Brick Kiln Farm: Where Old-Fashioned Values Meet Modern Practices
As a little boy, Mike Navickas, of Brick Kiln Farm in Falmouth, was so fascinated by growing things that he would sift unsprouted seeds from the soil to check their progress. While he didn’t come from a farming family, Mike knew from an early age that he always wanted to grow things. Later he followed his dream to the University of Connecticut, where he studied environmental horticulture. By the time his wife Teri, a Sicilian-American with a penchant for farming and dreams of someday visiting Italy, met him in 1977, he had a successful annual farm stand in his native Connecticut. He grew and sold tomatoes, squash, beans and cucumbers with such success that he was able to put himself through college on the strength of it. Subsequently, he and Teri carried this winning combination of entrepreneurial acumen with the deep roots of farming throughout their lives, leading first to a landscaping business and ultimately to the oasis that is Brick Kiln Farm.
Brick Kiln Farm is nestled in the heart of Falmouth’s traditional farming community. Driving there, you follow Route 151 to Sandwich Road, past the Tony Andrews Farm and close to Coonamessett Farm. You get the feel of farm country; the space speaks of fields and agriculture, and the long tradition of cultivation. When Mike and Teri left their Connecticut landscaping business behind to move here in 1985, they befriended the old time farmers who were quickly disappearing. They traded Mike’s modern college-earned agricultural knowledge for the old timer’s soul-level understanding of the land gained over a lifetime’s experience. The years have taught Mike to value and practice both new and old approaches at Brick Kiln.
Sandwich Road leads to Brick Kiln Road and the farm. Arriving feels like an embrace from an old friend as you are wrapped in the sheer exuberance of growing things. A riotous display of color surrounds greenhouses and outbuildings, thanks to Teri’s artistic eye. Ironically, although Teri studied applied design and thought she was going to be a potter, there are no actual brick kilns present on the farm. The name Brick Kiln is coincidental, chosen by Mike and Teri to honor the location of their land on the road of the same name. The site has an agricultural heritage, having been cultivated since the 1920s and ‘30s.
An exploration of Brick Kiln Farm reveals a huge array of seedlings that you can take home to grow yourself. Fall crops include lettuce, kale and Swiss chard, beets and some herbs in planters. There are lettuce bowls for immediate harvest, which are beautifully interplanted with edible flowers to adorn a salad. The kale is both edible and ornamental and includes the colorful Rainbow Lacinato, Red Bone and Rouge varieties. Teri expects the kale to be very popular this fall. She is also excited about the selection of edible and ornamental New England pie pumpkins they are bringing from New Hampshire, including Cinderella and Redish Kaboka. She plans to build pumpkin cairns for display that can be bought whole for fall decoration.
Brick Kiln Farm is not organically certified, but it does adhere to the Farm Pledge. The Farmer’s Pledge declares in one page what the Governing Council of Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) believes are the most important principles and practices of organic farming. These include not only stewardship of the land, but commitment to food safety, local agriculture, small farms, fair labor practices, and regional ecology. Mike and Teri have taken the pledge on their own and now seek to formalize it.
Before there was Brick Kiln Farm, there was Mike’s small and successful landscaping company, which when he started was just himself and a mower from the dump and he grew to 22 employees. But Mike has kidney disease, and knowing that dialysis and a kidney transplant were imminent, he and Teri postponed their dream trip to Italy and decided to sell the landscaping business. The farm was born to provide a livelihood that Teri could manage by herself while Mike’s future was uncertain. Six years ago Mike had a successful kidney transplant. Teri was his donor, and the experience taught them that they could manage the space of the farm. As Mike recovered, Brick Kiln grew.
Brick Kiln has continued to grow right through the bad economy, and Mike suspects it is filling a clear niche as people are continually drawn to the place. There is more to shopping than the big box experience, because even while we all seem to eventually have to visit these large, impersonal stores at one time or another, we are also drawn to shopping within a caring community. Mike sees this yearning for connection in the people who stop by Brick Kiln to both shop and visit. He considers locally spent dollars a reinvestment in the community a win-win scenario.
Today, apart from a few outstanding issues, Mike has recovered from his kidney transplant. Like the seasons and the crops, he has come full circle. Time has found him an ethical and responsible farmer, growing seeds again as he did in boyhood. Teri states that the farm feels right as their grown son works there and it is meant to be part of the family. She explains, “The people who come here are meant to, it’s a collective thing, and it’s bigger than one person. What you bring to the situation is what you take away. It’s energy.” She sees the farm as a product of the entwined lives of its customers, who often want to feel its atmosphere, and its amazingly caring employees. She emphasizes the importance of terroir; the concept of a specific space. At Brick Kiln the space includes a common plot for employees, from which they all eat, and that inspires a considerable recipe trade.
Teri’s dreams of someday seeing Italy are finally coming true this fall. She recently entered a contest run by a sustainable travel company she admires called Untours, which gives back to the communities it features. Out of four hundred entrants, Teri’s essay about the Brick Kiln Farm experience won her a dream trip to Tuscany. This September she and Mike will spend two weeks on a Tuscan vineyard.
Teri sums up her approach to farming: “You have a choice, I feel it all the time. You enjoy the process of what you do. It is so rewarding, returning to the Earth’s natural process”. She’s pretty sure she and Mike will spend their time in Italy working right alongside the vintners.
Here is a favorite fall recipe from Brick Kiln Farm.
Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Serves 6-8 as a first course.
- 3 pounds New England pie pumpkin or butternut squash,cut in large chunks
- 3 cooking apples, like Baldwin or Cortland, peeled and cut into quarters
- 2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1-2 tablespoon curry powder, to taste
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Place pumpkin, apple, onion and bay leaves in a large roasting pan. Pour olive oil over everything and toss to coat. Roast for 1/2 hour uncovered at 375°. Add broth, apple cider, bay leaf and curry powder and continue roasting until all vegetables are soft. If using pumpkin, remove from pan, let cool a bit, and scoop flesh from skin. Remove bay leaves and purée all ingredients in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Add remaining seasoning to taste.
- For a pretty presentation, take a bit of soup and blend it with crème fraîche or sour cream and swirl it on top before serving.