Simpaug Farms is a 250-acre property in West Suffield, Connecticut. The word Simpaug is an indigenous place name recorded by early settlers in Connecticut. Much of the property is included in the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Program. Under this designation the land is required to be used solely for the purpose of agriculture, and is protected from other development.
The importance of farmland preservation is not lost on us. This concept plays a key role in the farm’s genesis story, and in the structure and daily operations of the business today. The farm was purchased in 2010 by Ridgefield resident and current owner, Rob Ellis, along with four other Ridgefield families. Ridgefield is presently the location of the farm’s business office and the major market outlet for our produce. Fairfield County is notoriously lacking agricultural land, and Simpaug Farms fills an important niche by supplying Connecticut Grown produce in a region where locally grown products are few and far between.
We also have loyal customers in Suffield and Ellington in Hartford County, and have strong family ties to the area. Our Farmer, Keith Tautkus, is the Technology Education teacher at Ellington High School; his wife, Beth, teaches Science at Ellington Middle School. In addition to being the farmer’s wife, Beth (nee Ellis) is also sister to the farm’s owner. The Ellis family is local to nearby Poquonock. Keith and Beth’s son, Jason, works on the farm full-time year-round. Their daughter helps out during the busy summer months. We do hire seasonal laborers in addition to the family. Other staff at the Ridgefield office includes Sales & Marketing Manager, Megan Robertson; Accountant, Lorraine Walls; a seasonal delivery driver, and seasonal farm stand worker. There are a lot of people who are contributing to the management of the farm, although not all on a full-time basis.
As the business has grown we have expanded our reach into a number of other Fairfield County communities, as well as Hartford-area, New Haven, and really anywhere in between. We are a proud Connecticut Grown farm, and we consider it a privilege to share our fresh produce over a large swath of the state. Some of the feedback we get is really incredible, outpourings of joy over the most beautiful vegetables our customers have ever seen, or tasted. People are thrilled to have us in the urban areas. It is important for everyone to have a chance to connect with farmers and learn about the growing process and the seasonality. This is a mind blowing experience for a lot of these people to have these super fresh, clean vegetables, and healthy, free-range eggs, after a lifetime of eating bland supermarket food.
Simpaug Farms does not carry an organic label on any products. We kept the certification option on the table for several years, but we have since moved away from the idea. We have the unique opportunity to interact face-to-face with many of our customers, so we don’t have to rely on a label to convey our values and our commitment to responsible farming.
WHAT WE GROW
Arugula, Beets, Broccoli, Bush Beans, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Collard Greens, Cucumber, Eggplants, Ground Cherries, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Microgreens, Melons, Okra, Onions, Peppers, Pumpkins, Radish, Salad Greens, Scallions, Snap Peas, Spinach, Squash, Swiss Chard, Tomatillos, Tomatoes, Turnips
Herbs: Basil, Rosemary, Tarragon, Oregano, Sage, Parsley
Berries: Raspberries, Strawberries
Fodder Crops: Alfalfa, Hay
Meat & Eggs: Free-Range Non-GMO Eggs, Free-Range Pork, Pasture-Raised Beef
We are always trying new crops, and sometimes scratching old ones off the list if they aren’t working out. That list will always be changing as we keep experimenting. As long as we have the CSA, it will always be a long list. To support that format requires a lot of variety.
HOW DOES THE CSA WORK
Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, has become a popular way for farms our size to market produce. You may also hear it called a ‘farm share’. The way it works is that our customers, or members, sign up for a weekly subscription of vegetables. They pay at the beginning of the season. Each week members stop by one of our locations during the established time, with their reusable shopping bags, and we load them up with fresh picked vegetables. The contents are determined by the farm, based on which items are in season. When our members join they put a lot of trust in us to decide what goes on their family’s dinner plates each week, and we work very hard to ensure that they always receive an excellent value and variety. Here’s the kicker though, remember the purpose of this arrangement is for the community to support local farms by sharing in the rewards and the risks. If members are away, they need to make their own arrangements for someone else to pick up their share. This is not a discount program, nor is there any guarantee. If it turns out to be a bad weather year, our members have to wade through it with us. Fortunately, for the past few years, we have delivered our members a value well beyond what they paid. We have had tremendous customer satisfaction, and expect to have most of our members stick with us into the coming years.
The CSA is our bread and butter. We are preparing to start our sixth season, and we have many members who have been with us since the beginning. Every year we are growing our membership and expanding to reach more communities. This year we expect to share the harvest among 300 member families, along with small crowds of farmers market customers, and a select handful of local restaurants.
ON THE HARD PART OF FARMING…
We plant an enormous variety of crops. Each one grows on its own schedule, and has its own unique requirements. Unlike a farmer that specializes in just one or a few crops, a CSA farmer needs to be prepared to troubleshoot and manage the entire assemblage. It can be a lot to juggle. Once the soil, warms up, the rain falls, and the sun shines, you have to be on your game. It all happens very quickly and if you take your eye off one of the balls, you can lose a crop overnight. We also have hundreds of pre-paid customers counting on us to deliver each week. That’s a lot of pressure. People have handed over their weekly grocery money to us, so we take that very seriously.
ON THE SATISFYING PART OF FARMING…
We get to have direct contact with our customers, which is an awesome experience. I love chatting with our members about what recipes they tried, or which vegetables their kids fell in love with. Sometimes they post pictures and messages on our Facebook page. A ton of work will go into transforming the soil that is bare now into a summer salad or a fall pumpkin. We start with dirt, then seeds, water, sprouts, sunshine; we pull the weeds and feed the soils, we pick, wash, package, and deliver. But none of that counts until the food is eaten. It has to make it to the end of the chain, otherwise all the effort was for naught.
ON STAYING COMPETITIVE…
We build long-standing, personal relationships with our customers. We offer support and communication that you don’t get from the supermarket. We play an active role in our communities. There is a strong demand for locally grown food, which gives us the opportunity to work in cooperation with other small farmers like us, rather than in competition.