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Still River Farm, Coventry

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Yes, you can get local grain. In fact it is the only place we know of in CT that is growing grain for you...and it's right here in Coventry

“Amber waves of grain” makes us think of wide open expanses somewhere in the middle of the country gently rolling in time with whispers of wind. Though if you pay attention, you can also find this in our Northeast Corner where Andy Dappollonio of Still River Farm raises wheat, rye, cornmeal and einkorn in Coventry on hidden away plots of land that stand apart from the hay and corn fields that fill the gaps between houses.

His home is a beautifully renovated house from the 1700s that was of course, renovated by Andy. As you come into the manicured drive, you wouldn’t expect that this is the home base of any farm operation, but as you observe the trees, you notice that many of them are toting apples, and to the right, a greenhouse that has been converted to a grain processing workshop where the product is hulled, dried, stored, and all the machines get their tuning. Turn the corner around the garage and there is an avenue of tractor implements of various sizes and machines adapted from large containers to dry and aerate grain.

For years, Andy worked hard as a firefighter and paramedic with the Town of Manchester, dabbling here and there in growing different things. When he retired from the work, he started working at Heckler’s Dairy- one of the region’s farms that provides milk for Cabot products. When he wasn’t at the dairy helping the farm operation there, he made cider from the aforementioned apples trees, grew hundreds of greenhouse raspberries for customers in the area, and even tried his hand at organic vegetables. But it was the grains that stuck.

One day he saw a used combine for sale on a CT listserv, and that’s when he made the move to grains. Asking the Heckler family for the use of 2 acres they owned behind his house, that was typically used for cattle feed, he tilled and turned the soil preparing for his first go.

It must have worked out because he now has a combined 24 acres in production of his various grains on leased and donated land throughout town. Each year he works to fine tune the process, trying new varieties (like the Einkorn he will finally begin to harvest this year), and new machines that help sort and dry the grain to ensure his product is pristine. And there are a lot of machines needed for this sorting and drying process, which is why he has learned to become a mechanic over the years as well. Some of his tools and tractors date back to the 1940s, other newer machines he’s been able to purchase through grants. Others he’s created on his own using new and spare parts to accommodate what he needs.

It’s hard to keep track of the names of each machine and what rolls they play in the process. Here one machine sorts the grain and makes sure renegade oats don’t sneak in with the rye. Over there is a contraption that removes the chaff from the grains to make sure the final milled product is smooth. And of course, more ways of drying and removing moisture. Any residual moisture in the grain when it’s stored away will easily lend itself to mold and unwanted bacteria, so it sometimes spends weeks to make sure it’s properly dried. And when all his machines have done their work, it’s time to take the grains down to the mill in Rhode Island where they are turned into the flour that you can use.

Andy takes me to a field at the Hale Homestead, right by where the farmers market convenes each week. A field of Fredrick Wheat looks like it has been lightly toasted by the sun and when he reaches for one of the seed heads it gives easily in his hands. With a quick rubbing between his palms, he loosens the grain from its hull and provides a small pale wheat berry. He gives it to me and tells me that when it’s crunchy, and doesn’t mush in your teeth, it’s ready for harvest. This wheat variety, traditionally used for making pastry, is almost ready for him to gather.

Andy himself is a soft-spoken man, with a ready smile. We talk about the differences in the types of farming he’s done and when it comes to wheat, it is truly a labor of love. As opposed to vegetable growing where you can harvest multiple times in a season and have more variety on an acre, there is mostly just one crop and one harvest for our region. That means that per acre, the profit can be around $300, as opposed to the potential $30,000 that a well tended farm can make from vegetables. But he doesn’t do it for the money. Certainly he can’t compete with the affordability of Pillsbury or King Arthur flour, so right now, he sells to a select few that buy directly from him in bulk, or to the Willimantic and Fiddleheads Coop, where customers can buy amounts they need.

Andy may be the only person growing grain in the state for baking and cooking. Yes, there are other grains being produced, but they aren’t what you can use for your everyday meals. Andy provides what goes into your morning pancakes, rustic sourdough, or hearty stew of chicken and dumplings. The cornerstone and comfort of many of our diets is what he is growing in his fields. And he plans to keep growing the grains, as long as there are people for him to share them with.

Want to buy Andy's grain/flour or learn more? Check out his website here:

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