Most people in Waterford would like to see more open space. At least, that’s what the recent citizen satisfaction survey found. But though most people also said they weren’t prepared to pay to make that happen, Stephen Reiff is one person who put his money where his mouth is.
When the vacant house next door to his home at 52 Fog Plain Road came on the market last year, Reiff decided to buy it. Although frozen pipes had made a mess of the bathroom, Reiff’s friends suggested it would be an ideal rental property if he fixed it up. That’s not what Reiff had in mind, however. “I didn’t want to be a landlord,” says Reiff.
No, he wanted to be a farmer.
Reiff, who retired from Connecticut Light and Power a decade ago, has always been an avid gardener. He also suffers from what he calls, “the tractor disease.” He has six of them, including a lovingly restored 1945 McCormick Farmall A.
After the death of his first wife two years ago, Reiff looked for a place with more land but, unable to find something in his price range that didn’t need a lot of work, he decided he’d have to content himself with gardening on his three-quarter acre lot. It was only when the house next door became available that he saw a way to make his dream come true.
“I didn’t want the house,” says Reiff. “I wanted the land. Now I have one and a half acres.”
He bought the house last September and, in no time flat, he’d razed the home, built a shed for his tractors and, this spring, he ploughed himself a field. Although technically Reiff’s lot doesn’t meet Waterford’s minimum three-acre standard to qualify as a farm, because the site was originally farm land and a portion of it has been taxed as such for years, the town grandfathered his request to operate as one. Waterford Planning Director, Thomas Wagner, “was very helpful,” says Reiff.
His neighbors have been encouraging too, but Reiff makes an effort to be as unobtrusive as possible. The only indication that Fog Plain Gardens is open for business is a small handwritten sign. Reiff also sacrificed a sizable portion of usable land to ensure there’d be enough room for cars to park and turn around. “I didn’t want to create a traffic problem,” he says. “I don’t run machinery or make noise at off hours.”
Sweet, crisp sugar snap peas were Reiff’s first crop but his potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, garlic, onions, yellow squash, parsley and basil are growing fast and he plans to plant pumpkins for the fall.
“I should have had things like carrots, arugula, different lettuces, but we didn’t get as much planted as we should have,” says Reiff, who works the land with the help of his second wife, Bugi. “I’ll make sure I do better next year with getting things planted on time. I’m still on a learning curve here.”
Reiff is a member of the Connecticut Farm Bureau and the New England Organic Farmers Association which, along with the UConn Extension Center, he regularly turns to for advice. He gets tips from other local farmers too, when he sells his produce at Waterford’s Farmers’ Market. “The farmer’s market has been very positive,” he says. Still, Reiff concedes, it might take a while for Fog Plain Gardens to turn a profit.
“There’s really no money in this,” he says. “So far about all I’ve done is spent my retirement savings.”
Now the seed is firmly planted, however, Reiff finds the real pleasure is in watching it grow.