Farm‘s Reach

Farm‘s Reach

For 109 years, almost without interruption, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station’s Lockwood Farm in Hamden has hosted a summer gathering drawing hundreds of citizens, farmers, scientists and other agricultural professionals. The event’s been called Field Day, Science at Work Day and its current moniker, Plant Science Day. Whatever you call it, the day—this year, August 7—promises an extravaganza of scientific lectures, technical demonstrations, exhibits and tours.

But August 7 isn’t the only day you can visit Lockwood Farm, which is open to the public year-round. The only caveat, says CAES director Theodore Andreadis, is that visitors shouldn’t enter the research plots. You won’t learn as much just strolling around as you can on Plant Science Day, but you will get a taste of old rural Hamden—and perhaps a few surprises.

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The entrance to the 75-acre farm, located just off Evergreen Avenue, is easy to find. I parked beside one of the red barns and set off on foot along the rustic farm road that leads across an open field past plots worked by dozens of CAES scientists. My first unexpected sight was a small vineyard of chardonnay wine grapes, planted for a study on powdery mildew, which the Plant Science Day booklet says has “the greatest impact on wine-grape yield of all pathogens and pests” in Connecticut.

Not far past the grape vines is a spacious new pavilion, built in 2015 by the Lockwood Trust Fund, a private endowment that takes care of the farm’s maintenance and operation costs. The pavilion, with a bucolic view of fields rolling to a distant tree-covered ridge, serves to replace the big tent CAES had erected on every field day since at least the 1920s, when women in long-sleeved white dresses and men in suits and straw hats squeezed shoulder to shoulder on benches to hear talks on farming practices and agricultural research.

From here, the farm road, now reduced to two parallel ruts in the grass and lined by a low stone wall, leads to a bird and butterfly garden, itself enough reason to visit Lockwood Farm. The shady garden provides a respite from the sun, with a little stream, benches and plenty of clearly labeled plants, from small trees like Japanese umbrella pine and dwarf sugar maple to familiar garden flowers, many of them at their colorful July best: coneflowers, catmint, bee balm, cinquefoil, butterfly weed and a stand of purple, cone-shaped hyssop, which seemed to have attracted every bee on the farm.

Farther up the road, there’s more to see. In an orchard with tiny apples beginning to blush, I heard the flutter of wings and inadvertently flushed out several birds as I passed. A basaltic boulder left behind by a long-ago glacier, simply labeled “The Rock” on the Plant Science Day map, has settled into a small rise on the southern end of the farm, its shape echoing the strong chin of the Sleeping Giant, which dominates the view to the north. As I looped my return on the road, I passed chestnut trees, beehives, more apple trees and a field of hops climbing tall wooden poles.

You can tell, at times, that this is no ordinary farm. Two big mounds of dirt sit in the middle of prime acreage, part of a study titled “Composting Leaves Using the Static Pile Method.” One plowed field is planted only in one corner with corn; the rest lies fallow. A remote access weather station inside a chain link fence is parked in the middle of another field, reporting data to the U.S. Weather Service. Less obvious is the fact that the farm’s tall, skinny silo is actually just a clever disguise for a cell phone tower.

Dozens of crops have been studied at Lockwood Farm: artichokes, sweet potatoes, African eggplant, calabaza squash, radicchio, watermelons, beach plums. The list goes on and on. “The hybrid corn that feeds the world was invented on Lockwood Farm,” reads a sign along the farm road, referring to the research of Donald F. Jones, who published his method of crossing corn for a higher yield in 1919. The farm was also the site of experiments “which led to the development of organic fungicides, some of which are still in use to combat plant diseases,” the Plant Science Day booklet says.

As for today’s research, the booklet lists 63 plots you can visit to see scientific studies in action. As I rounded the road’s final bend, I met up with CAES plant pathologist Wade Elmer, technician Peter Thiel and college fellow Amanda DeLucia, who had just planted several rows of heirloom tomatoes for a study of engineered nanofertilizers, a project funded by the National Science Foundation and shared by 11 universities. Now the team was driving big stakes into the ground next to the plants. Half of the plants, Elmer explained, have been exposed to a pathogenic fungus. The other half are controls. All will receive five fertilizer treatments. Elmer and his colleagues will be watching for how the nanofertilizers affect the development of the disease, as well as how the plants’ RNA might change in response to the treatments.

Most days, a walk through Lockwood Farm might not yield so much information. But on Plant Science Day, all of CAES’s scientists will be on hand to talk about their work with 1,000 or so visitors. People will bring in problem plants for diagnosis and specimens for identification. Kids will earn stamps on a special passport or complete activities for a CAES patch, learning from people at the farm who are “ science to work for society.” An air-conditioned bus will offer farm tours. Formal talks and demonstrations will run throughout the day.

Established in 1875, CAES was the first agricultural experiment station in the country and remains the only one not affiliated with a land-grant university. Its main campus is located on Huntington Street in New Haven, but it also operates Valley Laboratory in Windsor and Griswold Research Center in Griswold. CAES scientists also conduct some research on state and private land. But it’s here at Lockwood Farm that the rest of us can see the science at work, whether we visit on Plant Science Day or one of the other 364 days of the year.

Lockwood Farm
890 Evergreen Ave, Hamden (map)
Plant Science Day: Aug 7 from 9:30am-4pm (details)…

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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