Hayes Family Farm in Rocky Hill

Hayes Family Farm in Rocky Hill (Jim Welch/ jwelch@courant.com / August 19, 2014)

ROCKY HILL – With the blessing of two former mayors, and three generations of the Hayes family looking on, the town council unanimously approved an ordinance to buy the development rights of the historic family farm.

The $2 million deal, voted on Monday night, will assure that the property, consisting of three parcels totaling 44.27 acres, will remain a working farm in perpetuity. Members of the Hayes family will continue to own and farm the property, which must be maintained for agricultural use if it is ever sold.

The acquisition marks the first under the $10 million bond authorization approved by voters in November 2012 to preserve the town's dwindling farmlands and open space.

"We're very happy. Everybody is happy,'' said Fran Whelan, whose family has owned and farmed the land for nearly 150 years.

Fran and his brother John, assisted by their cousin Tim Sacerdote, all fifth-generation family members, farm the property. The acreage remains in the hands of the fourth generation, the five daughters of Harry J. Hayes and Anne Hayes, who died in Sept. 2012.

Following approval of the referendum, former Town Manager Barbara R. Gilbert initiated talks with the heirs, four of whom reside on lots developed from the farm. Terms of the development deal were announced in July. The $2 million figure equates to $44,692.73 per acre.

The farm remains very much an active family enterprise. Members of the sixth generation now help out with the animals, assisted by neighborhood children, including those of former Republican mayor Todd Cusano who urged all council members to back the ordinance.

"My kids, ages 10 and 8, have been on that very farm. They have shoveled cow poop. They have fed piglets and they have chased chickens,'' Cusano said. "This is of paramount importance to me, to my family and if I can be so bold, to the town of Rocky Hill.

"If we pass this ordinance we all get to claim Hayes farm, in some small way, as our own. I encourage you all to support this."

Former Democratic mayor and past farmland preservation subcommittee chairman Barbara Surwilo noted that by adopting the bonding referendum by an overwhelming margin, voters sent a loud, clear message that preserving local farmland was of critical importance. "This is a good legacy to leave our children,'' she said.

Council member Frank Szeps, the current head of the farmland preservation subcommittee, said the Hayes acquisition represented "a historic moment and I'm really honored to be a part of it."

In addition to the acreage on both sides of Hayes Road, covered by the development rights agreement, the family farms 10 acres in the meadows along the Connecticut River. The farm currently maintains a herd of 52 cows, 150 chickens, a goat, a pony and produces piglets in season. Its seasonal vegetable stand has long been a favorite stopping place for local produce.

The family hopes to construct a permanent farm store and add educational programming for youngsters during the coming years, Fran Whelan said.