Day-tripping: Fort Hill Farms welcomes visitors

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Mon., Aug. 19, 2013
This peacock enjoyed watermelon weekend at Fort Hill Farms.
This peacock enjoyed Watermelon Weekend at Fort Hill Farms. Photos by D. Coffey.

Weeping white pine and Norway spruce practically drape themselves over the wooden rail fence in front of the 1,200 acres of Fort Hill Farms in Thompson. The farm is owned by Peter and Kristin Orr. Theirs is one of six Connecticut family-owned dairies that make up The Farmers Cow. The partnership provides locally-produced milk, cream, ice cream, eggs and seasonal beverages. But while Fort Hill Farms has a working herd of more than 200 dairy cattle, theirs is a farm that celebrates all things agriculture. And they welcome people to the land spring through fall.

Kristin Orr drove an E-Z-Go Workhorse between the corn maze, labyrinth and ice cream shop on Aug. 17. It was Watermelon Weekend at the farm, and she kept busy selling tickets, scooping ice cream, and answering questions about the labyrinth that was recently carved into an acre of corn. “It's a metaphor for life,” Orr said. “You go in and find the center. It's a powerful energy generator.”

This past weekend it was also a display for more than 20 watermelons carved up by Todd Desautels and Angela Faneuf. The two sat at a picnic table carving watermelons with ribbon and speedball tools, exacto and paring knives. Rinds turned to faces and flowers, turtles and tractors under their hands. A large display of their work waited for those who made the 20-minute walk to the center of the labyrinth.

According to Orr, theirs is the only labyrinth in the area. A woman from Denmark recently stopped to walk it. “You can go to Chartres, or you can go to Thompson,” Orr said with a laugh. 

The corn maze is something entirely different. Carved into six acres, the maze is part pathway and part adventure game played out in a design that features a cow with a watering can. Hospitality manager Keith Padin said the maze was more than a game, however. “We're losing farmland way too fast,” he said. “We're using these 6 and a half acres to teach people that we have to stop.”

That agricultural advocacy is in keeping with the mission of the Orrs and The Farmers Cow. A small shop sells the premium ice cream made from class 1 milk. Gunnysacks of lavender, bath salts, honey, coffee and lip balm are for sale. A refrigerator carries a line of Farmers Cow products such as milk, eggs and beverages. And a talking cow waxes eloquent on topics such as milk, cows, the history of the farm and the corn maze. Outside, a 4-foot-tall display lets kids (and adults) test themselves on their bee expertise.

Fort Hill Farms bills itself as a three-season destination. Special events include a Blueberries and Bluegrass Festival, a Watermelon Festival, the annual corn maze adventure, and harvest events that often include hay wagon rides. Kids can look at calves in the calf barn, though they cannot feed or pet the animals. They can mine for gems and fossils using a screen bottom box and sluice. And they can see some horses in pasture, barnyard hens and an irridescent peacock.

It is also home to Quintessential Gardens, a collection of more than 70 display gardens that Orr spent 20 years cultivating. She'd plant and garden while Peter worked at Pfizer for 20 years. They met at a soils class at the University of Connecticut. “He's in charge of construction and destruction,” Orr said. “I'm the Chief Inspirational Officer.” The greenhouses that Peter built and the flowers that Kristin planted now cover acres of ground. Black-eyed Susans and perennial sunflowers share space with ornamental grasses and fall blooming asters. Blueberry bushes, thyme gardens, Martha Washington plum geraniums, witchhazel and winterberry are just some of the specimens on view. “It's just beautiful in the summer,” Orr said. “It's when we shine.”

The real draw, besides the amazing beauty of the place, is the ice cream. Flavors change with the season. Last weekend they sold Heifer Nutter Peanut Butter, Up Late Expresso, Summer Meadow Strawberry and Farmland Crunch, as well as 22 other flavors. Hannah Archambault came from Dayville for a taste test. Her Black Raspberry Moo Chocolate Chip was the perfect choice. “It tastes like someone took a raspberry and dipped it in chocolate,” she said. 

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