'A real lifeline:' Shelton farm offers up fresh food, entertainment during pandemic

SHELTON — For the Monahans, owners of Stone Gardens Farm, the pandemic was a call to action as the family used the farming operation to help keep food on people’s tables in their most desperate time.

When store shelves were barren or some larger businesses raised prices substantially, the Monahans — using their already existing resources and with a newly created online ordering option — made sure the community had access to fresh produce, meat and eggs.

“We became a real lifeline for the community,” Stacia Monahan said of her family farm, which remains one of the largest vegetables farms in southwest New England and a staple of the White Hills agricultural community.

“Folks could feed their families without having to go out of their way or put themselves at risk,” she added, “and that was a really good feeling.”

Monahan’s husband, Fred, said business grew during the pandemic, with people realizing that the shelves never go empty at the farm.

“I think farmers can be taken for granted at times ... but this pandemic really opened people’s eyes to the importance of farming,” he said. “Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of new faces coming in, and it really feels good to have been able to get fresh, quality foods to people during this pandemic.”

The farm stand — as both an agricultural business and a grocery store — was deemed essential and remained open throughout the pandemic. And while their farm faced the same mandated regulations as all businesses, Stacia Monahan said the real changes were seen in the way people shopped.

“Every day you would hear about meat shortages, price gouging, limits on how many items you could purchase at one time,” she said. “But since we raise our own beef cattle, as well as chicken and pork right here it was possible for us to provide fresh farm quality meat, as well as other essentials like produce, milk, eggs, bread for our customers.”

The farm also began offering online pre-ordering for curbside pickup, so those individuals concerned about leaving their home and being around others could still purchase fresh produce, meats and prepared foods.

“We had many customers that ordered weekly and were very thankful that we offered this service,” Monahan said.

Stone Gardens Farm, which the Monahans first opened in 1998, has also worked on site, adding a pergola so people can sit and enjoy some food — and on Saturdays, sit, eat and take in some music. The farm is again hosting its summer concert series. Casey Gorman opened the summer series last Saturday.

Fred conceived the pergola idea, creating a shaded area for customers to gather during the Saturday music series.

He plays guitar, and what started as a jam session with friends every weekend, he added, turned into the concert series that runs every Saturday throughout the summer.

During the pandemic, he said social distancing prevented the live sessions, so he moved to Facebook Live performances from the corn field on Saturdays. He said 50 to 100 would watch live, but he found that thousands watched throughout the week.

“People really seem to enjoy it ... it was really just fun that became a concert series,” he said.

The Monahans wanted the new covering to have a natural country look and feel, Stacia Monahan said, so Fred chose to use cedar and other locally harvested wood with plans for leafy and flowering vines to provide a natural shade in the near future.

All the wood used to build it was locally milled by Tristan Wasilewski with guidance from Russell Wabuda in Shelton and Sandy Smith in Monroe. The cedar for the support posts was grown on the Monahan’s farm and cut from the same pasture where beef cows roam.

Now that it is mostly finished, Monahan said, the vines are growing in.

“With the craziness of the pandemic falling behind us now, we really want to move forward by further sharpening our current strong suits, perfecting and fine-tuning what we offer during our summer music series and planning even more events under our beautiful new pergola,” Stacia Monahan said. “Think ... beautiful moonlit farm to table dinners enjoying live music, the company of your favorite people, and picturesque scenery.”

The farm boasts steaks and ground beef, all types of chicken, pork chops, bacon and sausages. The farm also raises turkeys for Thanksgiving.

“The fact that our herd is bred and raised on our farmland in Shelton is one of the main reasons people order from us,” Monahan said, adding that their cows are never given unnecessary antibiotics or added growth hormones.

The produce available in the stand changes with the seasons. Sweet corn is hand picked fresh daily in the summer, but customers also grab the home grown tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and squash. The farm also offers prepared foods, such as fresh quiches, meatballs, eggplant rollatini, dill pickles, BLT pasta salad, and potato salad.

“We’re happy that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and that most everything is able to go on as normally as possible,” Monahan said. “And we’re extremely glad to be able to see our customers smile again.”

For more information on Stone Gardens Farm, located at 83 Saw Mill City Road, and information on the Saturday summer concert series, visit Stonegardensfarm.com, call 203-929-2003 or email stonegds@comcast.net.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com