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The Long And ‘Shortt’ Of A Local CSA During Days Of Social Distancing



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This time of the year is usually pretty quiet at Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center in Sandy Hook, but this year is a bit different.

Sue Shortt, who owns and operates the farm with her husband, Jim, said people typically sign up for the farm’s community supported agriculture (CSA) program around this time of year or swing by in late May when it normally opens to sell garden materials.

This year there is “a pile” of new people signing up for the CSA. Shortt said locals are e-mailing and calling, looking for information about the CSA or for things to do in their gardens.

“I think people just want to feel like they know it is going to be there. They know we are right down the road, and everything is open air here, so that helps,” Shortt said about the CSA program and buying food locally.

The Shortts are also thinking ahead and worrying “about the summer and how we are going to handle social distancing at need-be at this point.”

Speaking from her experience running the Newtown Farmer’s Market with others, Shortt said the market should still continue and is expected to open in early June. Farmers’ markets are considered essential, she said, but how the local farmers’ market will handle crowds and opening will be determined at a later time, when more information is known.

The Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center CSA program begins at the end of June, and Shortt said they are already approaching their maximum number of people to sign up for it, though the number may increase depending on other impacts of COVID-19 locally.

“We don’t like to take more than 100 customers [for the CSA],” Shortt explained. “We are a small farm and that is the number we feel comfortable with.”

If restrictions are put in place with the Newtown Farmer’s Market due to COVID-19 though, Shortt said the number of people the farm can offer the CSA to may increase.

In a March 17 e-mail to customers, Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center wrote, “First and foremost, we hope you and your family are safe and healthy during this very challenging time. We are all in this together and the Shortt family is taking the recommendations of the CDC to stay home. Lucky for us this time of year, much of our time is spent on the farm anyway.”

According to the e-mail, the early spring weather will allow the center to “have everything you need to start your gardens in a few weeks.” Potting soil and compost are being delivered to the venue.

“We will have limited hours when that time comes in order to serve everyone safely. As soon as we are up and running we will post hours,” the e-mail reads.

While Shortt said she knows people are “raring to go” with their gardens, the nights are still cool. People looking to work outside can mend fences and prepare soil, she recommended.

Shortt suggested planting not begin until warmer days of April.

Regarding the CSA, the e-mail shared, “Our CSA is filling up and with the current state of our country, we anticipate reaching our membership max quickly this year. If you have already signed up, we wanted to let you know that we will do everything necessary to keep a limited amount of people coming to pick up at once, if this is still necessary come June. This may mean extending pick up times and having time slots for people.

“We will assess the needs of our customers when we get closer to our start time and will work with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture and CDC and follow their guidelines, whatever they may be,” the e-mail continues. “If you are immune compromised or are over the age of 60 and you would prefer to pick up outside of normal pick up hours, we will certainly work with you to make that happen.”

Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center also offers “add ons” to its vegetables CSA in support of two local businesses, Butchers Best Market and BD Provisions. Each “add on” offers customers the option to purchase items offered through the CSA from the business, to pick up when also collecting the CSA items weekly. The items will vary each week.

“Depending on the climate of things this spring and summer we may offer more ‘add-ons’ to help out our fellow business owners,” the e-mail reads. “We will keep you updated on any other add-ons we may offer. This may be a great way to keep people safe (pick up in one location and outdoors) while supporting all the wonderful small businesses around us.”

Information on how to sign up for the CSA is available on the farm’s website shorttsfarmandgarden.com. The center also posts updates on its Facebook page “Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center.” Updates are also available by e-mailing farmerjim@shorttsfarmandgarden.com.

Social distancing and other local safety efforts are not impacting the farm much at this time, Shortt said.

“We’re at home like everybody else, but that’s not much different from what it is normally like this time of the year,” Shortt said, adding that she frequently tells people she is in her “own little world” on the farm.

One difference is that the Shortt’s boys, seventh grader Jesse and fifth grader James, are home while the school buildings are closed. They have been helping around the farm between school work.

Once the farm and CSA are open and underway there may be some changes, like how far baskets are spread out, but for now growing season is underway. And so far it has been a good spring.

Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center is preparing for the summer after an early start to spring. —Bee Photo, Hicks
Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center recently posted this photo of baskets filled with vegetables on its Facebook page to announce updates for its 2020 CSA program.
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