Weston’s Dirt Road Farm is a product of passion

Mike Smith and Phoebe Cole-Smith put 300 taps into their trees this year to produce maple syrup at Dirt Road Farm in Weston. — Bryan Haeffele photo

Mike Smith and Phoebe Cole-Smith put 300 taps into their trees this year to produce maple syrup at Dirt Road Farm in Weston. — Bryan Haeffele photo

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about farms in Weston.

The average farm size in Connecticut is 73 acres. Dirt Road Farm on Newtown Turnpike manages to produce an exceptional variety of high-quality products on a farm just a fraction of the size.

Phoebe Cole-Smith, a self-described “hardcore locavore” and her husband, Mike Smith, a former National Hockey League (NHL) executive, have lived on the 5.5-acre Dirt Road Farm for years.

But their property became an officially licensed Connecticut farm just two years ago.

“If you become a farm, you get a tax break,” said Cole-Smith. “But we did it because we’re so passionate about it.”

The couple does just about everything on the farm themselves, from clearing land to tending to the crops to hauling the sap from their maple trees to turn into syrup. Both are fully dedicated to the land where they live.

Phoebe Cole-Smith

Phoebe Cole-Smith

Dirt Road Farm, aptly named for its location on the dirt road section of Newtown Turnpike, has been producing maple syrup for about five years now, and the process has grown a long way since their humble beginnings after Cole-Smith bought Smith a syrup making kit as a gift.

“Mike got addicted to it immediately. We add more syrup taps every year,” she said, before adding that they don’t have the potential for much more.

The farm has 300 syrup taps in 270 trees scattered across the property.

As the season winds down, they anticipate a total yield 55 gallons of syrup this year. It takes around 50 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup, and it’s a lengthy process that can be  undermined simply by a change in weather.

The sap of a maple tree looks like water and tastes quite a bit like water, too, with just a hint of  sweetness. After collecting the sap, Smith boils it down in an evaporator located in a wooden “sugar shack” in his yard. The evaporator is fueled by burning wood to obtain pure syrup without chemical agents or preservatives.

The boiling process is tricky. The sap requires constant attention to ensure that the syrup develops the appropriate sugar content. Syrup boiled too long will eventually crystallize, whereas under-boiled syrup will be watery, and will quickly spoil.

After proper boiling, the syrup is filtered to remove sugar sand and crystals.

The filtered syrup is graded and packaged while still hot.

Eager to share their syrup making with the Weston community, on March 6 the Smiths hosted a maple syrup open house.

More than 150 people stopped by, including many families with children, enticed by the sweet  smell of maple wafting from the sugar shack.

Smith showed children the steps involved in making maple syrup, and had some of them carry buckets of sap from the trees to the sugar shack to watch the process.

To give visitors a taste of the farm, the Smiths handed out cups of vanilla ice cream with their maple syrup drizzled on top. They sold 75 bottles of syrup at the open house.

Making maple syrup, Mike Smith tends to the evaporator in the sugar shack. — Bryan Haeffele photo

Making maple syrup, Mike Smith tends to the evaporator in the sugar shack. — Bryan Haeffele photo

Farm to table

Cole-Smith is a “farm-to-table” private chef who uses as much fresh produce grown at her farm as possible for events. She has an extensive background as a chef, including a tenure at the highly esteemed Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, N.Y.

After moving from New York City to the much more rural Weston in the early 90s, she decided to dedicate herself to using as much locally grown food as possible in her business.

She has made professional relationships with other people in other area farms, such as The Hickories in Ridgefield. To keep things even more local, she works with Westonite Jenny Goodwyn of The Goods Design to produce product labels for her homemade food.

Dirt Road Farm produces herbs, apples, peaches, plums, berries, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and many more things.

Cole-Smith uses everything the farm grows in her private cooking and entertainment dishes. The farm also grows a variety of flowers that she uses for arrangements for events.

Last year, the Smiths installed a barn overlooking their gardens where they host events. The inside is full of exposed wood and lighting, a photo-perfect realization of the rustic but modern aesthetic that dominates restaurant interiors and magazine covers.

Cole-Smith would eventually like to use the space for a “pop-up” farm stand, where she sets a date that the public can come and buy products from the farm.

Aside from syrup, Dirt Road Farm doesn’t produce enough products to sell on a large scale. But the farm hosts events before the holiday season to sell homemade preserves and pickles.

Cole-Smith doesn’t know if she wants Dirt Road Farm to get bigger, because she believes making things in “small batches” is essential for maintaining quality.

“People in the community are very excited when we do events. Everyone is very supportive of our endeavors,” she said.

This year’s batch of maple syrup from Dirt Road Farm may be purchased at Peter’s Market and Peter’s Spirit Shop in coming weeks — while supplies last.

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