A 260-year-old white clapboard-sided colonial farmhouse on a verdant 3-acre property is home to On The Way Farm, belonging to Jill Anderson, who grew up in Bethel.
Anderson responds to direct messages to the farm’s Facebook or Instagram accounts but only after she has tended her gardens, made sure the chickens are fed and cared for, and completed the various other chores required to run the nonprofit farm.
Anderson grows organic fruits and vegetables outdoors and in a soon-to-be year-round greenhouse on the property she and her husband Mike Deems, who died two years ago, bought from her mother in 2012.
She also takes care of animals that sometimes unexpectedly come under her purview. This past spring for example, someone asked her to mind their baby goslings and she obliged. She can also be found in the kitchen cooking one meal a day with something she grew, making yogurt and cheese from scratch with the raw milk she buys at nearby farms (like Nature View Farm, in Bridgewater) and pickling vegetables from her abundant harvests that haven’t sold at the farmstand.
Along with growing produce in an organic, pesticide-free, sustainable way, Anderson carries on an important tradition she and Deems established from the beginning of their farming endeavor in 2013. They wanted to share a spirit of community-mindedness with their Bethel neighbors, friends, and visitors.
Jen welcomes anyone who is curious to learn about everything that goes into raising fruits and vegetables and cooking great meals and does her part in educating kids and young people on what it means to think and grow local.
So instead of sending a DM or email, consider dropping by (except on Mondays). This is a much more productive way of learning about how Anderson spends her days. It is not uncommon for parents with children to stop by and see what’s going on there and she likes it that way.
“Kids can be very comfortable here. They have an interest in the outdoors but might not have the financial means to go to a more, affluent farm. I leave sidewalk chalk on the driveway. I leave flowers for the children to bring to their parents. If a five-year-old comes here and wants to pick a pink flower and somebody that is staying at an AirBnb has come by, I’ll leave the traveler and help the five-year-old. That’s what I love."
This open-door policy suits Anderson. At times she’s received help in running things from volunteers, neighbors, friends, and interns. The farm has become a staple in the community and recently has applied for and been given nonprofit status.
“Created with the help of a lot of folks” M&J On The Way Farm awarded a $1000 scholarship to Skye Parsell at the Bethel High School Awards ceremony on May 23.
The annual college scholarship is awarded to graduating seniors planning to major in agriculture or livestock studies.
“Skye had a stellar high school career including hours of volunteer service and four years of softball and junior ROTC,” Anderson said. Her college major will be biology and environmental studies at Central Connecticut State University this fall and Anderson said M&J On the Way Farm is, “delighted to help support her.” M&J On The Way Farm aims to provide educational classes and workshops on sustainable and organic farming, farm-related skills, and food cultivation to benefit the community here in Bethel and the surrounding areas.
The farm is open year-round. While Anderson posted that winter, “is our time to rest, regroup, sleep in, meet a friend for lunch etc.,” on Instagram in February, she still wakes up early to tend to her animals and greenhouse plants even on winter’s coldest days.
If you stop by on a fall day, you will likely learn something about the sweet side of farming and may even get to try their “fancy maple syrup.”
Anderson is currently growing 19 varieties of tomatoes. Vegetables grown this season include heirloom tomatoes, peppers, celery, zucchini, onions, kale, cucumbers, garlic, potatoes, fresh flowers, squashes, chicken, and duck eggs.
Before moving back to Bethel, Anderson had a diverse career that included farming for Rosemary’s, managing their 40-acre parcel in Hopewell Junction, NY for their West Village establishment. The restaurant is a Village staple for seasonal salads, handmade pastas, and a rooftop garden and view overlooking Jefferson Market Garden, according to the eatery.
“One of the goals my husband and I had is to start the nonprofit. My husband was into sports and I always worked outside and played sports. In high school, I had tons of scholarships. I wanted to be able to offer something to kids that fell in the fray,” she said.
Anderson and Deems moved to the farm from Chatham, NY where Deams worked on a farm. After they started their farm in 2013, there was a refinancing and the mortgage company said it couldn’t be a farm, though Connecticut approved a farm, so the couple shifted gears, Anderson said, and put the focus on the community.
Each of them worked in their respective careers for other property owners. “He was getting older and I was working ridiculous hours. We focused on Bethel. I grew up here. I didn’t want to get caught up in social media, the hashtags, and networking…so many of our people want to keep Bethel the way it was. They really thrive on being able to come here and get what they want. I have a really good customer support basis,” she said.
While they considered reframing the barn, friends urged them to just leave it so the home retains the same familiar look it had when Anderson and her family lived there growing up.
“My dad was a plumber in town and pretty well known. My grandfather was head of the water department and we always had a huge garden,” she recounted.
Anderson didn’t complete college but rather worked her way up in jobs that include gardener for a botanical garden in Georgia, a property owner in Pawling, NY, as well as a Greenwich Village restaurateur at their garden to supply fresh produce for the restaurant.
Anderson met Deems in Pawling where they worked together. Their work involved creating a native garden at the site.
“The property was split in north and south. I was a gardener for the north garden and (Mike Deams) was a gardener for the south garden. I learned from old-timers and my parents and my siblings, and my husband was older and he grew up that way. I always really enjoyed it and all my horticultural jobs and never had the funding for a vegetable garden. I always did it for my jobs,” Anderson said.
The collective process of growing, food preparation, and sharing these projects with others brings people together. “There’s somebody that likes getting vegetables, likes to cook, or garden,” Anderson said.
On the Way’s farmstand has been running since the beginning. Vegetables are sold there from June to October. A commercial kitchen is where she makes jellies, jams, hot sauces, and breads. Hot sauce is a staple seller. “We expanded from the hot sauce. I offer five different jellies. I make them from what’s in season. I've done pretty well. The house has always been an open door. When I was growing up people would pop in to say hi.”
It’s the same today. “People see me working and stop in. Our goal after moving and living in other places was we wanted to keep it the way it was. So many people come. The house is relatively the same. It gives people a sense of security because it has not changed.”
People are very intimidated when they see a vegetable in (a magazine) and don’t cook it because they need 17 ingredients to make the vegetable and don’t have the perfect recipe to make it look like that. That was a huge deal to my husband.”
Among ways Anderson shares her love of cooking is in the fundraiser she started last year. On The Way Farm is hosted the 2nd Annual TOMATOPALOOZA! In August.
“We produce the entire meal with produce grown here. A local band with high school student musicians performed,” said Anderson.
For more information about On the Way Farm visit www.onthewayfarm.com/non-profit