Oxen Hill Farm – A Growing Business

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Photo by Ellen Peterson
Lisa Griffin holds some fresh-from-the-field produce at her family’s Oxen Hill Farm stand on Hill Street.

It was the early 2000s, and Lisa Griffin and husband Jonathan were living in Florida. He was in agricultural sales and she, a science teacher. They had met at Cornell where she earned a biology degree. Her parents worked in the Detroit auto industry; his owned Beaver Brook Farm in East Granby. They were planning a family, and the midwest just didn’t have the draw of the east.

Fast forward to 2007. Jonathan and Lisa, plus the entire Griffin family, bought 20 acres on Hill Street, where they started Oxen Hill Farm to grow vegetables. The couple also rented land from Jonathan’s parents at Beaver Brook. A daughter came, later a son.

Family involvement yields success

By 2009 they set up Community Supported Agriculture programs, CSAs, for vegetables and flowers – more on CSAs later. Lisa’s sister-in-laws, Sheri Griffin Mandirola and Sarah Griffin Oliver, run the flower business. She marvels at their floral arrangement skills.

In 2011, they became USDA certified as an organic vegetable farm. About four years later, Lisa and Jonathan purchased 100 more acres in East Granby near Beaver Brook farm, where they operate a temperature- and humidity-controlled warehouse.

Today, Oxen Hill is a thriving vegetable and flower farm with 500 CSAs and prominent wholesale customers like Whole Foods, BJs, Big Y and Geisslers.

Lisa, who prefers the title of farm manager, credits the hard work of her extended family, such as her sisters-in-law and father-in-law, for their success. She gives special credit to her “retired” father-in-law, Harrison, who owned Beaver Brook Farm. “His mechanical skills and guidance have been invaluable,” she stresses. She also praises the loyalty and diligence of her Jamaican seasonal workers.

How CSAs benefit farmers and customers

With a CSA, farmers sell shares of their crops to customers, typically prior to planting. Customers agree to buy an agreed amount of vegetables or flowers – in Oxen Hill Farm’s case – every week or two. Technically, they also share the risk of not getting the amount agreed upon due to weather or pest damage.

Customers receive fresh produce at attractive prices while gaining the satisfaction of helping local farmers. When buying from USDA-certified organic farms like Oxen Hill, they also find solace in helping support healthy, sustainable agriculture, notes Lisa.

For farmers, CSAs provide cash up front, primarily before planting season.

While customers do risk not getting what they bargained for, Lisa says that’s never happened with her customers. When crop problems have caused shortages, she’s provided substitute products from other farms. She says she’s always informed her customers about the substitutes and the farms.

As she puts it, “Our CSA business would have nosedived years ago if we weren’t treating our customers fairly, especially in bad times.”

Oxen Hill offers three CSA sizes for vegetables. For flowers there are build-your-own and premade bouquet options. All are highly customizable through the farm’s robust management software. Lisa says CSAs weren’t always so flexible, and customers applaud the improvements.

“They can pick up their vegetables in Suffield, East Longmeadow, East Granby and West Hartford, where we also make home deliveries,” she adds.

CSA popularity bolstered by USDA organic certification

Lisa feels that the success of Oxen Hill’s CSAs has been strengthened by its USDA organic vegetable certification.

“It’s a rigorous process to get certified and to maintain it. Before you apply, your land must not have been treated with prohibited substances for three years,” she says. “Then there are annual and unannounced inspections. You need to keep records on everything. Where you bought seed. When you planted it. What fertilizers you used. Inspectors may even take plant tissue samples for analysis to ensure you haven’t used prohibited insecticides or herbicides,” she notes.

But Lisa and her family feel it’s worth it. She says customers like knowing that potentially dangerous chemicals haven’t entered the growing process and delight in helping keep the land sustainable for years.

High marks from customers

Reading Oxen Hill’s online reviews seems to confirm its popularity with customers.

As of this writing, the farm has earned an average Google Review rating of 4.8 out of 5 from 21 reviewers and 4.7 out of 5 from 124 Facebook reviewers.

They praise the farm for consistent product quality and pleasurable customer relationships, which gives Lisa great satisfaction.

“We are so blessed to have such supportive, local customers,” she raves.

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