Farm promotes eating local with kitchen, butchery

The expanded farm store at Stone Gardens Farm had an unexpected customer soon after opening.

Outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy, in Shelton to pick out a Christmas tree at nearby Jones Family Farms, dropped by with his family to check out the new kitchen and butchery operation at Stone Gardens.

Malloy purchased some grass-fed beef to take home to the governor’s residence. “He’s done a lot for Connecticut agriculture,” farm owner Fred Monahan said of Malloy, who is good friends with Shelton farmer Terry Jones.

Fred Monahan and his wife, Stacia, opened the new farm store in the early fall and, more recently, an on-site kitchen and butchery that offer fresh meat products and pre-made foods such as dinners and soups, made primarily from ingredients grown or raised at Stone Gardens.

The 4,000-foot structure replaces a much smaller farm stand that was demolished to add parking at the farm on Saw Mill City Road in White Hills. It has a retail store, commercial kitchen and butchery, vegetable washing and packing room, and storage areas.

Monahan said the prepared foods and fresh beef, pork and chicken are attracting new customers. “We can’t smoke bacon fast enough,” he said.

The couple views the expansion as a way to tap into the farm-to-fork movement. “People want to eat more farm-produced food but it can take too much time to prepare it,” Stacia said. ”Previously, we’d only been able to sell our products in one form — the raw form. This is another piece in the puzzle.”

Many of those preparing the food are Shelton residents and longtime friends of Fred Monahan, who grew up working at Shelton’s Dairy, located around the corner. This includes chef Matthew Gallo, quality food officer Timmy Manion and butcher Lenny Mas.

“We’re all like family,” Monahan said.

Mas has a short commute to his new part-time gig, living next door to the farm. He previously owned a butcher shop and described himself as an old-school butcher. ”We have a passion for this,” Mas said.

He likes working at a location where the animals are raised. “We’re going back to the roots of meat processing,” Mas said.

Gallo grew up on a poultry farm in Shelton and has run his own catering company and worked at well-known restaurants in New York City, the Hamptons and Cape Cod during a 50-year culinary career.

He thrives on working with fresh ingredients and choosing a menu based on what’s available on a daily basis. “We’re figuring out what our customers are into,” said Gallo, noting families today want to pick up something of quality they can quickly microwave or warm on the stovetop.

Manion first started smoking pork with Monahan 30 years ago. He has worked in the food business for many years, operating White Hills Smoke Eaters for awhile.

Now, in addition to fresh produce, eggs and outside specialty items, the farm’s retail store sells pre-made meals, quiches, soups, stews and sides as well as bread, beef, pork and poultry. Stone Gardens has its own line of tomato products, with sauces, salsa and bloody Mary mix.

The Monahans moved the farm stand into the new building in the early fall and opened the kitchen and butchery in mid-November, after securing the necessary state, health district and local permits. The store will be open seven days a week, year-round.

In May, a group of Amish builders had come up from Pennsylvania to put up the new structure’s frame. Monahan and a local crew did the finishing work.

Stone Gardens is a large farm, with 60 acres dedicated to growing vegetables and another 100 acres of pasture for cattle, pigs and chickens. Some land is leased. It employs 10 to 20 people, depending on the season.

Fred and Stacia opened Stone Gardens in 1998 after running a vegetable and flower stand, determined to work in agriculture and help preserve farmland. They have three children, all involved with the farm in some way. The two youngest still attend local schools.

They use social media to promote the farm, produce a web newsletter sent to about 2,500 customers, and work with nearby Jones Family Farms and Beardsley’s Orchard to promote Shelton’s agricultural district.

Stone Gardens is well-known for its community supported agriculture (CSA) program, in which people pay an upfront fee to share in the farm’s harvest by receiving weekly boxes of produce.

Stacia is active with many farming groups, such as the New England Vegetables and Fruit Conference steering committee and the Connecticut Farm Bureau’s new Vegetable and Berry Growers Alliance. She runs the Shelton Farmers’ Market.

She said the expanded Stone Gardens enterprise supports a no-waste farming approach, where vegetables not sold or used in food preparation are fed to the farm animals, who in turn produce manure used to fertilize the growing fields. “It’s a whole cycle, with no waste,” she said.