Farm, holistic medicine facility on track in North Stonington
North Stonington — Dr. Stefana Pecher gave U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney a whirlwind tour Friday of the New England Center of Excellence for Holistic Medicine facility she is opening in two weeks on Norwich-Westerly Road, as well as the 33-acre farm across the street that she envisions as a place of healing for U.S. military veterans.
Not long after he stopped by the farm Friday afternoon, however, Courtney had to take his leave to get back to the nation's capital as President Donald Trump announced a plan to at least temporarily end the monthlong government shutdown.
"My phone is blowing up," he apologized.
Pecher had invited Courtney to view the twin projects that she announced last year in response to military needs tied to post-traumatic stress syndrome, drug addiction and other issues.
Branding herself as the Country Doc, Pecher has become one of the leading proponents in the region of medical marijuana, working with thousands of patients at her wellness center just in front of the 4,200-square-foot holistic medicine center she is opening in a building formerly owned by the Eastern Pequot Tribe.
What was just a dream a year ago to help veterans has started to come to fruition.
In October, she said, her new organization Better Together CT (bettertogetherCT.org) was granted nonprofit status, and she just hired a farm manager and educator, young veteran Drew Schnell who previously farmed in Westerly. Pecher also has put together several other components, including naming Hygienic Art resident artist Troy Zaushny to do art therapy and bringing on Carolyn Howell and Nancy Hilton to help connect the community with the farm.
"North Stonington is a big farming community," Howell said. "It's going along with what the town is all about."
Last August, Pecher purchased the farm at 402 Norwich-Westerly Road for $363,000 from Kathie and Eric Kallen, whose family had owned the property for more than a century. Kallen, a veteran himself, said he wanted Pecher to have the property after hearing her idea to set it up as a way for veterans, especially those with PTSD, to ease back into society through agriculture and forestry while also developing new job skills.
Pecher said she expects the farm to be up and running by no later than May, with hopes of raising enough funds to erect a Morton Building that would allow year-round growing of herbs and vegetables using special hydroponic techniques devised by Agri-Sci in Colchester. Several local restaurants, she added, have expressed an interest in using the produce from the farm as part of their farm-to-table menus.
The farm would also house a country store selling local produce as well as handcrafts, with an area upstairs for art therapy and a small building on site perhaps one day being used as a pottery studio.
"There's going to be a lot to do with the arts," Pecher said. "The town has been very supportive."
Pecher added that she would like to devote an acre or two of the farm to hemp production, perhaps by partnering with an educational institution because state regulations are restrictive due to the plant's being a close cousin to cannabis. Pecher had originally proposed a medical marijuana dispensary as part of her overall plans, but the state did not grant her request for a permit. Pecher said she had no plans to grow marijuana on the farm.
Across the way at the holistic medicine center that Pecher co-owns with Chris Morrissey, workers were feverishly readying the building for an expected opening next month.
The center will include a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, a gym for physical therapy, a test kitchen, large event area for weddings and banquets, plus a Himalayan salt cave that is said to be good for relaxation and destressing. Yoga, group massage and acupuncture are among the new offerings that will be available in the expanded facilities.
Many of these new services are geared toward treating children and adults with autism as well as people who have had traumatic brain injuries, strokes or chronic Lyme disease.
"This is completely new stuff," Pecher told Rep. Courtney. "It's never been done all in one place. ... It's progressing quickly, and we'd love to hire veterans."
Across the street, Pecher later showed an assembled crowd the 38-year-old quarter horse that she acquired as part of the farm purchase, along with the affectionately named Big Blue, a small tractor that the Kallen family remembered once teaching a teen boy to operate as he helped on the farm.
The young man, Louis Capaldi of Westerly, went on to serve the U.S. military in Afghanistan with distinction before returning home with PTSD and died tragically young, the Kallens said.
One of their last acts as they handed off the property to a new owner was to give Pecher and her veterans-farm project Big Blue as a present.
"When we heard what she had in mind for this place, we thought of Louis," said Eric Kallen.
Then, looking to the sky with dewy eyes, he added: "Yes, she has your tractor."
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