New Sprague farm provides fresh vegetables, meat and other services
Nestled within Baltic’s Sprague Village on Scotland Road is Crowded Acres Farm – 7 acres of wide-open space with a house and double barn. Often, the only sounds you hear in this tranquil setting are the rooster crowing and the horses, cows, steers, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, dogs and cats talking to each other in the fields and barn.
Always nearby is “Manager/Protector” emu Frankie maintaining a watchful eye on her “family” (some of which have been rescued and rehabilitated) and keeping hawks and coyotes at bay with her intimidating strong legs and feet.
Farm Owners Macy Cronkite and Adam Lambert bought the neglected buildings and overgrown land in November 2019 and moved into their new home in March after completing structural work and clearing 10- to 15-foot grapevines and brush, exposing a portion of the barn they didn’t even know existed.
Soon after, their 13-year-old son Caleb and Lambert's father, Peter, tilled, planted and weeded a half-acre garden. Seasonal flowers, herbs, snap peas, peppers, squash, eggplant, watermelons, tomatoes, cantaloupes and pumpkins they grew without using pesticides were then sold at the farmstand seven days a week during daylight hours.
Peter Lambert, who used to operate Lambert’s Christmas Tree Farm in Preston, said he enjoys helping out on the farm and agreed that it is more time-intensive to pick bugs off vegetables.
“You have to know what to look for,” the master gardener said.
He added that he has also learned a little about animal care and plants that are poisonous for them such as choke cherry leaves.
“There is a lot involved," he said. "There are different types of grasses that are healthy for the animals. Some are not.”
As the sheep, goats, cows and horses graze on the land, they are actually helping to heal it by keeping invasive weed species such as autumn olive and multi-floral rose in check, said Lambert, 31. Another called Japanese knotweed, which is often mistaken for bamboo, is almost impossible to get rid of.
“Herbicides don’t work on it," he said. "If you mow it, it just comes back stronger. It destroys foundations, but it is one of the animals’ favorite foods. It’s very nutritious.”
Pumpkins (a natural deworming food) are another favorite of the animals, which is why the couple ask people to donate their pumpkins instead of throwing them away at the end of the year.
Current rescued animals include a large pony Serenity Hope nicknamed “Fat Pony,” as well as miniature horse Thor (Lambert's engagement present to Cronkite), two black goats, three dogs and two cats.
“And we have a rescue pigeon,” Cronkite said.
“Yeah, he just showed up,” Lambert said, laughing. “We asked the owner if he wanted him back and he said, ‘No.’”
This spring was the first time they ever cared for baby cows, he said, adding that they had to bottle-feed the day-old calves.
“They drank a gallon a day," he said. "That was a new experience for me.”
Peter Lambert said he has learned to stay calm around the animals “because they can sense what you’re thinking and your mood.”
“Especially the horses,” said Cronkite, 25, who teaches beginner horseback riding lessons with 13-year-old Fat Pony. “Horses will feed off you. If you’re anxious, they’ll be anxious. If you’re relaxed, you’ll both relax.”
The engaged couple also sell eggs and wool and take orders for chicken, pork, lamb and beef (which she said taste better because they are raised without unnecessary antibiotics). Cronkite admits they get attached to the animals and some become pets.
“I guess the best thing you could do is be (a) vegetarian,” Lambert said. But if you’re going to eat meat, farm-raised animal products are “a whole lot better than the meat you buy in the grocery store. It’s the only way to be sure that they (animals) had a good life and they weren’t kept in a pen their whole life.”
At the end of November, three pigs they raised from piglets were sent away to be slaughtered, processed and returned as bacon, sausage and hams. The couple is already preselling pork for next year and taking orders now, so they know how many piglets to buy.
“I feel like people lost touch with where their meat comes from. It’s good to educate people,” Cronkite said.
Another source of income for the farm is their portable sawmill, which enables Lambert to cut custom boards and beams for people at their locations or on the farm.
“If they drop a tree in their yard or if they need a tree dropped, my dad does tree removal," he said. "If they don’t want to burn it or put it in the woods to rot, they could turn it into boards, get some use out of it, make some furniture if that’s what they’re into (or) sell it.”
Referring to farm life and coming home to all the animals, as “feeding” his soul, Lambert added, “It’s a full-time job without a full-time salary.”
At some point, however, he believes the farm “should be able to pay all the bills.”
The University of Connecticut graduate said he worked for about six years as an aerospace engineer for MTU Aero Engines North America, contractors for Pratt & Whitney, but missed getting his hands dirty. Lambert now works as a heating-and air-conditioning technician for his uncle’s company East Hartford Heating & Cooling.
He said he and Cronkite have gleaned a great deal of information about farming from reading, YouTube and meeting with representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service of Norwich.
“It’s nice being in a pro-farm town now. Not all towns are like that,” said Lambert. “It’s a shame, because it’s important, you know. No farms, no food. We’ll have to import everything from the Midwest if we don’t grow it here.”
The couple also enjoys sharing their farming knowledge with others on Facebook and in person, Cronkite said. “We get a lot of questions from people starting out raising chickens and goats. They usually want to know what size coop would work for the chickens, what breed to get, and any advice we have for beginners.”
The Crowded Acres Farm name reflects their philosophy for rotating the vegetable garden and animals.
“We keep them (animals) in concentrated paddocks that are rotated frequently so the soil and the plants have a chance to recover," Lambert said. "Likewise, we practice close spacing with our vegetable plants and flowers, which shades and protects the soil and cuts down on weeds, insects, erosion and irrigation.”
In mid-December, they installed a new barn roof to keep the animals dry and a curtain drain around the front of the house to prevent water from going into the basement. They have also created a test pond and plan to increase its size.
Lambert and Cronkite are grateful for Peter’s help and know the farm would not have advanced as much as it has without his help. In the future, they realize they may need to hire some “hard workers.”
Future goals include rescuing or buying a larger horse so they can ride together. They also plan on holding Family Days like they used to have at their former one-acre Mansfield Farm. These events will include pony rides for children, petting/feeding the animals and family picnicking. Additionally, the couple hopes to build a greenhouse by May to extend the vegetable-growing season in 2021.
Crowded Acres Farm is located at 153 Scotland Road in Baltic. For more information or to place orders, call or text (860) 373-7472.
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