Beaver Brook Farm in Lyme chosen for farmland preservation program
Lyme — Three lambs born Wednesday morning at Beaver Brook Farm joined their flock of 500 on a historic day for the nearly century-old local landmark.
"It's been a farm since 1917, and we want to keep it that way," said Timothy McLaughlin, farm manager and son of Suzanne Sankow, who owns the farm with her husband, Stanley.
Earlier that day, the state Department of Agriculture and the Sankows finalized an agreement in which the state acquired the development rights to the farm for $897,820. The purchase under the state's Farmland Preservation Program means the 163-acre farm that produces wool, meat, cheese, eggs and other products from the sheep, cows, chickens and ducks raised there will remain in agriculture.
McLaughlin, taking a break from building a moveable chicken coop that will simultaneously house some of the farm's 200 chickens and fertilize fields, said his mother and stepfather have been negotiating with the state for three years to sell the development rights. The deal enables them to maintain their operation while protecting the farm in perpetuity.
"It's not easy to make a living running a farm," McLaughlin said.
Steve Jensen, spokesman for the state agriculture department, said Beaver Brook is unique in the state as one of the state's largest sheep farms and the only one in the preservation program. The farm includes about 72 acres of prime farmland soils, the department said in a news release.
Beaver Brook was started as a dairy farm by Stanley Sankow's grandfather. In 1984, Suzanne and Stanley Sankow took over, converting it to a sheep farm selling sheep's milk cheese, meat and wool products such as blankets and sweaters. Today, the farm also produces several varieties of cow's milk cheese, and is one of 24 licensed cheese manufacturers in the state, winning awards at the New England Regional Cheese Competition, according to the news release.
Thus far this spring, McLaughlin said, 230 lambs have been born and several pregnant ewes are expected to give birth in the next several days. The farm employs six people in its farming, cheese-making and prepared foods operations, and hires additional help in the summer months, he said.
"We make yogurt, ice cream, prepared foods with lamb, and we've got 11 Jersey cows," he said. As he spoke, clusters of white and black ewes and lambs ambled, napped and baaed throughout the open barns and adjoining outdoor pens, the air filled with tangy, musty smell of damp hay and manure.
Beaver Brook cheese is sold at restaurants and grocery stores throughout the state, and also at farm markets and directly in a store at the farm.
"Beaver Brook Farm is an agricultural institution in southern Connecticut that has also become a popular destination for customers and tourists," Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said. "Preserving it for future generations of farmers to work ensures that it will be available to continue producing a diverse array of high-quality Connecticut grown food and fiber products and contribute to our agricultural economy."
More than 300 farms totaling over 40,000 acres have been protected under the Farmland Preservation Program, with several more expected to be finalized this year, the department said.
Agricultural structures on the property include a 9,000 square-foot barn, a 2,400-square-foot barn used as a wool shop, another 2,400 square-foot barn that houses the farm store, a 1,100-square-foot dairy and sheep barn and a 1,100-square-foot garage. There is also a chicken coop, a hoop house and four metal grain silos.
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