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How Jimmy Moran came to run Wehpittituck Farm

Jimmy Moran never intended to be a farmer.

When he started college, he was a coastal-studies major and later changed to history at the University of Connecticut, with intentions of becoming a teacher.

But along the way, Moran, now 29, met David Rathbun, the owner of the picturesque Wehpittituck Farm on Cove Road in Stonington, at the headwaters of Quiambaug Cove. That friendship — Moran and other young friends used to clear brush and chase cows for Rathbun — changed his life’s direction.

In his junior year of college, Moran started scheming in his mind to buy property of his own and live off the land.

“It was this elaborate plan, to find my own land, my own place, that in a 20-year-old’s mind made sense,” he said.

Rathbun, seeing how determined young Moran was about making a living off the land, suggested he might want to lease Wephittituck Farm instead. They made a deal in 2012 for Moran to lease 45 acres, and in 2013, just as he graduated from UConn, Moran opened his farm stand for business.

Initially, he focused on flowers and vegetables, and he said that while he briefly hesitated to take the lease offer, he did.

“I didn’t have to think too hard or too long because the road to get there myself was just too unrealistic,” Moran said.

Today, Wephittituck Farm — the Native American name translates to “let us eat together,” Moran said — is bustling with business.

For a time, Moran sold to a few restaurants and at farmers markets, but these days, his focus is on the tiny self-serve farm stand, where a constant stream of buyers pick up fresh eggs and just-picked tomatoes, beets, string beans, lettuce, and a host of other produce. And there are flowers — for $10, a customer gets a vase and a bouquet.

Moran grows gladiolas, zinnias, Rudbeckia, and sunflowers, and on a recent weekday, his mother, Carey Moran, was arranging them in vases under the shade of a tree.

It’s not just the blooms, eggs and vegetables that are appealing at Wephittituck; the setting is attractive, too.

The property has been owned by David Rathbun’s family since 1652. Rathbun, 77, traces his lineage to Thomas Miner, one of the founders of Stonington, and he said Miners inhabited the farm until 1910, when his great-grandmother, a Rathbun, took ownership.

The property boasts beautiful stone walls.

“They are the original walls, they’ve never changed. They’ve never been bulldozed over,” said Rathbun. “They’ve been used for orchards and pigs and sheep, and they’re all still here, and they’ve been here a couple centuries, at least.”

For seven of his eight years on the property, Moran raised pigs but gave them up last year because their year-round care cut into his ability in the off-season to find employment to sustain him through the winter.

Now, he puts all his energies into the flowers, vegetables and eggs, which he sells from a tiny roadside stand that doesn’t even have a door. The photogenic shed — it’s not really a building — was constructed about 1910 with boards taken from the home of William Miner, David Rathbun’s fourth great-grandfather, who fought in the Revolutionary War.

The home was built in 1730, and when it was razed at the turn of the last century, the boards were salvaged to build a garage for an early automobile.

Today, it serves as Moran’s self-serve farm stand. And what is on the shelves depends on what’s been picked that day — or that hour. Moran and his helpers are seemingly always out on the seven acres of tillable land, harvesting squash, cucumbers, onions, or whatever is ready for picking and resupplying the stand.

More than once Moran said he’s heard from a customer that he has “ruined” their dinner because the produce they’re shopping for, perhaps heirloom Brandywine tomatoes, is not currently available.

“Running a small business is hard. And this is not an easy way to make a living,” he said. “But this is no woe is me.”

He enjoys the hard work and being outdoors. And, he admits, without prior farming experience, he’s learned along the way.

“If you tell people you don’t know something and you express an interest in learning, they will help you out,” he said, explaining that he’s consulted with other farmers, watched YouTube videos, and studied small farm photographs to better understand what he’s doing.

“And, you know, you can fake it till you make it,” he joked.

He’s learned, he said, to simplify things and just keeping moving forward.

“The more headaches you give yourself, the more headaches you have,” he said, explaining that producing the right quantities — not too little or too much — is a challenge.

Like Rathbun used to do, he has three young people working for him on the farm, and he gets help from his mother. Out in the fields, they harvest eggplant, peppers, cabbage, Swiss chard, kale, and potatoes. There’s a big variety, and what you might not find in the morning may well be there later in the day.

Customers continually stop by, many of them regulars and some for the first time. In COVID times, they don masks to browse the tiny farm shed and wait outside until other customers have transacted their business before going in themselves.

It’s the newcomers from urban areas, Moran said, folks who are newly transplanted or visiting, who are amazed by the simplicity of the place.

“They always comment that they wouldn’t see something like this in the city,” he said.

If you go

What: Wehpittituck Farm

Where: 211 Cove Road, Stonington

Who: Farmer Jimmy Moran

Find them on Instagram and Facebook by searching Wehpittituck Farm.

 

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