Generations of family keep produce stand alive

Janice Scotti, back, watches as Rita Dart, right, helps Bob Ficks at Scotti's Farm Stand in Niantic. The stand is celebrating 70 years in business this summer.

Underneath the red-and-white striped canopy of Scotti's Farm Stand in Niantic, three generations of the Scotti family worked amid a gentle breeze on a hot July morning.

Upbeat music played from the radio and the fragrance of berries wafted through the air, as the family members attended to customers of the roadside stand or replenished the supply of butter-and-sugar corn contained in a red wheelbarrow.

"These peaches, they melt in your mouth," one customer remarked appreciatively to the Scottis, as he paid for a bag of produce.

For the Scotti family, running the summertime farm stand at 93 Black Point Road in Niantic has been a family tradition for the past 70 years. Every year, from the end of June to Labor Day, the family convenes to sell an assortment of fruits and vegetables grown on their farm, from sugar-snap peas to watermelons to native beets, and bunches of brightly colored flowers.

"We're all just a close-knit family," said Jason Dart, a grandson of the founders. "We do everything we can for each other and to keep the farm running."

Luigi Scotti and his wife, Concetta, opened the farm stand on Black Point Road in 1944.

Luigi, of Italy, and Concetta, born Concetta Mazzella, of Brooklyn, had met in Groton, and eventually settled in a home on Black Point Road in East Lyme. They grew their own vegetables and sold the produce out of a truck parked on the side of the road, until one day Concetta saw the potato farm up the road was for sale. They seized the opportunity and purchased the land to operate a farm stand and move into a new home.

"That was the dream," recalled Rita Dart, their daughter, about owning the farm.

The Scotti family worked each summer, with the children helping out. Luigi continued to work full-time on the railroad, but tended to the stand in the morning before leaving for work.

Over the years, the farm stand grew in size, as well as the number of helpers, as each generation joined in the summertime endeavor.

Today, Rita Dart, one of the founders' daughters, and her sister-in-law Janice Scotti, who had married Anthony Scotti, Rita's late brother and a long-time contributor to the stand, continue to run the farm stand, along with other family members.

"There was always so much family around," said Chris Scotti, the son of Janice and Anthony. "It was like a family reunion."

Growing up, summer days were filled with helping out at the stand, crabbing in a nearby creek and playing hide-and-go-seek with relatives in the corn field, he said. He said working at the stand taught him family values, and the contributions of so many family members made running the stand not feel like work.

Chris Scotti serves as the stand's mechanic, while his brother, Gregory, returns to Connecticut from New York on the weekends to help out.

"It's in their blood," said Janice Scotti, their mother.

Andrew Zemko, 15, of Waterford, the great-grandson of Luigi and Concetta, and the fourth generation of Scottis, also spends his summers at the farm.

Many family members continue to live close by the farm and each other. They gather together for holidays and Rita hosts Sunday night dinners at her house, the same one she grew up in by the stand.

"It's home," said Rita. "This is always home."

Beyond family bonds, the Scottis also said they have a connection with the stand's patrons and their families, whom they have gotten to know over the years.

"We really enjoy all the customers coming back year after year and watching their families grow up, as well as ours," said Chris Scotti.

Many customers said they know it's summer, when the stand opens with its bounty of fresh corn and tomatoes.

"It makes summer," said customer Jeannine Harnley. "This is summer; when they open the stand."

K.DRELICH@THEDAY.COM

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