What Major Projects We're Working On and Why
The Friends are working to preserve the fertile, ecologically diverse and historic Hilltop Farm, including its soils, native plants, wildlife and buildings.
The National Park Service recognized the farm’s historic significance by listing it in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
With almost 2500 feet of Connecticut River frontage; 71 acres of woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, cropland, and grazing land; nesting American bald eagles; 10 buildings and thousands of feet of fencing, the farm requires much oversight and maintenance.
Exciting projects are currently underway to revitalize the property and create the infrastructure needed for an educational center:
Award-winning photo by Ray Pioggia.
Farm Stand and Ice Creamery
In 2013 The Friends began work renovating part of the lower level of the big white barn as a three season farm stand and creamery.
Finally in June 2022, the creamery opened to a steady stream of customers.
The original creamery.
The farm stand will sell products from Hilltop and nearby farms. In addition to herbs, sunflowers, honey, berries and other products that can be grown on the property, we plan to sell dried herbs, soup and dip mixes; jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, and honey; apple cider and apple cider vinegar. We also expect to offer crafts created by local artisans.
Next year we plan on serving gelato made at Hilltop Farm, using milk and cream purchased from local farms. In addition to favorite flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, the creamery will feature flavors from seasonal fruit. Guests will be able to enjoy their treats at outdoor tables overlooking a children’s play area and the agricultural fields of Suffield.
Restoration of the Chicken Coop
Restoration and completed project photos of the chicken coop by Ray Pioggia.
During the summer of 2020 we undertook the restoration of the Hilltop Farm chicken coop, which was in poor condition.
We rebuilt the roof, eaves, sills and doors. Our former Board President, Tom Wardell - now deceased - had years of experience repairing old structures to their original glory. He restored nine of the windows. For 15 others that were too deteriorated, he replaced their wooden sashes and glazed in the original glass.
We repainted the entire exterior.
The project was overseen by Vice President Ray Wilcox.
Past Projects - after 2015
Hilltop Farm Sign
If you have driven past Hilltop Farm recently you may have seen our new sign in the front pasture. Sign Factory in Enfield created the sign and installed it at the very end of 2015.
At first, the sign was somewhat obscured by the fence line. We've angled back he fence so now the sign is more visible.
Photo by Diane Christian.
Fire Safety Provisions
In 2021, we completed the installation of a $280,000 fire suppression system on both levels of the large white barn.
During the summer of 2015 Connecticut Water Company installed two new water mains and a fire hydrant at the farmstead. This provides sufficient water pressure to support the installation of an automatic fire sprinkler system.
The first phase of the sprinkler
system installation was completed by Red Hawk Fire & Security, with the installation of the "brains" of the fire sprinkler system in the sub-basement of the creamery. Design work was finalized on the "distribution" phase of the work which involved the installation of pipes and sprinkler heads along the rafters of the main level of the barn as well as along the ceilings of the lower level of the barn.
Building and fire codes mandated that this project allow full use of the barn.
We earmarked funds and received additional monies for this major initiative.
New fire escape dedicated in 2011.
As part of our mission, we are establishing a fruit orchard on the property. The orchard will consist of approximately 40 apple trees, blueberry bushes and heirloom raspberry plants. It will be in an area where the raspberries have been growing for decades and there is evidence that apple trees were also once grown there. The orchard will be established as a “guild” community and maintained as organically and environmentally responsibly as possible, following the system outlined by Michael Phillips in his book, “The Holistic Orchard.”
The orchard will benefit people by providing nutritious fruit grown without chemicals. It will benefit the environment by not using poisons and by providing a habitat that will nurture native species such as birds, amphibians, reptiles and beneficial insects.
The site on the property was chosen for the following reasons: plenty of sun, protected from north winds by evergreen trees, raspberry plants already growing there, flat and easy to access by workers but secluded, already surrounded by many native and wildlife friendly plants. The area had been neglected for decades and was very overgrown with vines, small trees and weeds. There were remnants of old sheds, piles of firewood and logs and other debris around.
We started clearing the area in the spring of 2016. We had the large maple trees that were growing against the back of the chicken coop removed and with only volunteers and a small bulldozer, were able to clear approximately 85% of the area.
Past Projects - before 2015
Farm House Restoration
In 2014 the Town of Suffield secured a $250,000 grant though the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) to help The Friends restore two of the farm houses on the farmstead.
The Herdsmans House - before.
Restoring houses is not exactly the same as renovating them. The intent of the grant is that the Herdsmans house and Administrators house be restored as closely as possible to their original condition circa 1913.
Both houses have had their roofs replaced and their chimneys repaired. The 100 year old windows in the Herdsmans house have each been painstakingly restored. Damaged siding has been replaced and both houses have been scraped and painted.
The Herdsmans House - after.
Now the focus moves indoors where plaster walls will be repaired, hardwood floors and trim refinished, and the original cast iron steam radiators are being cleaned and put back into service.
Plans are to have work on the Herdsmans house completed this summer. The Administrators house will take a little longer.
Wetlands Mitigation & Enhancement Project
Because Northeast Utilities’ (NU) Greater Springfield Reliability Project disturbed existing wetlands, it was required to offset the environmental impact by enhancing other wetlands.
In 2010 an agreement was signed by the Town of Suffield, The Friends, and Connecticut Light & Power (now
Boardwalk over the wetlands.
Eversource), for removal of invasive species and planting of wetland buffers at the farm.
Wetlands area 11.
Approximately 1.8 acres of new forested/shrub swamp and emergent wetland have been constructed next to existing wetlands.
Also included in the mitigation plan were 12.5 acres
of wetland enhancement and invasive species removal, and 4.9 acres of wetland
buffer enhancement along the present pond, stream, and wetland meadow.
Wetlands area 12-13-14.
Wildlife Habitat Improvement
In 2008 FOFAH signed a 10-year Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) contract with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The $19,109 contract provides funding to remove invasive vegetation, and mow and plant flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees in a 2-acre pasture area. This will provide an attractive habitat for a variety of wildlife, including birds.
We also removed invasives and moved fences in a 4.5-acre wetlands area to keep grazing animals away from the pond and stream to prevent them from fouling the waterways.
This project supported the findings of a 2002 Connecticut Environmental Review Team Report, which complimented the farm’s groundwater quality, soil fertility and ecological diversity.
Two composting toilets with washstands have been installed at Hilltop Farm, one in the manure shed in front of the chicken coop, and the second, a solar powered unit, in the town open space near the livestock barns. Having a toilet available will allow visitors to spend more time enjoying the community gardens and the wetlands trail.
evaporation and odor-free aerobic decomposition. The resulting compost will be used in a separate demonstration garden.
Composting toilets are consistent with Hilltop Farm’s goals of promoting agriculture, conservation, and preservation. They use very little water, no sewage is released into the environment, and they produce nutrient rich compost. The composting toilets have also reduced Hilltops dependence on chemical toilets. The composting toilet project was made possible by grants from the Amiel P. Zak Public Service Fund at
These toilets are a long way from the “pit” toilets you might be familiar with. To the user, these look like a regular bathroom with an ordinary commode. The magic takes place underneath, where a patented rotating drum mechanism mixes waste with other organic material, microbes, enzymes and fresh air to enable
the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the J. Gladwin Cannon Trust.