Murphy visits Durham’s Deerfield Farm as part of CT walking tour

Middletown Press

 U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy perhaps enjoyed one of his periodic walks across the state a little too much Wednesday: He was so engrossed in conversations he struck up with people along the way that he missed his stop.

"I figured I'd get a few more miles under my belt," said Murphy, D-Conn., as he showed up five minutes late to his tour of Deerfield Farm.

The senator had passed the farm an hour before. "I blew past here - it was a fast day," Murphy said, as the temperature reached 90 degrees.

"It's iconic. It's beautiful," he told owner Melynda Naples, who has run the dairy business for 15 years on 60 acres of town-owned land at 337 Parmelee Hill Road, off Route 68.

Naples was 21 when she took over.

The endeavor began as a family 4-H project and hobby 34 years ago.

With 40 Jersey cows, Deerfield is well-known for its tiny on-site shop, which sells fresh whole milk, yogurt, gelato, and ricotta and soft cheeses on the honor system direct to consumers.

Naples makes all her profits from the farm store, where she sells raw milk for $9 a gallon, along with pasteurized chocolate milk, which has sugar in it rather than high-fructose corn syrup.

Nothing is sent to farm co-ops, she said. "I don't want to get any bigger. This keeps me plenty busy. We like to stay sustainable for the size of land we have," she told Murphy.

Between 15 and 50 customers show up daily to purchase her dairy goods between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

"People seek out this type of product, especially the raw milk (which is difficult to find in stores). A lot of them are very educated customers who sometimes know more about nutrition and the milk than I do. Some of them have taught me stuff.

"They do so much research. They're very in tune with what they're putting into their bodies," said Naples, a founding member of the Durham Farmers Market.

Naples controls the price of her products, which means what she charges for milk and cheese isn't controlled by the federal government. That model contributes significantly to her success in a tough business.

"Running any small business in agriculture, the costs are so high and the return is so low, but I have more control," she explained.

Three-hundred-year-old family-run Brookfield Farm, about 2 miles away on Route 68, was forced to close a year ago due to falling milk prices.

"People have a lot of emotional attachment to the farm," said First Selectman Laura Francis, who told Murphy the town is working with the Greenbacker family "to find the highest, best use of the property.

"A lot of it has been protected with development rights" through the state, she said.

Dairy farming days are long ones. Naples typically works a 12-hour shift, seven days a week, rising at 6 a.m. to machine milk her cows. She'll spend the rest of her work time bottling milk for the cooler, making cheeses, and then milking the cows again before quitting for the evening.

Naples has set up cameras in the farm store, and the barn, so she can check in on cows ready to calve from the comfort of her house.

Increasingly, she gets help from her two daughters, 11 and 12, her boyfriend, and students in the Middlesex County 4-H program.

Naples is toying with the idea of beginning to sell chicken. Presently, she raises poultry at home, and is looking into the possibility of getting the birds inspected by the state.

Before the senator's arrival, state Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, spoke to Naples about a farm in Killingworth that became the fourth in the state to apply for a license to sell hemp.

Under a new Connecticut law, anyone who plans to manufacture hemp products for consumption — such as food products, lotions or oils — must obtain a license from the state Department of Agriculture. Its passage paved the way for farms of all sizes to turn plots of land into hemp-growing fields.

Earlier Wednesday, Murphy passed the home of a woman on Route 79 who shared a "heartbreaking personal story" of the trials she's overcome. "She's a very strong lady, with very strong opinions, in a situation she never thought she'd find herself in.

"You meet people like that — struggling, but with a smile. It gives you perspective," he said.

The senator launched his walking tours in 2016. This week, his periodic trek began in New Milford. He expects to travel 100 miles on foot this year, ending in the Groton village of Noank at a date to be determined.