Knucklehead. Cotton Candy. Red Cinderella. Polar Bear. Fairytale. Peanut Squash. One Too Many and Autumn Crown.
Unique and distinct names, for very unique and distinct pumpkins and squashes. These varieties are like no other sold in this area, but to Harvey Smith, owner of Strawberry Hollow Farm, this is one way he sets his farm apart from the others in the area.
“I raise some unusual stuff,” said Smith. Beautifully displayed in front of the gift shop, amongst vibrant mum plants, are these unique pumpkins and squash. “Most of these have been imported and commercialized because they have a unique look and they’re neat on a road stand,” said Smith.
Smith is always looking for new and different varieties. A year ago, walking down the street in Boston, his eye caught an interesting white pumpkin that looks more like a flying saucer than a vegetable. He ended up buying it from the shop owner, carrying it home on the train and drying out the seeds to save for the planting season. To this day he has no idea where it originates from or if it has a name. It is just simply something that caught his eye and ended up in his pumpkin patch.
This is exactly the kind of originality that makes Strawberry Hollow Farm a destination for people all over Connecticut, as well as New York and New Jersey.
Open from the Saturday before Labor Day until December 23rd, Smith is meticulous about the business. “I’m always going, because I always see something that needs to be picked up, straightened…” said Smith.
In addition to the unique varieties, Smith also have a large choice of traditional, orange pumpkins, scattered in the hollow down the hill behind the shop. Visitors wander through, picking up and inspecting individual pumpkins, until they are satisfied they have the perfect one for displaying.
Many of these visitors have been coming to his farm for years. ‘We’ve got at least three generations coming here. Which is kind of neat,” said Smith.
“I’ve only been here three years, now I recognize these kids,” chimed in Mary, as she helped customers and rang up sales inside the gift shop. “There’s a little girl, she buys a cat (figurine) every year. She must be 4, they started when she was baby.”
The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming and many people stop and chat with Smith during their visit.
“How are you? Good to see you,” said Smith, greeting a customer entering the shop. “I came to get my mums, I always do,” she said. “I’ve already had the grandchildren down there buying pumpkins. How have you been?”
Bob Consolatore, along with his wife, Maria and their son, Scott, said he has been coming annually to Strawberry Hollow since 1978. “He (Smith) used to dig the mums up, you would pick out what mum (you wanted) and he would put in a pot for you way back then.”
He did not hesitate to add that Strawberry Hollow is the only place he would buy pumpkins for his intricate carving. “I’ve carved pumpkins all my life with all those kits,” he said. “So I take pride in my jack-o-lanterns. I only come here. This is the only place I’ve ever come when I’m serious about buying pumpkins and I’ll take a half an hour before I pick it. “ He said he “definitely” thinks they are the best around because of “the color and quality and the stems.”
Yet the pumpkins are not the only draw. Bob, a professional photographer, had his professional camera at the ready for shooting the picture perfect pumpkin patch, as well as the displays inside the gift shop. For this family a trip to Strawberry Hollow isn’t complete without a purchase for their home’s growing Halloween display.
“The shop is out of this world,” said Bob. “We always buy something,” said Maria. She added that “Halloween is our holiday, we love Halloween.” They always buy something to add to their collection, plus a gift for Maria’s mother whose birthday is the day before the holiday.
This is exactly what Smith was referring to when he said his farm is “definitely not a pumpkin farm.”
The six-acre plot of land used to be cultivated to harvest strawberries, until Smith became too busy in his career as a scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After getting his graduate degree in Wildlife Ecology from Yale University he began travelling extensively to Oxford University, the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Russia, South Siberia, Spain and Austria.
In those days, the pumpkins fields were a perfect retreat for him. “I had a really exciting career, but goodbye strawberries because a lot of this came in June and July,” said Smith. “So this was a neat hobby for me to escape speeches, writing manuscripts for scientific journals. This was fun for me, sit on a tractor, plow the ground, watch a little seed germinate and we ran it as hobby.”
His plan always was to have the hobby when he retired. He reminisced that he used to say, ”someday I’ll retire and I’ll have established friendships with customers.
“They’re going to keep coming, their kids are going to come,” he remembered. “This was my plan. If you treat people right and give them the atmosphere…they’ll enjoy it.”
The result of this hobby is the farm people come to visit today. Pumpkins replaced the strawberries, the hobby grew into a business and a gift shop was added.
Smith and his late wife, Diane, decided to incorporate the gift shop into the business to be able to stay open later into the season. The building, from the 1800, was saved from destruction near Oakdale Theater. When he saw the building, within inches of being bulldozed, he told the construction workers, “it’s a sweet little building, it shouldn’t be crushed.”
With the help of some good friends and good advice, Smith transported the building to its current location and had it mounted on a rock foundation he built himself from rocks collected in Chester. There is an addition, which was added by the 18th Century Company. “I wanted it to match the architecture and the look” of the main building.
Now, after all these years, the small, country farm feeling permeates Strawberry Hollow Farm. Smith proudly states, “We’re small. People come here because we have different things. We’ve got the look. Nobody can have what we have here. The little country atmosphere, the country charm.”
The Faggio family agrees. Michelle and Peter, along with their two daughters, four year old Julianna and 10 year old Jacqueline, have been coming from Durham for the last 10 years to find just the right pumpkin.
“It’s a tradition,” said Michelle. “The ambiance, it just seems so picture perfect fall.”
IF YOU GO:
Strawberry Hollow Farm
2171 Boston Post Rd
Guilford, Connecticut 06437
OPEN: Monday - Friday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.