by Sally Colby
Farming is in Irv Silverman’s blood. Irv’s father Ben grew up in New York City but moved to Connecticutduring World War I. Ben wasn’t fond of city life, so he found work on cattle farms that paid him a dollar a day. When Ben started working for a company that paid more, he was able to save money for his own farm.
“He bought his first piece of land in Easton, Connecticut, in 1920,” said Irv, describing the start of his father’s enterprise. “In those days, people had apple trees in their backyards. He had the foresight to finance a cider mill and people brought their apples to the farm to be pressed. It was during Prohibition, so they made their own hard cider.”
Irv recalled Saturdays when people drove trucks full of apples to the farm for pressing. “That was his first financial success,” he said, “which gave him funds to buy more land. It ended up being 50 acres.” Ben soon started planting his own apple trees, and also grew a variety of vegetables to sell at his roadside stand. Irv and his seven siblings worked on the farm and in the market, but Irv is the only one who stayed on the farm.
After high school, Irv started attending college as a business major. “There was no blueprint,” he said. “I just kept working and going to school. I started growing more fruit because I like that better than growing vegetables.”
In the 1970s, the business took a turn toward agritourism, which allowed people to visit the farm and pick their own apples. “Kids never saw apples growing on a tree,” said Irv. People picked their own apples and peaches. The family also started a small animal farm for visitors, and that remains an integral part of the business.
In past years, visitors to Silverman’s Farm took a wagon ride to the apple orchard, but with COVID restrictions, guests are walking. “We aren’t getting complaints,” said Irv. “People are getting back to nature and enjoying a walk up to the orchard instead of just sitting in a wagon.”
The first apple varieties grown included Baldwin, Russet, Yellow Transparent, Winesap, Jonathan, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. “Delicious are going out of style with all the club varieties coming in now,” he said. “Everyone wants Honeycrisp – I call it the ‘spoiled child’ of the orchard.”
Irv planted one acre of 900 new trees in a slender spindle arrangement, mostly with M-99, M-26 and M-111 rootstock. However, because he’s marketing fruit to customers who have a particular concept of what an apple orchard looks like, he’s leaving much of the orchard in a more typical arrangement.
“We’re trying to make it look more like an orchard, and the slender spindle is more of a wall of apples,” said Irv. “We’re planting at six to eight feet and keeping smaller trees. For agritourism, I think the look of the regular apple tree is better.”
About 10 years ago, Silverman’s initiated a system in which customers purchase a bag prior to picking. “They have to buy a minimum of a half peck or a peck bag at the market or at a kiosk,” Irv explained. “There are trails to the orchard with signs about how to pick and where to pick so they don’t pick later varieties that aren’t ready yet.”
Despite the potential for ample space for social distancing, Silverman’s requires masks for customers in the orchard. Handwashing stations are strategically placed to provide customers with plenty of opportunities to keep their hands clean.
Pumpkins are a large part of autumn activities, but Silverman’s doesn’t grow them due to limited acreage. They are arranged in a colorful display along with cornstalks, Indian corn, straw bales and other autumn décor.
Visitors to the pumpkin patch enjoy a unique pricing system. “For the past 40 years, we’ve done ‘guess the weight,’” said Irv. “If they guess the weight of the pumpkin within two ounces, they get it free.” Irv added the farm now sees second and third generation customers returning each year to guess pumpkin weights.
About 20 years ago, Silverman’s Farm added an on-farm bakery at the main market. “We have cider donuts, breads and 17 different pies,” said Irv. “Customers can preorder pies for holidays – for Thanksgiving, about one-third of the thousands of pies we sell are pre-ordered.” Irv said using a mix of apple varieties makes the best pies, and that mix changes throughout the season. He also noted that during the holiday season, pies are baked around the clock in order to ensure orders are filled.
The season at Silverman’s Farm begins in early April, and the farm is open seven days a week through New Year’s Eve. The season begins with small fruit including strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. In addition to U-pick apples, customers can pick their own blueberries, raspberries and peaches.
Silverman’s Farm grows a variety of vegetables for the on-farm market. “This year, for social distancing, we set up a large tent for ‘under the big top,’” said Irv. “It’s a farm market under the big top with fresh vegetables. It gets people out of the market, and it looks like a farmers market, but it’s just our own produce.”
This season is a special one for Silverman’s Farm – they’re celebrating 100 years in business and will be offering special prices on items throughout the rest of the season. As for moving forward and coming up with new ideas for the farm, Irv said, “If a business stays static, it goes backwards.”
“I love being here seven days a week,” said Irv, adding that his farm manager Jacob Conover will probably continue the business in the future. “We have great people working for us, and we have a good time.”