'Low-input farming,' high success rate
Roxanna Smolowitz, who with her husband turned 20 acres slated for a subdivision into their Coonamessett Farm, with Perseus, one of nine resident alpacas. (Ellen Albanese/ Globe Staff)
EAST FALMOUTH - We've all heard stories about family farms turned into housing subdivisions. Here's a twist: In 1985 some 20 acres on Hatchville Road were slated for 27 homes. Ron and Roxanna Smolowitz bought the property and instead of houses established working farm. They opened it to the public in 1989.
Coonamessett Farm is a popular stop for local families and summer tourists. Visitors can select garden plants, pick their own vegetables and berries, see farm animals up close, canoe or kayak on the farm's pond, and participate in activities such as vegetarian buffets and Jamaican grill nights in summer.
The farm also has a cafe with outdoor seating, ice cream stand, store, and gift shop. The store offers fresh-baked pies, homemade granola, unfiltered honey, organic products such as pizza crust and pastas, specialty teas, and the farm's own line of sauces, marinades, dressings, and jam. The gift shop features clothing woven of alpaca hair, garden ornaments, handmade soap, and books on gardening and cooking.
Ron Smolowitz is proud of the farm's heritage. "Many of the kids now working on the farm first came here as toddlers," he said. "They all know where food comes from." The Smolowitzes practice "low-input farming," using minimum amounts of chemicals and recycling manure from the farm's animals into compost.
The animals are a huge draw. An African tortoise, weighing some 50 pounds, scurries about his enclosure, scarfing lettuce and other greens. Oscar the macaw displays his bright plumage but is a bit shy about talking. Which isn't a bad thing, according to Smolowitz. "His language is not the best - he lives with a sailor."
Shetland and babydoll lambs are fuzzy and adorable. In the chicken coop, kids can reach under a roosting chicken to claim an egg.
Up the hill from the store and cafe, visitors encounter miniature donkeys, which are less than three feet tall but can weigh up to 450 pounds; Nigerian dwarf goats, stepping lightly around the free-range chickens; and alpacas, with their sensitive faces and shocks of fuzzy hair that make it look as though they're wearing toupees. Signs identify all the animals by name and include information about their age, lineage, and personality.
Beginning June 18, the farm's Jamaican staff puts on a Jamaican grill night every Wednesday, featuring jerk chicken and pork, along with farm-fresh salads and homemade desserts. Children and adults dance to the steel band. A vegetarian buffet is offered on Friday nights, beginning June 27.
Programs and special events reinforce the farm's ties to the community and to children. A recent Fiber Arts Festival brought in local weavers and craftspeople, and farm educator Lori Lieberman showed children how to make felt. Students at the Montessori middle school next door learn about farming firsthand as part of their curriculum. The farm partners with the Cape Cod Children's Museum in the Little Sprouts program, which allows children ages 4-10 to plant, maintain, and harvest their own gardens.
If you can't find time to visit Coonamessett Farm, you can still enjoy its bounty: Several local restaurants serve fresh produce from the farm.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.