What’s your pleasure, would you rather work 40 hours a week from nine to five in a tight cubicle all your life, or devote that same life to heavy manual work seven days a week? The latter was the choice for Ben March, who described to 71 Y’s Men of Meriden on Tuesday, May 6, his decision to chuck a career calculating pension benefits in order to return to his family farm and his roots.
Ben’s father Tom (son-in-law of Y’s Men member Bill Collett) first described the arrival of his grandparents and their nine children as immigrants from Lithuania in 1912, passing through Ellis Island and soon purchasing 114 acres of land for $2,500 in Bethlehem. The March Farm today encompasses 153 acres (with an additional 100 acres rented) and includes 75 acres of sweet corn (producing more than 800,000 ears), 3,500 apple trees, peaches, blueberries, and strawberries. A dairy operation was terminated in 1987, soon replaced by a massive greenhouse complex for growing tomatoes which now occupies 35,000 square feet. And “agritourism” was developed, featuring a farm-themed children’s Hayloft Playscape, a Pond Side Animal Yard, a pick-your-own fruit and berry program, hayrides, and a farm store and bakery.
Ben March, aided by a PowerPoint slideshow and flats of plants which he brought, then provided details about the innovative indoor tomato growing operation which produces more than 100,000 pounds annually without the use of pesticides or fertilizers, while using their own honeybees for pollination. These 12 hi-tech greenhouses are covered by a SolarRig material, 15 times stronger than conventional plastic and also blocking out harmful UV light and featuring anti-drip properties to prevent droplets from falling on the plants. An advanced environmental system maintains optimum heat and humidity, using exhaust fans and subsoil heaters, and drip tape irrigation.
Seedling tomatoes (Dutch Variety strains) are planted as early as January on a staggered schedule, appearing in two to three days with a first transplant occurring about two weeks later and a final transplant about two weeks after that, all while monitoring air and soil temperatures. Each pair of plants grows in a bag filled with a coconut fiber medium, eventually reaching more than seven feet in height with each plant producing five to six clusters of fruit. Harvesting begins in late April and is completed by August (when field grown tomatoes become abundant), with sales to 47 customers such as farmers markets, stores and other farmers. For information, visit www.marchfarms.com.
Retired or semi-retired men from Meriden or surrounding communities, interested in attending a Y’s Men of Meriden meeting, are invited to call (203) 238-7784 or visit the www.ysmenofmeriden.com website.