Bayberry Lane is like many Westport streets. There’s a mix of homes: handsome converted barns; stately Colonials; 1950s split-levels; modern, multi-gabled McMansions.
Nothing — not a sign or a peek through the trees — indicates that the driveway at #128 leads to a 28-acre farm.
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It could be Westport’s best-kept secret: There’s a working farm a few yards from the intersection of Bayberry Lane and Cross Highway.
Four generations of Beltas — the farm’s founding family — live there. Dina is the widow of Jimmy Belta, who first farmed the land in 1946. Greg is her son. His children and grandchildren are there too.
How much longer, though, is uncertain.
The other day Greg took time out from his 7-days-a-week, 1-man farming operation to talk about Belta’s Farm. He was joined by his sister Connie. (There’s a 3rd brother, also named Jimmy; a 4th sibling died not long ago.)
Greg and Connie are very proud of the farm. It’s one of the few remaining in Westport. (Others include 10 acres owned by the Stahurskys on North Maple; the 12-acre Kowalsky farm on South Turkey Hill, and 17 acres not far away on Bayberry, formerly owned by the Pabst family and now worked by recent college grads.)
Jimmy Belta’s parents had a small truck farm in Norwalk. After being discharged from his World War II service, James found the Bayberry Lane site, thanks to Leo Nevas. The Westport attorney also helped Jimmy buy the place from Evelyn Gosnell, a silent film star who raised potatoes there.
For several decades, it thrived. Jimmy raised tens of thousands of chickens and turkeys. He had a slaughterhouse in back.
In the 1960s he joined forces with Stew Leonard’s. Jimmy supplied the store with a ton of tomatoes — a day. They were prominently displayed, as the product of a local farmer.
“That consumed the farm,” Greg says.
Jimmy also grew basil, garlic and flowers. But in 2005 — slowing down a bit — he closed the wholesale business.
Today, Greg — who graduated from Staples in 1967, 2 years after Connie — runs the farm primarily as a CSA (community-supported agriculture). 80 families pay $500 a year for the right to pick up a variety of produce each week.
The crate is always different. Greg grows eggplant, cantaloupes, peppers, carrots, kale, lettuce, radishes, onions, beets, arugula, mint, basil and flowers — and much more. His 125 chickens lay plenty of eggs.
Greg’s daughters help run the CSA. But both are teachers — not full-time farmers.
The retail business continues, in a way. Every Friday and Saturday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), the Beltas pitch a tent on Bayberry Lane. They sell fresh vegetables, eggs, preserves and the like from Belta’s Farm Stand.
As sustainable a farmer as Greg is though, he’s not sure how much longer he can sustain Belta’s Farm.
His father died in early 2012, age 88. He farmed to the end.
Greg is trying to make a go of it himself. It’s not easy.
The land includes 18 tillable acres. The soil is “fantastic,” Greg says. (When the Community Garden began near Long Lots School, Jimmy donated soil for it.) There is room for fruit trees, and animal pens.
“It’s rich in every bounty,” Greg says. “It has great potential.”
But, he adds, “Farming takes a lot of hard work.”
Greg and Connie would hate to see the topsoil lost, the land plundered. It’s zoned for 2-acre housing; if it were sold as a farm, or for some other non-residential use, it would have to be as an entire piece.
The future of Belta’s Farm is uncertain.
Meanwhile, Greg puts his shovel in the ground every day. By himself.
On a farm that’s been here — and in his family — for nearly 70 years.
And which most Westporters have no idea even exists.
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