In honor of the return of The Big E on September 15, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (CT Grown) is announcing a special prize giveaway running throughout the duration of New England’s favorite fair. 

CT Grown’s Big E Giveaway features prizes totaling $500 in value — all featuring CT Grown products from farms throughout Connecticut. Prizes include:

To become eligible for the prize drawing, all you have to do is sign up to receive the CT Grown monthly newsletter between September 15 and October 1, 2023.

The CT Grown newsletter is a free publication sent to your inbox every month and is a great resource to learn more about what’s fresh from Connecticut’s amazing agriculture and aquaculture producers. Every month, we feature compelling stories, important updates, and family fun events around the state. 

Featured CT Grown exhibitors

Fairgoers can see more than 15 CT Grown farm businesses at this year’s Big E. Scheduled exhibitors include:

Thirteen farm wineries from Connecticut Wine Country will also be at the fair offering samples of reds, whites, roses, and “frose” – frozen wine slushies.

About the Big E

The Big E is an annual fair held at the Eastern States Exhibition in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and celebrates New England’s rich agricultural heritage — showcasing a blend of entertainment, culture, and the agricultural elements that have defined the region for generations.

At the center of The Big E is a deep-rooted commitment to agriculture, reflecting the importance of farming in the history and economy of the New England states. The event serves as a spectacular showcase of the region’s finest agricultural products, livestock, and agricultural practices —  allowing visitors to learn, engage, and immerse themselves in the world of farming.

One of the most anticipated aspects of The Big E is the signature Avenue of States, where each of the six New England states has its own state house that embodies its distinct culture, history, and agricultural heritage. These state houses are more than just buildings; they are a window into the spirit of each state. Inside the state houses, visitors are treated to a sensory journey. From traditional crafts and iconic food offerings to historical exhibits and live performances, each state’s unique character comes alive.

CT Grown invites all Big E attendees to stop into the Connecticut building to sample the prizes being offered in the Big E Giveaway along with many other CT Grown farm products and items from Connecticut’s agriculture and aquaculture producers.

Getting some CT Grown products into your daily diet is easier than you might think. Here are 10 ways you can include CT Grown on your plate each day.

1. Look local for your morning eggs

If you like to cook up an omelet to get you going in the morning, take a look around your neighborhood to see where you might be able to pick up some fresh eggs. Many farms keep small flocks of chickens, and offer eggs at their farm store. Connecticut also has several large egg producers, selling products under brands like Eggland’s Best, The Farmers Cow, and Hillandale Farms. 

2. Sign up for a dairy delivery

Several Connecticut dairy farms are working to bring the milkman back to our neighborhoods. You can find options for delivery services that bring fresh supplies of milk, yogurt, and cheese right to your doorstep. Some farms pair this offering with other CT Grown products, making it even easier to get your groceries and support your local farmers.

3. Pack a CT Grown apple for lunch

More than 2,000 acres in Connecticut are dedicated to growing apples, and bountiful harvests of this fruit are readily available from July to October. Visit an orchard to pick your own apples, then pack an apple with your lunch each day. Since apples store well, you can continue to find fresh apples from orchards throughout the winter and into the early spring.

4. Look for locally sourced items at your favorite restaurant

Several restaurants in Connecticut commit to partnerships with local farms to acquire seasonal items and staples such as dairy, meats, and shellfish. When local food is on the menu, you can enjoy fresh, seasonal items and discover delicious new varieties and cuts. 

Be sure to check out CT Farm-to-Chef Week from September 9-16, 2023. This annual occasion showcases venues that use CT Grown food for their dishes and beverages, giving you a chance to discover new eateries with a farm-to-table commitment.

5. Find CT Grown when grocery shopping

Connecticut farms often partner with wholesalers and retailers to make their products available at local grocery stores and food co-ops. Look for the CT Grown logo to find food items that are produced locally. Some stores also feature special displays to showcase value-added products from Connecticut producers, such as honey, sauces, maple syrup, and salsas.

6. Make a local farm your meat market

Connecticut farms raise a wide variety of meats, including beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and even specialty items like bison and emu. A visit to one of these farms not only lets you discover new cuts, but also gives you the option to purchase large shares of meat to freeze for future meals. 

7. Stock up on local wines

Connecticut is home to 45 licensed farm wineries featuring scenic vineyards and beautiful tasting rooms. In addition to picking up local options when shopping for wine, you can also sign up for a membership, wine club, or Adopt-A-Vine program that lets you regularly pick up new vintages or enjoy discounts when you visit a winery. 

8. Use pick-your-own for your baking needs

Pick-your-own farms give you a chance to get out in the fields and orchards to select fresh seasonal items like apples, berries, peaches, pears, and pumpkins. Farms invite visitors to purchase these products in bulk, and you can put these larger quantities to good use with mouthwatering baking options like pies, breads, and muffins that use locally sourced ingredients.

9. Become a regular at the farmers’ market

By visiting a farmers’ market each week for some of your grocery shopping, you can discover new varieties of produce, custom cuts of meat, homemade sauces and jams, and much more. You can also talk directly with local farmers to get advice on how to best prepare and store your food. 

10. Start researching CSAs now

Many farms participate in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, where you purchase a portion of a farm’s harvest in advance and regularly pick up shares of fresh produce during the growing season; CSAs are also available for products like flowers, meat, and cheese. Farmers begin welcoming sign-ups for CSA programs at the beginning of the year, but you can start looking into options near you to find one that fits your needs. 

For more than two centuries, agricultural fairs have offered a way for Connecticut residents to connect with their local farms and find some weekend entertainment. This tradition is still going strong today, with fairs starting in midsummer and continuing well into the fall. 

Agricultural fairs originally started as a way for farmers to showcase their livestock, harvested crops, and baked goods. While fairs have grown to include a wide range of other entertainment, from live music and food vendors to carnival rides and games, agricultural displays continue to be at the heart of these events. They offer a way for visitors to learn more about their local farms, see what agricultural products are grown and raised in Connecticut, enjoy some CT Grown treats, and take home some locally produced food. For farmers, fairs are a great way to meet with one another and with visitors, and to showcase their expertise.

Here’s a look at the different fairs that take place in Connecticut each year, and some of the ways you can learn more about local agriculture in a fun-filled environment.

Types of agricultural fair

Country fairs: Most country fairs in Connecticut have become mainstays in the community, dating back decades if not centuries. These fairs usually take place over several days, offering a full schedule of agricultural contests and shows alongside other entertainment. They are sometimes put together by local community organizations, or to raise funds for a certain purpose. 

4-H fairs: 4-H is a youth development program overseen by the University of Connecticut Extension. What makes these fairs unique is that they are organized by their young members to showcase local agriculture. 

Grange fairs: The Grange was originally founded as an agricultural advocacy group. While it has evolved to address the needs of non-farm families and a wide range of community needs, agriculture continues to be an important theme in many of its events and activities. Grange fairs are organized by local granges and are single-day events. 

Learning at the fair

Agricultural fairs often set up demonstrations to show farm work in action. For example, farmers may show how to milk cows or shear sheep, or set up a hatchery so you can watch chicks emerge from eggs.

Fairs may schedule presentations on topics such as farming, food preparation, and garden care. There are also educational events aimed at children to strengthen their awareness of where their food comes from and how it is produced.

Like a farmers’ market, an agricultural fair offers you the opportunity to meet and interact with Connecticut’s farmers and agricultural producers. You can pick up useful information on how to properly store produce to make it last longer, including methods such as canning, pickling, or creating value-added foods; what nutritional benefits you can find in different types of food; how to create recipes that can incorporate CT Grown products; how farm animals are cared for; and what practices farmers use when raising their crops.

Fairgrounds may include museums that showcase agricultural history, including displays of antique equipment and information on a region’s farming history. These museums offer an interesting glimpse into how farming has influenced Connecticut, and how it continues to evolve.

Shows and contests

The wide range of shows and contests at Connecticut agricultural fairs offer enduring appeal, inviting farmers and the general public alike to demonstrate their skill at raising products and using them in recipes. Competitions include both children’s and adult divisions, and pick out winners in categories such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, sauces, preserves, syrups, baked goods, fiber products, and flower arrangements. The contests have grown to include a variety of non-agricultural products as well, such as sewn goods and photography. 

Judges consider a set of unique characteristics for each category. For example, preserves are judged not only for their flavor, but also for factors like their color, clarity, texture, and presentation. Vegetable contests take qualities like size, shape, color, presentation, and arrangement into consideration.

Animal exhibitions and shows are a popular component of agricultural fairs, as they let visitors see these creatures up close and in action. Commonly featured animals include cows, goats, chicken, sheep, swine, rabbits, and horses.

Fairs set rules to ensure that animals are in good health and properly cared for, and competitions are based on factors like breed, age, and weight class. There are also several contests demonstrating the strength of farm animals such as oxen or horses.

Offbeat fun

Fair organizers love to come up with quirky contests and encourage visitors to take part. One attraction that’s been growing in popularity in recent years is “vegetable racing.” Similar to pinewood derby competitions, vegetable racing has participants pick out a locally grown vegetable, add wheels and other modifications, and try to get the fastest time down a curved track.

Giant vegetables have long been a favorite feature of agricultural fairs, with awards given to farmers who are able to tip the scales with the heaviest pumpkins, tomatoes, gourds, watermelons, and more. While it’s obviously impractical to bring such giant specimens to market, they’re still an impressive demonstration of how Connecticut farmers have the knowledge to sow, tend, and harvest their crops.

Other events that can be found at Connecticut’s agricultural fairs include obstacle courses for livestock, corn shucking contests, racing pigs, and hay bale throwing competitions.

Upcoming fairs

A full list of upcoming agricultural fairs in Connecticut can be found on the CT Grown calendar, or on the Association of Connecticut Fairs website. This organization also offers season passes allowing the holder and one guest to get into all participating events during the year’s fair season.

Selections of fresh agricultural products under sunny skies. Cool summer breezes as you peruse a selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The people who grew the food right there before you, happy to answer any questions you may have. And a few extra surprises to discover, like a local musician performing nearby or the local library setting up a children’s craft.

These are just some of the ways farmers’ markets work to make getting your food an experience, not just an errand. 

We previously discussed how CT Grown farmers’ markets offer a terrific opportunity to find new products, learn from local farmers, and find great deals on fresh, nutritious, locally grown food. They’re also a great way to connect with your community. Not only can you meet your local farmers, but also artisans, musicians, and representatives from nonprofit organizations. 

Farmers’ markets are often held in venues that open the door to further exploration, such as beautiful parks or downtown areas that let you visit Main Street businesses. Purchases at a farmers’ market help keep your money close by, which strengthens the local economy overall.

Discover Connecticut farmers’ markets

Each farmers’ market has its own unique appeal, but this brief guide offers an overview of some of this year’s farmers’ markets in Connecticut and how they can be a destination for you and your family:

CitySeed Farmers Markets: CitySeed hosts farmers’ markets at locations throughout New Haven. You can explore the 123 acres of Edgewood Park while visiting the market there, or visit the heart of the city while stopping at the Wooster Square or Dixwell-Q House markets. Wednesdays, 3-6 p.m., through Oct. 25th at Dixwell-Q House; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., through Dec. 16th at Wooster Square; Sundays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., through Nov. 19th at Edgewood Park.

Danbury Farmers’ Market: This market holds regular nutrition workshops to ensure that you’re getting the healthiest meals out of the items you buy from local farmers, and visitors get two hours of complimentary parking at a nearby parking garage. The Danbury Farmers’ Market also has a ton of fun activities for families, including a veggie treasure hunt and a Family Fun Zone with crafts, games, and balloon twisting. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., through Oct. 28th.

Ellington Farmers’ Market: Each weekly market includes a different theme with special activities and demonstrations. Some upcoming events include a blueberry festival on July 15th, a “Zucchini 500” drag race on July 22nd, and an edible animal contest on Aug. 19th. Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., through Oct. 28th.

Litchfield Hills Farm-Fresh Market: This market regularly invites featured guests to share their talents and expertise with visitors. These guests have included chefs, musicians, artists, and nonprofit leaders. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., through Oct. 21st.

Monroe Farmers Market: Special events take place each month at this market, including a pickle festival on July 14th and a potato festival on Sept. 22nd. It also hosts a Hometown Table welcoming representatives from local nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations, as well as Market Minis programs for children that include scavenger hunts, planting projects, and the “Two-Bite Challenge” encouraging kids to try new fruits and vegetables. Fridays, 3-6 p.m., through Oct. 20th.

Niantic Farmers Market: In addition to a set of regular vendors, the Niantic Farmers Market welcomes a vibrant set of rotating guest vendors who bring new variety to the event every week. Each market also includes a featured food truck. Thursdays, 3-6 p.m., through Oct. 12th.

Old State House Farmers Market: The market at this historic site continues a tradition first established in 1643, when the General Court of Connecticut established a weekly market in Hartford. The market includes a free outdoor concert and the opportunity to visit the nearby Old State House, which features restored House and Senate chambers as well as a unique Museum of Curiosities. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., through Oct. 13th. 

Reservoir Community Farm Farmers Market: This urban farm in Bridgeport grows produce for the community and hosts a community garden network. The farmers’ market coincides with open volunteer hours and special events, including a garlic harvest on July 8th and urban gardening workshops on July 29th. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., through Oct. 28th.

Storrs Farmers Market: The first market of the month is celebrated with a special occasion, including a major market celebration in September. There is also a special Halloween-themed market at the end of October. Saturdays, 3-5 p.m., through Nov. 19th.

Walnut Beach Farmers Market: Connecticut’s only farmers’ market on the beach! Enjoy the beautiful seascape from the Walnut Beach Pavilion while perusing CT Grown items and listening to live music. Thursdays, 4-7 p.m., through Sept. 21st. 

For more farmers’ markets, visit the CT Grown calendar or this site, which includes all authorized redemption locations for eligible WIC and Senior participants in the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.

Each year, vendors’ tents begin to pop up at parks and town greens across Connecticut as outdoor farmers’ markets return. Some markets open as soon as early spring vegetables are available, and all of them are in operation by mid-summer.

Nearly every community in Connecticut is home to at least one farmers’ market, providing a weekly pop-up destination to discover fresh CT Grown fruits, vegetables, meats, honey, and other products. These markets typically run through October, and sometimes carry on year-round with indoor winter markets.

Farmers’ markets are a convenient, inviting option for getting fresh, nutritious, and locally produced food. By using the following tips, you can also make it a very cost-effective experience.

Planning your purchases — and making discoveries

Just like you wouldn’t go to a grocery store without a shopping list, you shouldn’t go to a farmers’ market without a plan. Review the CT Grown crop calendar to see what’s in season, then make a meal plan around the fresh produce you’ll be able to pick up. 

By preparing dishes with seasonal fruits and vegetables, you’ll be able to purchase the freshest possible produce. These fruits and vegetables carry higher levels of nutrients compared to out-of-season foods, which spend more time in transport and storage. 

Planning meals with in-season items allows you to pick up most — if not all — of the necessary ingredients at the farmers’ market. However, you should also allow some flexibility in your meal planning in case your preferred produce is not available, or if you find something new you want to try.

Learning from CT Grown farmers

One major benefit of attending a farmers’ market is the ability to talk directly to the farmers who produced the food for sale. They can answer any questions about the items they’re offering and share tips on how fruits and vegetables should be prepared. Some farmers take the extra step of providing recipes that use items available from their farm. 

Farmers’ markets often feature unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, or varieties that might not be available in stores. Farmers may offer samples of these goods so you can see if you’re interested in doing a full recipe with them. 

Farmers’ markets are also a great place to discover specialty items that you may not realize are produced in Connecticut. Some lesser known CT Grown products include kiwiberries, emu and bison meat, persimmons, chokeberries, horseradish, chicory, and watercress.

How farmers’ markets can save you money

One common misconception about farmers’ markets is that they are considerably more expensive than shopping at the grocery store, making them accessible only to higher income individuals. In fact, several studies have shown that farmers’ market prices are comparable to those at retail locations. Farmers may lower their prices if they have a larger than expected harvest, or if their transportation costs are lower because a market is located close to their farm.

Other ways farmers’ markets can save you money include:

Reduced food waste: Farmers’ markets give you more choice over how much of a particular product you want to buy. Instead of purchasing a large container of tomatoes and watching half of them rot away, you can select a smaller quantity and easily use it up. 

Longer lasting produce: Since the food you purchase at the farmers’ market has been harvested recently, it will last longer when stored properly. You can also look for “whole vegetables” — produce that hasn’t been trimmed back to improve its appearance — since they’ll have a longer shelf life.

Bulk purchases: Farmers’ markets offer the option of purchasing bulk quantities of a wide range of CT Grown goods. Farmers can also offer you tips on how to store, can, or freeze produce to keep it from going to waste.

Cash purchases: While smartphone apps are making it easier to accept credit cards, many farmers prefer to limit their farmers’ market transactions to cash only. This allows them to avoid paying a credit card fee, which in turn means the expense is not passed on to you.

Ugly produce: Plenty of fruits and vegetables don’t end up looking glamorous when they’re harvested, but are still perfectly good to eat. Since they’re less presentable, though, farmers are often willing to sell them at a discounted price. They’re also likely to cut prices on very ripe produce, which needs to be used as soon as possible, to keep it from going to waste.

End-of-day discounts: When the farmers’ market starts to wind down for the day, vendors may begin lowering prices to try to sell their last items. However, check the market rules first; some markets have rules prohibiting this practice, and haggling is also discouraged.

Using food assistance at the farmers’ market

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture strongly encourages people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to use them at farmers’ markets. Most markets accept these benefits, allowing them to be used for the purchase of fruits, vegetables, cut herbs, and honey. Some markets help these benefits go even further by doubling benefits for fruit and vegetable purchases.

The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) is a seasonal benefit allowing recipients to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh cut herbs, and eggs only at farmers’ markets. Seniors may also use benefits to purchase honey in addition to the other products listed. FMNP is open to all WIC participants as well as seniors over the age of 60 who meet income eligibility requirements.

This year, Connecticut is transitioning its FMNP to provide electronic delivery of benefits. This will help make benefits more efficient for all participants and to increase the use of FMNP benefits. Participants can access benefits using a simple mobile app, or continue to use a physical card if they prefer.

To find a market that accepts your benefits, visit Farmers Markets (

Farmers’ markets to check out in Connecticut

The Bridgeport Farmers Market Collaborative: Set up to help prevent nutrition insecurity in Bridgeport, this collaborative oversees nine farmers’ markets throughout Connecticut’s largest city. In addition to regular benefits, the markets accept vouchers called “Bridgeport Bucks” that are sponsored by local businesses.

Chester Sunday Market: Every Sunday during the summer and fall, Main Street in Chester is transformed into an open air market featuring local farmers and crafters. Organizers also set up a community tent to showcase local organizations and share numerous recipes for visitors to explore.

CitySeed: This organization runs three summer markets throughout New Haven, with a focus on seasonal produce native to Connecticut. More than 50 vendors take part in these markets.

Coventry Farmers Market: One of the largest and best known farmers’ markets in Connecticut, this market is held on the historic Nathan Hale Homestead. The market places a strong emphasis on education, with programs changing each week.

Hartford Regional Market: For early birds only! Running on weekend mornings from 6 to 9 a.m., this market’s vendors concentrate on floriculture products like bedding plants and hanging baskets, but one can also find fruits and vegetables in season and fall products such as pumpkins, gourds, and mums. 

Litchfield Hills Farm-Fresh Market: The goal of this farmers’ market is to provide access to local, sustainable food systems. The market regularly features special guests including chefs, artists, musicians, and local nonprofits.

NECT Farmers Market: This organization, which has been active since 1980, organizes four market locations in northeastern Connecticut. Originally focused on providing locally grown fruits and vegetables, the markets’ offerings have expanded to include products like meats, soaps, pickles, and handcrafted items. 

Niantic Farmers Market: Each week, this farmers’ market in southeastern Connecticut brings in a set of regular vendors as well as guest vendors. It also features a rotating schedule of food trucks and special activities.

Westport Farmers Market: Paul Newman was one of the founders of this market, and a frequent shopper there as well. The market is also unique in how it supports several programs covering everything from growing your own food to supplying CT Grown ingredients to local schools.

Willimantic Farmers Market: The longest running farmers’ market in Connecticut, this event has been providing fresh local food to the community since 1976. Vendors feature products like fruits, vegetables, and honey as well as specialty items like bakery products.

For more summer farmers’ markets, visit the CT Grown events calendar.

Connecticut Open House Day will be celebrated on June 10, 2023, and we’re delighted to see so many CT Grown attractions on the list of participants! Check out what’s going on at Connecticut’s farms, farmers’ markets, wineries, breweries, and distilleries during the day. Several museums and historic sites are also showcasing how agriculture has played a vital role in the state’s history. 

Farms and producers

Ambler Farm, Wilton — Farmstand and Transplant Sale: Visitors are invited to check out Ambler Farm’s farmstand and transplant sale, which runs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. All seeds are grown in the greenhouse using an organic, compost based, biologically active potting soil and then tended to by Ambler Farm’s farmers and dedicated volunteers. 

Boho Farm, East Haddam — Open House: Visit the farm animals, walk through the garden, visit the shop, and bring a lunch to enjoy at the picnic tables. Runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Bradley Mountain Farm, Southington — Walking Tours: This historic farm will offer walking tours of its trails and pastures at 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. After the tours, you can view the babies and goat families playing and relaxing.

Chakana Sky Alpacas, Chester — Visitors Welcome: Say hello to the farm’s 17 alpacas and share some treats with them. Visitors are also invited to stop by the “Pacatique” farm store. Runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Creamery Brook Bison, Brooklyn — Festival at the Farm: The Festival at the Farm features wagon rides to visit the farm’s bison, donkey rides, food trucks, craft vendors, and more. Admission is $5 per person. No dogs.

Glendale Farms, Milford — Visitors Welcome: Glendale Farms is a flower and horse farm specializing in flowering annuals and vegetable plants. The farm is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and welcoming visitors on Connecticut Open House Day.

Hogan’s Cider Mill, Burlington — Free Round of Mini-Golf: PGA golf pro Chet Dunlop and his wife Theresa Clifford Dunlop preserved this historic cider mill when they established the New England School of Golf on the back of the property, and it continues to produce sweet and hard ciders. Hogan’s Cider Mill is offering a free round of miniature golf to all visitors on Connecticut Open House Day.

Husky Meadows Farm, Norfolk — Guided Tours: Farmer Brett Ellis leads behind-the-scenes tours of the farm, including the farm kitchen and guest rooms of their Seed & Spoon Farm Stays.

Lyman Orchards, Middlefield — Free Children’s Program: Oboist Fing-Fei Khan and English hornist Charles Huang play a short concert at 10 a.m., inspired by poems, folk tales, folk songs, myths, and fables from around the world. At 11 a.m., they’ll perform an interactive concert (designed for ages 6 to 13) based on the fable of the Cricket and the Ant, teaching children the fundamental elements of music (tempo, pitch, and dynamics) through active listening, imagination, and interaction with the performers.

Smyth’s Trinity Farm, Enfield — Guided Tours: A walking tour of a fourth-generation farm that cares for a herd of 40 cows and bottles their own milk in glass. The tour visits the barns, pastures, and bottling facility. 

Starberry Farm, Washington Depot — Visitors Welcome: Take a walk through this beautiful hilltop orchard and learn more about integrated pest management and tree fruit.

Stone Acres Farm/Yellow Farmhouse Education Center, Stonington — Culinary Demonstration and Tasting: The Stone Acres Farmstead provides a culinary tasting and demonstration between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., then offers a guided tour of the property from 11:30 a.m. to noon.

Strong Family Farm, Vernon — Tours and Tag Sale: From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., this nonprofit community farm —the last active historic farm in Vernon — will offer tours and have a “Junk in the Trunk” tag sale. Open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., tours of the property will be held at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. No pets.

White Gate Farm, East Lyme — Visitors Welcome, and Giveaway: Visitors are invited to explore the farm’s growing fields, beehives, trails, and tractors; you can also feed the lambs, hens, and chicks. The first 15 new people spending $25 or more at the farmstand (open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) will receive a free bag of White Gate Farm’s washed organic salad greens or a similar item. Please supervise children climbing on tractors.

Farmers’ markets

Litchfield Farmers Market, Litchfield — Saturday Market: The Litchfield Farmers Market will be open on Connecticut Open House Day with more than 15 vendors offering fresh local produce and goods. The market is held year-round, and this event will be the last indoor market of the season at the Litchfield Community Center.

Breweries, distilleries, and wineries

Aquila’s Nest Vineyards, Sandy Hook — Guided Tours: This vineyard and event venue is offering guided tours of the 40-acre grounds with the owner and winemaker. Tours will take place at noon and 6 p.m.

Gouveia Vineyards, Wallingford — Free 4×4 Rides: Groups of up to five can enjoy a free 4×4 vehicle ride to tour the grounds of Gouveia Vineyards.

Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen — Discounts: Sunset Meadow Vineyards is offering a 10 percent discount on the purchase of 12 bottles, and is offering wine slushies for $10.

Two Roads Brewing, Stratford — Guided Tours and Vendors: Free brewery tours and taster glasses are available for visitors ages 21 and older. Two Roads Brewing will also have an outdoor vendor market and an evening concert featuring The C-Sides.

Waypoint Spirits, Bloomfield — Tours and Tastings: This distillery will be offering free tours and tastings of its Connecticut-made spirits.

Westford Hill Distillers, Ashford — Guided Tours and Discounts: Reserve a tour of this 200-acre property, New England’s first craft distillery, and enjoy a 50 percent discount on a tasting. Picnic lunches are welcome, but pets are not allowed.

Paradise Hills Vineyard, Wallingford – Discounts – Paradise Hill Vineyards, in honor of National Rosé Day, is offering a 10 percent discount on the purchase of their of Rosé selection: Washington Trail Rosé and La Bella Rosa.

Museums and historical societies

Atwood Farm Museum at Joshua’s Trust, Mansfield — Demonstrations: Learn more about 19th century farming at this historic farmstead. Demonstrations are ongoing from noon to 4 p.m.

Blue Slope Country Museum, Franklin — Free Admission: Open 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Free admission. See historical agricultural tools and implements. Learn about the many aspects of farming and rural living from 1600s to 1950s. No dogs.

Brookside Farm Museum, East Lyme — Guided Tours: This museum gives a historical view of agriculture and domestic life between 1845 and 1955. On Connecticut Open House Day, it will be offering guided tours and a chance to meet the new curator.

Cheshire Historical Society, Cheshire — Strawberry Festival and Farming History: This house museum is located on the First Congregational Church Green, which will be hosting a strawberry festival on Connecticut Open House Day. Visitors are invited to see the museum for free and learn more about the town’s farming history.

Deacon John Grave House and Grounds, Madison — Antique Farming Equipment: Guided tours of this 1685 house, its gardens, and its Native Plant Walk will be provided between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The event will also feature a hearth cooking demonstration and display of Colonial farm tools.

The Dudley Farm Museum, Guilford — Visitors Welcome: This historic homestead maintains a small working farm with chickens, flower and herb gardens, and a community garden. Visitors are invited to tour the property and check out the weekly farmers’ market, running 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  

Friends of the Valley Falls, Vernon — Heritage Center Opening: A nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to improving Valley Falls Park and Valley Falls Park, Friends of the Valley Falls will debut its heritage center on Connecticut Open House Day. Explore the history of the “Gentleman’s Farm” and its historic buildings, including a stable, dairy barn, root cellar, piggery, and more.

Hands-On History & Free Family Fun, Lebanon — Agricultural Activities: Numerous hands-on activities are taking place at the Lebanon Historical Society Museum & Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. These include agricultural activities like grinding corn and churning butter.

Harwinton Historical Society, Harwinton — Antique Farming Equipment: The Harwinton Historical Society will be opening their 1840 one-room schoolhouse and barn to visitors, with antique farming equipment on display at the barn.

Hilltop Farm, Suffield — Open Barn Event: The Friends of Hilltop Farm welcomes visitors to explore this farmstead and its enormous white barn. Activities include a beekeeping demonstration by the Hampden County Beekeepers Association, an agriscience program on caring for chickens from Suffield Chicks, a vintage baseball game, and a scavenger hunt.

Nellie McKnight Museum, Ellington — Barnyard Babies Farm Day: Get an up-close look at baby farm animals. The museum also includes an exhibit on the farming history of Ellington. No dogs.

Shelton Historical Society, Shelton — Plant a Pumpkin Patch: Free admission from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors are invited to be a farmer for a day and help plant the pumpkin patch the old-fashioned way, then take home a seedling to nurture.

Stanley-Whitman House, Farmington — Garden Tours and Cooking Demonstrations: A historical interpreter at this c. 1720 historic house will present different styles of Colonial cooking throughout the day. The Dooryard Garden Society will also be on hand to talk about indigenous and colonial plants and how they were used for medicinal and culinary purposes. 

Thankful Arnold House Museum, Haddam — Lavender Activity: Stop by this historic house and herb garden from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and learn how Widow Thankful Arnold used herbs, vegetables, and plants in her cooking, dyeing, fragrance, and medicine. Visitors will also have the opportunity to make a lavender sachet.

Windsor Historical Society, Windsor — Herb Garden Q&A: In addition to free tours, the Windsor Historical Society is presenting an “Herb Garden Q&A” from 10 a.m. to noon. Becky Hendricks, a culinary expert and herb gardener, will discuss commonly used herbs in early Connecticut.

A full list of this year’s participating organizations can be found on CT Visit.

Pick-your-own season is back in Connecticut, as farms across the state invite you to select your own blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. This activity will continue throughout the season as new crops come into season. For the best experience, follow these helpful tips when visiting a CT Grown pick-your-own farm. 

It’s time to take the “Kiss the Cook” apron out of hibernation, check your propane or charcoal supplies, and get ready for a season of barbecuing. The sizzle of food on the grates, the hearty flavors of grilled food, and the joy of cooking outdoors all come together for a truly enjoyable experience.

Whether you’re hosting a party or just making a meal for your family, Connecticut farmers and producers can supply you for your next cookout — and many more to come. Here’s how CT Grown can make for a tastier grilling experience.

CT Grown grilling meats

Connecticut farmers may specialize in a single type of livestock, or they may raise several types of animals. Check out the farms around you and you’ll find beef, chicken, pork, turkey, and lamb, all raised with the goal of producing high-quality meats.

You may be surprised to discover that Connecticut has some unconventional livestock producers as well. A handful of farms in the state raise bison and emu, which are touted as having lower fat than traditional meats.

Most livestock producers in Connecticut sell directly to the consumer, and they often have special promotions or services to cater to these customers. You may discover discounts on bulk purchases at the start of the summer, giving you an affordable way to stock up on a larger quantity of meat for the season, or giveaways and bonus products available with certain purchases. CT Grown farms may also offer delivery services to bring meat directly to your doorstep, or convenient pickup options at their farm store or a nearby farmers’ market. 

Meat has become a popular option in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, with many livestock producers either partnering with other farms or running their own program. CSAs allow you to purchase a share of the farm’s product in advance, then regularly pick up a selection of meats over the course of several weeks.

If you’re looking for more variety in your meals, check out the meat sampler boxes that many Connecticut farms have started to offer. These boxes contain different cuts such as roasts, steaks, burgers, and short ribs, allowing you to experiment with different recipes.

Ordering CT Grown meat in bulk

For grilling enthusiasts interested in purchasing more local meat, Patty Taylor of Devon Point Farm in North Stonington says the first thing you should do is get a good freezer. 

“When people invest in a freezer, they enable themselves to buy in bulk from local farmers,” she says. “They save money from all the driving to stores and paying increasing grocery store prices, and they get the convenience of walking to their basement or garage to make a dinner barbecuing selection.”

Unlike shopping at a grocery store, a visit to a local livestock farm allows you to order portions such as a whole, half, or quarter cow. Some portions will yield hundreds of pounds of meat — enough to keep you supplied through the grilling season and beyond. You can also take advantage of services like custom butchering to select your preferred cuts. 

To store such a large quantity of meat, Taylor recommends using heavy-duty milk crates or laundry baskets in a chest freezer so that cuts of meat can be easily organized and lifted out. She says upright freezers should have an organizational system that makes the best use of available space, such as boxes that fit on the shelves and have shallow cuts to access their contents

Whole and half pigs are also available, with whole pigs typically providing more than 100 pounds of pork. Some farms give you the option of renting cookers to prepare this meat, giving you the opportunity to hold a pig roast when hosting a large party.

These roasts are popular from May into fall, so be sure to reserve the equipment several weeks before your occasion. You should also provide this advance notice when making a bulk order of meat.

Where can I find CT Grown meats?

Check out the CT Grown map to find a livestock producer near you. There are also many locally owned meat markets and butcher shops that partner with CT Grown farms.

CT Grown seafood on the barbecue

You don’t just have to limit your barbecue to land-based items. Connecticut has a thriving aquaculture business, with local fishing boats hauling in catches of fish, oysters, clams, lobster, squid, scallops, mussels, crab, and more from Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

Thicker, stronger cuts of fish can be grilled directly on the grates. More delicate filets should be wrapped in tinfoil before grilling, or prepared on a cedar plank to add a smoky flavor. 

Shellfish can also be cooked on the grill, and this method is particularly useful when preparing oysters. Instead of the lengthy and sometimes complicated process of shucking with a knife, grilling causes oysters to simply pop open once they’re heated enough.

Fish markets throughout Connecticut can keep you supplied with fresh, locally caught seafood. Stonington Fresh, a program of the state’s only commercial fleet, maintains a listing of retailers, wholesalers, and other partners who carry the latest catch.

Grilled vegetables and fruits

Reserve some space on the grill for CT Grown vegetables. Cooking veggies on the grill will soften them up, give them a smoky flavor and crispy edge, and help them retain more nutritional value compared to cooking methods like steaming or frying.

To start the grilling season, you can wrap broccoli or asparagus in tinfoil with a light seasoning of salt, pepper, oil, and garlic. Summer squash such as zucchini can be cooked directly on the grill.

Throughout the harvest season, you’ll be able to pick up fresh CT Grown vegetables that also taste great when grilled. Some examples include corn, peppers, onions, winter squash, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, cabbage, eggplant, and potatoes. 

Many local fruits also grill well, with the heat caramelizing their sugars and enhancing their sweetness. Try it at your next barbecue with seasonal options like apples, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, or watermelon.

Fruits and vegetables can easily be paired with local meats on kebabs. You can also serve them as is, or chop them up to mix into other dishes such as pasta salads.

CT Grown barbecue sauce

Visit a farm store, farmers’ market, or local retailer and you’ll discover barbecue sauces made right here in Connecticut. This type of value-added food is popular among CT Grown farmers, since it allows them to make use of bountiful harvests or unsold vegetables that would otherwise go to waste.

Barbecue sauces are made using local ingredients such as peppers, maple syrup, garlic, onion, and tomatoes. It’s a great way to support your local farm while also adding a little zing to your dish.

Connecticut BBQ events in 2023

If grilling at home isn’t enough, check out one of these upcoming barbecue-themed events in Connecticut:

The spring season brings a welcome return of color to the Connecticut landscape, with warming temperatures signaling the start of a new growing season. We’re taking off our winter coats, starting preparations for our home gardens, and marking our calendars to get a bouquet for Mother’s Day.

It all makes for a busy time for CT Grown greenhouses, nurseries, and flower and sod producers. Across Connecticut this spring, you’ll find cut flowers, potted plants, bedding plants, hanging baskets, and more to make your home and garden beautiful this year. 

This guide will share some of the amazing flowers grown locally, and give you tips on where to find them.

Perennial flowers

Perennials are a favorite among gardeners because they return year after year and don’t need to be replanted. An underground structure, such as a bulb, allows them to stay dormant over the winter and regrow in the spring.

Popular options for spring-flowering perennials in Connecticut include:

Once the risk of a final spring frost has passed, you can also plant bulbs for perennial flowers that will bloom in the summer. Some options include begonias, dahlias, and lilies.

Annual flowers

Annual flowers grow for a single season and need to be replanted each year. They work well alongside perennials, which usually have a shorter flowering period, and allow gardeners to experiment with new and interesting flowers each year. Some flowers are technically perennials, but are grown as annuals due to their shorter lifespan.

Some popular options for annuals that can be planted in the spring include:

Flowering shrubs

Flowering shrubs are large, woody perennial plants that are well-suited for landscaping purposes. They can be used not only to make your home more attractive, but also as a natural way to define property lines and create a privacy screen.

Some popular options for flowering shrubs in Connecticut include:

Flower farms

Some farms in Connecticut specialize in growing cut flowers, and spring allows them to start hosting pick-your-own occasions and other events.

One example is the “Dancing Daffodils” field at Halfinger Farms in Higganum, where visitors can collect the bright yellow flowers for 70 cents apiece. At Wicked Tulips in Preston, a ticketed pick-your-own event lets you stroll through the fields and collect 10 tulips; the farm also hosts Yoga in the Tulips events during the spring.

Farms may also grow flowers alongside their other crops, and these blooms have become an increasingly popular option for CSAs. These programs let you regularly pick up bouquets of freshly cut flowers, bringing a bright and aromatic addition to your home for several weeks. Traditional CSAs may also offer an add-on option for flowers.

Plant and seedling sales in Connecticut

While early spring is typically too cold to begin growing plants outdoors in Connecticut, you can get a head start by planting seeds indoors and transplanting them once it gets warmer. You can also find seedling and plant sales across the state that have already started this process for you.

Plant and seedling sales offer annual and perennial flowers as well as seedlings for herbs and vegetables. Some give a special focus to native plants — species that occur naturally in the region and thus are beneficial to the local ecosystem.

Sales are sometimes hosted by farms to help generate revenue early in the season. They are also a popular fundraiser for organizations like garden clubs and arboretums.

Some upcoming plant and seedling sales in Connecticut include:

Connecticut flower festivals

The Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, which occurs annually in late February, attracts upwards of 40,000 people. Flower festivals, hosted by garden clubs and other organizations, continue into the spring. These are some of the upcoming events that herald the return of spring:

Nurseries and greenhouses

Dzen Farms in Ellington

Greenhouses, nurseries, and flower and sod producers represent the largest farm sector in Connecticut, accounting for more than half of the state’s agricultural production as measured by gross sales. They also have a considerable add-on impact to the state’s economy, supporting additional businesses such as florists and landscaping services.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, greenhouses and nurseries serve separate purposes. Greenhouses shield plants from the elements under glass or other protection, allowing for year-round cultivation. Nurseries don’t necessarily use this protection, and primarily serve to grow plants to a mature size. However, greenhouses can still be considered nurseries if they are used for this purpose.

Connecticut has almost 600 greenhouse growers, primarily specializing in cut flowers, flowering plants, and garden plants. Greenhouses shelter nearly 13 million square feet of cultivation space, and Connecticut ranks 15th in the nation for total greenhouse area.

Greenhouse operations are often paired with outdoor acreage to grow more flowers and plants during the warmer seasons. Connecticut has a mix of both small businesses and larger wholesale nurseries, which distribute plants throughout the world. 

Gardeners may have the option to visit a nursery or greenhouse directly to browse the available selection. However, some businesses only deliver their products to landscapers, wholesalers, or garden centers.

Garden centers

Garden centers receive a selection of flowers and other plants from producers. They are also set up as one-stop shops for all your gardening needs. Some garden centers operate independently, while others are an on-site feature of greenhouses and nurseries.

Van Wilgen’s Garden Center in North Branford

In addition to flowers and plants, garden centers provide items like soil mixes, gardening tools, seeds, fertilizers, and garden decor. They can also offer services like landscape design and installation, as well as clubs and events to provide gardening advice.

As an added bonus, Connecticut garden centers may partner with local farms to sell CT Grown items like fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, honey, and eggs.

CT Grown flowers at local retailers

Connecticut farms, greenhouses, and nurseries often supply both local businesses and major retailers with freshly cut flowers and other CT Grown plants. You can find the CT Grown label on flowers sold by florists, supermarkets, and chain stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. 

Additional resources for Connecticut flowers

The following organizations can provide additional information and resources on flowers in Connecticut:

Late winter is a time when you might notice metal buckets on trees and smoke billowing from rural sugarhouses — sure signs that sugaring season has returned to Connecticut.

The Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut holds an annual celebration of sugaring season with Maple Weekend, which occurs this year on March 18th and 19th. There are 19 farms and sugarhouses participating in the occasion as well as three festivals taking place across the state. 

Maple Weekend gives you a chance to tour a sugarhouse, sample a variety of maple products, and learn more about how maple syrup is produced in Connecticut.

Connecticut maple syrup

There are almost 200 farms producing more than 17,000 gallons of syrup a year in Connecticut, according to the USDA’s latest data. Connecticut ranks 10th among all maple producing states, and sugaring is generally not a full-time profession here. Many CT Grown farmers produce maple syrup to make the best use of their land and to supplement their income during the winter.

Connecticut maple syrup can be readily found at farmers’ markets, retail stores, and other local venues, including some grocery stores. Many of Connecticut’s sugarhouses are open to the public during the late winter, inviting people to learn more about how maple sap is converted to syrup and to purchase the maple products available for sale.

The maple syrup production process is accessible enough for hobbyists to try it on their own. The Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut includes not only farms and sugarhouses, but also individuals and community organizations. With the purchase of some affordable equipment, anyone can tap maple trees on their property and try their hand at the sugaring process.

Choosing the right maple syrup color

Maple syrup used to come in separate grades, but this system was changed in 2015 to keep consumers from mistakenly believing that Grade A syrup was of higher quality than the darker B and C grades. While all syrup is now listed as Grade A, it still comes in four distinct colors: Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark. 

Lighter syrups come from earlier in the sugaring season and have a milder flavor. This makes them ideal for pairing with traditional breakfast foods like pancakes and waffles, pouring on ice cream, or adding flavor to beverages like coffee or cocktails.

Darker syrups indicate that the sap was collected later in the season and has a more robust and intense flavor. These varieties are best used for cooking, baking, or creating glazes. 

More than just syrup

Maple syrup is the primary product created from maple sap, but there are numerous other items maple producers put out each harvest season. Some of the most popular are granulated maple sugar, maple cream, and maple candy, a simple mixture of syrup and butter which is then molded into a variety of shapes.

Maple producers also frequently partner with other farmers in Connecticut to create tasty and unique CT Grown foods. These include maple-flavored milk, yogurt, and jams and jellies.

When is sugaring season in Connecticut?

Sugaring season traditionally takes place from early February through late March. This time of year tends to include a mixture of warmer days and freezing nights, and this freeze-thaw cycle is just what is needed to get the sap flowing in maple trees.

Producers make advance preparations for the sugaring season, such as deciding which maple trees to tap and collecting firewood for the sugarhouse, but the season itself only lasts about six to eight weeks. Trees are tapped using metal spouts called spiles, which allow sap to flow into covered metal buckets or through tubing to a holding tank.

After sap is collected, it is boiled to evaporate the water and increase the sugar content. The syrup is then filtered, graded, and bottled. 

It’s the perfect time to pick up CT Grown maple syrup, so check out what’s at your local store or farmers’ market and mark your calendar for Maple Weekend!