Reprinted with permission of the Litchfield County Times
Farm Stand in Bridgewater Has a Youthful Proprietor
By Jack Coraggio
August 6, 2009
BRIDGEWATER-It’s midmorning and the stand at Greyledge Farm doesn't officially open for another two or three hours. But a passerby stops when he sees the barn-style farm stand doors open, with 13-year-old manager Robert Fitzgerald ready to tend shop.
The customer passes one of the stand’s most recent additions, a freezer full of beef, poultry and pork, and heads straight to the selection of corn, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, peppers, watermelons and other produce that is mostly grown on the farm, but if not, grown locally.
“Is there anything I can get you in particular?” Robert asks the gentleman who is old enough to be his grandfather.
The man doesn’t need help; everything he is looking for is right there.
“You have a nice stand here,” he says after grabbing several ears of corn and a pound of tomatoes.
Robert, an unfailingly polite young man, thanks him, bags the order and rings him up. Total cost: $7.30. Not a bad start to a work day that hasn’t even officially begun.
For a young man going into eighth grade, it's not the usual paperboy-route summer job. The farm belongs to his family, but in a way the farm stand is his – or, at least, it’s his responsibility.
Every morning, Robert and his mother, Libby, go down to the family garden to pick fresh vegetables. After lunch, he’s off to the roadside stand to set up shop, stock the vegetable bins and prepare the register.
At 1 p.m. he is open for business, and over the next three hours, Robert is the one in charge. His own boss and the sole employee, he’s responsible only to himself and his customers.
Working at the stand has been his summer job for just about half of his life, and one he started with his older-by-two-years brother William, back when Robert was 7. Now, the 15-year-old William works at the Bridgewater Village Store, leaving Robert alone to manage the stand.
Seasoned with six years experience, he’s handling it well.
“My dad started this for us so we could learn to use money wisely and to learn how to interact with people,” Robert said, noting that his dealings with strangers should benefit him next year when he starts applying to private high schools.
Business is good, even though the constant rain has yielded fewer crops and sometimes hinders the stream of walk-in customers. Still, he doesn't depend on maximizing revenues, but rather is paid on an hourly basis. And when he gets paid, the money is his and he can do with it whatever he chooses.
At the carefree age of 13, disposable income probably means the hottest Nintendo Wii video game, perhaps. For the fiscally responsible Robert, perhaps not.
“I'm doing this for college, so I can pay my way through college,” he noted.
That responsible planning aside, the teenager’s future path is still to be determined. “You could be an entrepreneur, maybe even start your own business,” his mother said to him, an idea that seemed to resonate, if only briefly.
The 300-acre primarily cattle farm that covers a peaceful pasture between Roxbury and Bridgewater is the Fitzgeralds’ second home, as they also live in New York City, where family patriarch Terry Fitzgerald works as an investment manager.
Best known for its all-natural Black Angus beef, Greyledge Farm recently merged with Ox Hollow Farm on Roxbury’s Judd's Bridge Road, allowing the business to broaden its offerings to include pork, chicken and eggs. After electricity was recently installed in the farm stand, all these perishable products can now be purchased onsite, as opposed to a time when they were only available upon preorder.
Additionally, Greyledge Farm leases land in New Milford, where many of its 300 cows can graze to their hormone-free, natural diet. The Fitzgeralds take pride in their cows’ all-natural, mostly grass and grain diet.
In total, between Greyledge Farm, the Judd’s Bridge parcel and the leased land, Ms. Fitzgerald estimates her family draws upon between 1,500 and 2,000 acres of land. Whatever they sell that doesn't come from those farms, such as maple syrup, honey, soaps, fruit and cheese, are still local products.
Knowing his merchandise, Robert was quick to describe the benefits of area produce, particularly local honey, which apparently is better for allergies as the bees extract from regional pollen. Indeed, he has learned a lot about the business, but Ms. Fitzgerald thinks the most important lesson of all isn’t found in the details of the agriculture involved.
“One of the things my husband and I try to instill is that you need to work hard, save money and understand the value of the work and responsibility,” said Ms. Fitzgerald. “It’s a good lesson to learn.”
There is a third Fitzgerald son, 6-year-old Laird, who already has his eyes on the family business. Robert said Laird will help pick vegetables and has already expressed a willingness to jump into the workforce.
But as Robert didn't start his career until he was a more mature 7, it may take another year or two before Laird is ready.
“When I was 7, I couldn't really do all the math and stuff, so my older brother helped out a lot with the customers,” Robert recalled. “Maybe Laird can start when he’s 8 or 9, but he needs to work on his addition and subtraction first.”
At least the future of Fitzgerald family farming is secure.