A Visit to Back 40 FarmText by Tovah Martin Photography by KINDRA CLINEFF
The air has an autumnal nip, but nonetheless, Enya Cunningham’s morning starts with the chickens. Before she pours her first cup of coffee, Cunningham pulls on boots and heads over to greet the birds, collect their eggs, and open the coop. That priority says a lot about the Vassar College graduate’s dedication to farming. “Accidental” is how Cunningham classifies her introduction to the land. Farming certainly wasn’t the focus she planned to pursue while in college. But she’s just the most recent example of Back 40 Farm’s ability to rope everyone into agriculture.
Back 40 Farm also caught Bill and Lesley King off guard. The parents of four children and facing their fortieth birthdays, the Wall Street-linked couple was just thinking about finding a parcel of country land when they went looking for real estate. The forty-five-acre onetime farm they found in Washington boasted sweeping views of the Litchfield Hills. It featured a farmhouse, a 1700s barn in desperate need of repair, and adjacent conservation land.
The package certainly provided sufficient space to feed Bill’s itch to install a few raised beds of veggies for the family.
Their youngest had just turned four months old in 2008 when the Kings closed on the deal and named their property Back 40 Farm in tribute to their stage in life, their favorite song (U2’s “40” based on Psalm 40), and the acreage. They swung immediately into renovation mode to get the buildings up to speed. With an airy, light-filled, thoughtfully restored farmhouse and a rebuilt barn, it was looking good when they turned their attention to the food aspect of their back-to-the-land endeavor.
A neighbor brought over his tractor, the whole family joined in, and in their enthusiasm, they planted row after row.
In their innocence, they also planted everything simultaneously. The result was a bounty of vegetables all ripening in unison. The family simply could not keep up with the harvest, so they began sharing, starting with Greenwich’s Neighbor to Neighbor food pantry, expanding the initiative as they discovered the pride of feeding the community.
The Kings were ultimately seminal in organizing the farmer’s market in Old Greenwich and opening the Back 40 Kitchen restaurant in Greenwich. Their newly found viewpoint on the world also sparked Back 40 Mercantile, an Old Greenwich store that sells products crafted sustainably, an endeavor launched together with Lesley’s brother and sister-in-law, Jeff and Katrina Bischoff. Suddenly, stewarding the land, grooming it to feed the community, and raising awareness about farm-based realities became their focus.
Meanwhile, they partnered with Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a nonprofit farm and agricultural education center, to train interns in sustainable agriculture. “These are young, intellectual kids who bring their knowledge of farming to the table. We give them practical business experience,” Lesley explains.
Cunningham came through the program, and fell in love. “Yes, farming is certainly challenging,” she says while balancing an armload of squash, “but your days are full of so many opportunities for problem-solving, from carpentry to machinery to plumbing. And farming is a door to much bigger things that involve taking care of our planet. It’s about people and our connection to the earth and the place we live.”
The Kings, who recently made a purchase that nearly doubled the farm’s size, are currently on sabbatical in California, attending Stanford’s Distinguished Career Institute “to focus on wellness, the land, community, and why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Lesley explains.
Meanwhile, Cunningham is harvesting the squash, tending the chickens, nurturing the land with cover crops, and savoring every minute of the experience.
Back 40 Farm Group, Greenwich, Conn.
February 17, 2020
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