Family farm celebrates 365 years
NORTH BRANFORD, Conn. (AP) -- If only Robert Rose could see it now.
The Rose Farm, which he established in 1646, is still going strong -- though he'd probably wonder where his outhouse went and assume the farm's website was some kind of spider exhibit.
The Route 139 farm -- one of the oldest in the country continually run by the same family -- is celebrating its 365th anniversary, and the 10th, 11th and 12th generations running it hope to keep it in the family for at least another several years.
"My dad and mom have been contacted by real estate agents for large chain stores and stuff," Al Rose, a member of the 11th generation of the North Branford Rose family, said on a recent afternoon in a small workshop building on the farm. "It's not for sale."
"You'd be amazed at the looks on their faces when you say that," Gladys Rose, Al Rose's mother, chimed in.
Robert Rose started the farm after coming to America from England on the ship Francis with his wife Marjorie in 1634, according to a genealogy book on the Rose family. Originally settling in Wethersfield, the couple moved in 1644 to an area called Totoket, now Branford. That's when Robert Rose began working his land as a traditional New England farm, with orchards, cattle, dairy, chicken, hogs and horses, according to Al Rose, who is also a Town Council member.
The Rose Farm originally owned hundreds of acres, but is down to about 50 acres, since the property split as children got married and some plots were sold. "Across the street where there are all these houses was a Rose girl who got married to a guy, and he sold building lots on that side of the street. And if you go down School Ground Road, across there was part of our farm," Al Rose said.
Rose Farm operated as an orchard until the hurricane of 1938, and then had a dairy operation until 1973, before again working as an orchard. Tragedy struck in 1975, when an electrical fire destroyed cow and hay barns along with valuable equipment.
"We had a big barn that was over 300 years old then, and we lost all kinds of old implements and antiques, stuff we were using," Al Rose said. "Me and my brother raised a team of steers as pets and they died in the fire."
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Gladys Rose, the current farm matriarch, began selling produce from the back of a wagon at a small farm stand, and the current store was built in 1981.
These days, six to seven family members work in the store and on the farm on a daily basis, and as many as 15 help out in the fall, the busiest season. The youngest Roses grow up knowing they'll have to lend a hand.
"When I was a kid, we started young. As we got older, we took on more responsibilities, like baking pies, waiting on customers and then training the younger generation, and the younger ones are running it now," said Abbie Walston, daughter of Al Rose.
Walston's son is the 13th generation, and though the boy is just a toddler, the agricultural lifestyle is ingrained in him. "His third word was 'tractor,'" Walston quipped.
Because of the farm's high expenses -- fuel, vet bills, insurance, taxes, utilities, wages, losses from failed crops -- most family members have other jobs, and brainstorming new ways to bring locals to the business is key.
"You have to have creative ideas for agritourism or you're not gonna make it," Al Rose said.
The Rose Farm offers wagon rides, hay and corn mazes, pick-your-own fruit seasons, a petting zoo, school tours, a creamery with old-fashioned custard and homemade maple syrup, said Bob Rose, Al Rose's brother. Bob Rose oversees much of the farm's operations with his father, David Rose, and recently began growing produce in a new greenhouse, the success of which allowed the farm to open earlier than usual a few weeks ago.
Amid continuous change and improvements, one constant is the family's joint effort.
"The family is so committed to keep it a family farm," said Ruth Rose, Al Rose's wife. "(The town has) areas zoned industrial and to have a farm in the middle of this industrial spot is the draw. It's what people like so much about it. We just hope future generations can keep it going."