reacted with enthusiastic applause and appreciation as the junior corps, featuring children of all ages, played while in formation.
Shoregrass, a bluegrass band from the Connecticut shoreline, entertained with a lively mix of traditional bluegrass, old-time, early country, gospel and folk songs. The group played to an enthusiastic audience surrounding the gazebo.
Shoregrass was followed by the outdoor performance of The Please and Thank You String Band specializing in American music of various types. Their original yet traditional approach to instrumental music and songs both surprised and pleased with unexpected yet familiar images for the audience.
Festival attendees took advantage of multiple opportunities to learn from acclaimed speakers and presenters. Internationally known food historian and author Dr. William Woys Weaver spoke about the mainstreaming of heirloom foods and led a discussion of why heirloom foods have become so important.
William Woys Weaver
A panel of previous and current Comstock, Ferre & Co. owners, as well as seedsman Charlie Hart, enlightened listeners about the history of Comstock, Ferre & Co. and discussed the seeds of local agriculture.
Festival attendees who came to hear Bill Duesing’s presentation were not disappointed. As director of CT-NOFA, Bill is knowledgeable about the current trend of choosing local and organic foods. He discussed how those choices provide multiple benefits for us and the planet.
Scott Chaskey, poet, farmer, educator, and author, encouraged listeners to cultivate an ecological conscience, which begins with the recognition that at the heart of every seed there exists a subtle something that is known in the Indian epic, the Upanishads, as “the spirit unseen.” To reconnect with that spirit is to heal the distance people feel, both real and imagined, from the natural world.
In the front building of the Comstock, Ferre & Co. complex, Sean and Beverly Corvino showed the films they had written and produced. Following the showing of “The Farmer’s Voice” and “The New Farmer’s Voice,” the Corvinos led a discussion on farming in Connecticut.
One of the hot topics in the world of food today is the subject of GMO’s. Conservation biologist and Slow Food Medtro North Board member, Jeff Cordulack, moderated a panel with Analiese Paik from the Fairfield Green Food Guide and Right to Know, CT; Bill Duesing, and Connecticut State Representative Richard Roy to discuss issues raised by the proposed legislation requiring the labeling of any GMO ingredients contained in our food.
The beautiful weather of the day ended abruptly with a sudden thunderstorm that sent folks scrambling for cover and vendors hurriedly dismantling their booths just as the final speaker of the day was scheduled to present. However, organic guru and author of Fuel for the Body, Lynnette Pate was not deterred by either the weather or her scant crowd as she presented a passionate and lively discussion of the impact that pesticides and GMO’s have on our ecosystem and our own body ecosystem.
Most gardeners know the physical benefits that gardening has on the body. Dr. Marie Mammone, a naturopathic physician and educator, spoke about how having a garden moves people toward a healthy body and how taking care of one’s own garden gives exercise, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers which all lead us toward wellness.
The sudden downpour near the end of the day also sent the final band scheduled to perform to inside the seed store rather than to the outside gazebo, much to the delight of festival goers who remained on the grounds. Poor Old Shine is a group of young musicians who travel with an assortment of instruments including guitars, banjos, pump organ, string bass, cell, and a swarm of other instruments and provided an hit performance.
The consensus of the day was that the festival was definitely a success and made a great connection between Comstock, Ferre & Co. and gardeners. The many vendors expressed jubilant satisfaction with the crowd, while the crowd itself was lively and fun. This festival could very well be on its way to becoming an annual event.
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The Comstock, Ferre, and Co. staff has been busy preparing a festival that is sure to delight anyone who is interested in heirloom gardening, history of early America, old-fashioned music, or updates on food politics.
Comstock, Ferre & Co. is located in a cluster of antique buildings in the heart of Old Wethersfield, the “most ancient” town in Connecticut. Comstock, Ferre is the oldest continuously operating seed company in New England. It first offered seeds by James Lockwood Belden, as the Wethersfield Seed Company, in 1811. The original tin signs adorn the buildings to this day.
In more than a century and a half of business, the company has seen several transitions from local garden supplier to wholesaler and back to a wider retail operation under the Gettles’ entrepreneurship. Come and celebrate with the Gettles, Baker Creek staff, and Comstock staff as we celebrate 201 years in business in Old Wethersfield and 2 years under the guidance of Jere and Emilee Gettle.
Old Wethersfield is a charming, historic Connecticut River town founded in 1643. Along Main Street, many of the homes are more than 200 years old, often with placards indicating their establishment dates. Fifty house in the village predate the Revolutionary War, while one hundred others predate the Civil War. In addition to the white-steepled Congregational Church that George Washington occasionally attended, one will find the grave sites of Revolutionary War heroes buried in the historic cemeteries just paces from the seed company.
Enjoy the ambience of nineteenth-century costumes, accompanied by demonstrations, displays, music, and much more at this anniversary celebration on Sunday, June 3.
Visit our farmer’s market and festival vendors for a variety of garden supplies, plants, food items and more. If you would like to have a vendor booth to showcase your garden or food related products, or to distribute information about your not-for-profit organization, please contact us for information.
Listen to nationally and internationally acclaimed speakers bring the latest information on green topics and food security:
William Woys Weaver, food historian and Mother Earth News Contributing Editor, is author of several cooking and gardening books: 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Seed Saving and Cultural History Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. http://www.williamwoysweaver.com/
Scott Chaskey, Founder of Quail Hill Farm, one of the original CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms in the U.S., conserving Long Island’s working farms and natural lands. http://www.facebook.com/QuailHillFarm
Bill Duesing is the Executive Director of CT NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) and is also President of the NOFA Interstate Council. He is very involved with the organization and facilitation of programs that are in great demand by the public to teach people about organic farming.
Analiese Paik is a sustainable food advocate and founder and editor of the digital news publication, FairfieldGreenFoodGuide.com. She is a board member of Slow Food Metro North, a local chapter of Slow Food USA, and a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (NOFA), Aspetuck Land Trust, Friends of Ambler Farm, and a registered American Farmland Trust and Seafood Watch Advocate.
There will be a panel on the proposed labeling of GMO ingredients in food including Connecticut State Representative Richard Roy and others, and another panel on the agricultural history of Comstock, Ferre and Company
Our greenhouse will be full of seedlings grown from some of the most unusual and delicious heirloom varieties from the Baker Creek and Comstock lines. Come and support local farmers when you buy their food products from our on-site farmers’ market.
View the showing of The Farmer’s Voice, a documentary video about the disappearance and resurgence of Connecticut farming. The purpose of the film is to promote thoughtful discussion about finding ways to preserve and support the small family farms that produce fresh wholesome food in our communities.
In the film, local farmers of all ages share their wisdom and worries along with the joys and rewards of farming. As we listen to their voices, our eyes and hearts are opened to the urgency of supporting the farmers who grow our food, and to recognize them for what they are…a treasure to be celebrated.
Learn how one community has saved precious farmland for open space, and that saving open space is to be applauded, but it is not necessarily the answer to maintaining quality farmland that is vital for growing food. The film asks the viewer to try to find intelligent practical ways to solve this problem in their communities.
Make plans now to attend: Sunday, June 3, 2012 10:00am to 5:00pm FREE Admission
Phone 860-571-6590 email: email@example.com
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Spring has Sprung at Comstock, and due to unseasonably warm weather this winter, the warmest on record, young tender blooms are popping up all around! The daffodils, crocus, and blue iris are adding much-needed color to the end of a dull season.
We at Comstock are busy tending to the over-the-winter crops, all growing quickly, including Bloody Dock, chard, onions,and herbs. There are newly sprouted turnips and spinach as well as the indoor sowing of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and more herbs–we will have thousands of plants at our store, just in time for planting from late April onward.
Check out our new seed additions for 2012, including: Bountiful beans, Papa de Rola beans, Golden Acre cabbage, Succession or` All Seasons cabbage, Vates collards, Clay Cowpeas, Hero of Lockinge melon, Small Sugar Pumpkin squash, and Cherry Belle Radish.
As fast as we can fill orders, we are shipping out seeds to all parts of the country with many, many repeat customers and even more new customers due to a wonderfully set up website and an amazing seed guide.
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Post by William Woys Weaver
I think it was my interest in 18th century kitchen gardens that first drew me to old varieties of Connecticut onions. We don’t often think of onions when we think of backyard gardens, but to tell the truth, if you cook as much as I do, onions are basic. Being Pennsylvania Dutch, I grew up with the old idea that you can never add too many onions to your pot. Imagine my surprise when I first started growing Red Wethersfield: they were too beautiful to cook! All I wanted to do was pile them into old fashioned baskets and admire the still life painting that they created in my mind.
Back in 1997, when I first published Heirloom Vegetable Gardening (now available on CD from www.MotherEarthNews.com ) I think I was one of the first to look at old-time Connecticut onions as an investment for the future. Names like Southport White Globe, Southport Red Globe, and Yellow Danvers evoked an agricultural history framed in time when the muck lands along Connecticut’s rivers were converted into onion fields, and the Nutmeg State led the nation in exporting those onions up and down the coast. Red Wethersfield onions were mentioned in Philadelphia market accounts as early as the 1780s when they were sold as “rope onions,” that is, braided up like garlics.
Have you ever tried braiding onions? You have to harvest them when the tops are turning to brown and straw-like. It’s a great way to store the onions and at the same time, decorate the kitchen; indeed they fill the room with a wonderful, savory aroma. Red Wethersfield is also an excellent storing onion, much better than the common red Spanish onions we now find in supermarkets today, and from a gardening standpoint, they are excellent for high yields. Why did they ever drop out of fashion?
I know for a fact that Red Wethersfield was popular with the Pennsylvania Dutch because this is the onion they used years ago when pickling red cabbage or when making potato salads.
They also made nice decorative additions to the mixed vegetable pickles that locals in my region call chow-chow, well, the culinary uses are as endless as your imagination.
Red Wethersfield onions are flat, about four or five inches in diameter, so they are wonderful when braided up with the White Portugal (also called Silver Skin) heirloom onion that was a great favorite in Pennsylvania where I live – they do well because we are on the same latitude as Lisbon. White Portugal is also flat so the combination of the Red Wethersfield and the White Portugal onions in a three-foot braid is really eye-catching. Too bad we don’t see this more often in farmers’ markets; it’s a great way to attract customers and both varieties have similar keeping qualities. Happily Red Wethersfield was one of the stock onions that have made Comstock, Ferre & Company famous since 1811, and the firm continues to promote this onion classic to this day. In fact, it has become something of a company mascot, and no harm in that because this is one mascot that is also good to eat!
Wethersfield Red Onion is available form Comstock Ferre Co. at http://comstockferre.com/onion/wethersfield-large-red.html
William Woys Weaver is a culinary historian living in Devon, Pennsylvania, were he maintains the Roughwood Seed Collection consisting of some 4000 varieties of food plants.
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The Farmers Almanac is giving away our seeds!
Click here to enter
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A sweeping bill to require labeling of GMO ingredients in processed foods was discussed before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Environment Committee on February 22, in the states capital, Hartford. Testimony was taken from opponents and proponents of the bill, designated HB5117, and entitled AN ACT CONCERNING GENETICALLY-ENGINEERED FOODS. (Read the full text of the bill here.)
The bill calls for labeling of foods that contain, or may contain, GMO ingredients. Agricultural products would have to be labeled with labeling containing the words “Genetically Engineered,” either on the label or upon signage prominently displayed at the point of sale, or, in the case of processed foods, the package would be required to carry the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” There would be exemptions for meat and alcohol.
Moreover, the bill would require the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to create regulations around “best practices,” for Connecticut farmers “who cultivate commercially any genetically-engineered crop. Such regulations shall require the implementation of practices by such farmers to:
(1) Eliminate or minimize the degree to which such genetically-engineered crop affects neighboring lands, and
(2) minimize the amount of herbicides used by such farmers to eradicate herbicide-resistant weeds.”
The bill also contains consumer protection language, would require the state to publish and update a list of agricultural commodities known to contain GMO’s, and would set up procurement guidelines whereby the state would give preference to non-GMO products.
Representatives of the food and grocery industries, as well as mainstream farmers’ trade organizations, gave testimony opposing HB5117. Their arguments generally took the position that such regulations are unnecessary, since there already exists national-level labeling laws, such as USDA Organic/NOP certification and labeling, by which consumers can already tell when products are GMO-free. Other concerns included the fear that compliance will raise costs in an already uncertain economy, and that regulating the issue on the state level would be unfair to Connecticut producers and retailers, since Connecticut is a very small state.
Many opponents went further, claiming that GMO products are exempt from current labeling requirements, such as those that mandate listing preservatives, chemical, and allergens in foods, because the USDA has already established that GMO foods are perfectly safe and in no way different from conventional food products.
Proponents of the bill disagreed, claiming that there has been little actual testing by USDA, and even that negative information about the safety of GMO products has actually been suppressed. A host of organic farmers, green-and sustainability advocates, organic trade groups, and individuals offered testimony as well, citing their belief that the public is definitely afraid of GMO content in foods, and of GMO crops in the environment. Several of the proponents indicated their belief that, while several other states are considering similar proposals or ballot initiatives, the fact that none has yet been passed presents Connecticut an opportunity to provide leadership to the states, since labeling requirements clearly are not going to be created anytime soon at the federal level.
(Read the full testimony here)
The bill, which is a “raised bill” meaning that it originated within the Environment Committee, will now be further considered by the committee leadership, which may decide to eventually submit it to the General Assembly for possible passage.
Randel Agrella is a Comstock Ferre Employee, an avid anti-GMO activist, and owner of Abundant Acres Heirloom Nursery.
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