By Toni Leland For The Bulletin
ASHFORD – Matthew Couzens sits in a wooden rocking chair on the porch and gestures toward the rows of fruit trees just across the driveway from the farm store at Horse Listeners Orchard.
“This property started as an orchard in 1966,” he says. “After we bought it in 2007, we took out some of the older trees and planted hundreds of new ones.”
Then he smiles. “The earth is in control of much of what we do,” he says.
After a corporate career spanning 32 years, Couzens wanted to try something different. He had no farming background, but he had an intense desire to do it.
“I didn’t think it would be easy,” he says, “and I wanted to do it right.”
Doing it right includes being kind to the land and nature.
On the 153-acre Horse Listeners Orchard in Ashford, Connecticut, Couzens and his staff watch every crop to determine what it needs.
He considers himself an organic grower, but is not certified. “Our blueberries are not sprayed, and haven’t been since I’ve owned the place,” he said. “Ninety percent of our vegetables are not sprayed because we haven’t seen any bugs.”
Couzens employs a strategy known as Integrated Pest Management and is in close contact with the University of Connecticut Agriculture Department. He also studies weekly bulletins from Cornell University that guide him.
“No one wants to spend money on sprays if you don’t need them,” he says. “And I don’t want to hurt the environment, either.”
The orchard does spray the apples because there won’t be a crop if they don’t—a sentiment echoed by many other apple growers in the region.
Couzens finds that people expect organically grown produce to look better and be better than the products that are sprayed, and that’s not possible. There may be bumps, bruises irregular shapes, or skin that’s not perfect, but the fruit is still good. Just not pretty.
“I almost ruined an entire orchard one year, trying to grow apples organically. The bugs just destroyed it,” he says.
Managing such a large operation is no small job. Dealing with all the curve balls that nature throws at a farmer takes time and careful thought. Some of those problems include animal damage, armies of insects and unpredictable weather. This year’s Valentine’s Day freeze kicked any plans for peaches right out the window.
Couzens explains how the orchard got its name.
“I have an elderly horse named Irish who taught me a lot about listening,” he said. “People talk about horse whispering, but I found that the listening part is more important to get what’s right and what’s not.”
Visit: Horse Listeners Orchard, 317 Bebbington Road, Ashford, Connecticut 06278
Online: www.horselistenersorchard.com or Facebook.com/horselistenersorchard
Posted Jul. 26, 2016 at 2:02 PM
Updated Jul 27, 2016 at 1:27 PM