A locally grown Thanksgiving

Patti Popp, owner of Sport Hill Farm, in front of the market where organic local produce is sold. (Shawn O'Sullivan Photo)

Nell McCaslin of Easton with a basket of fresh produce at Sport Hill Farm Market. (Shawn O'Sullivan Photo)

Eating locavore is healthier and better for the environment. Delicata is one of the squash varieties found at Sport Hill Farm Market, and can be used to make a squash soup. (Shawn O'Sullivan Photo)

Sherri Brooks Vinton of Easton, author and creator of Farm Friendly LLC, shops at Sport Hill Farm Market. (Shawn O'Sullivan Photo)

Patti Popp of Sport Hill Farm feeds her chickens. (Shawn O'Sullivan Photo)

Patti Popp is looking forward to celebrating two Thanksgivings.

One will be a big traditional mashup of extended family and friends at her aunt’s house, where everyone brings a dish and great stories to catch up on.

The second will be a quiet dinner to reconnect with her husband, Al, and sons, Derek and Chris, celebrating Derek’s first homecoming from college. This mini Thanksgiving will be simple, prepared in the kitchen of their 1740s farmhouse. She will make dishes from vegetables she grew and harvested.

How Martha you say? Not really.

Popp is not your usual kitchen gardener. She is a farmer — the real deal — with requisite farmer’s tan, dirt under her fingernails and pre-dawn wakeup call.

Thirteen years ago, she and Al purchased land in Easton with the dream of starting an organic farm. They cleared land, planted seeds and learned by trial and error methods of cultivation, crop rotation and composting, trying to stay one jump ahead of the weather. Popp takes her stewardship of the land seriously, using organic methods.

Along with vegetables, Popp has grown a community of health-minded customers, from local restaurants and schools to her CSA (community-supported agriculture), whose members get a share of each week’s harvest. She also has a stand at the Westport Farmers’ Market. She gives back as well, donating excess produce to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission.

Popp’s mission is to introduce people to the satisfaction of eating “locavore” — the movement toward eating locally and seasonally. “It’s important,” she said, noting that trucking produce long distances is not good for the environment or the produce.

The farm market behind her house feels like a step back in time. Locals and people from neighboring towns come in for eggs (she collects them herself) or vegetables, and find themselves lingering to chat and trade recipes or news.

Sherri Brooks-Vinton, author and creator of Farm Friendly LLC, is a regular customer, and shared a tip on making cauliflower last past the holiday: pickle it. CLICK HERE FOR THE RECIPE.

Popp admitted that the learning curve to locavore can be a bit daunting.

“It’s not like going to the store with a list,” Popp said. “I have to explain to people that we don’t grow everything. Sometimes people leave with only half their list, but it’s best to come here first. The taste of my acorn squash is different from the grocery stores’.

“It does mean a lot when people come to see us, especially at Thanksgiving,” she added. “People like coming here before the holiday. For me it’s like the last hurrah. It’s bittersweet. I’m tired, but I’ll miss seeing everybody. Everything has a beginning and an end.”

Popp loves the harvest feast.

“It’s a time to cook,” she said. “I grew up cooking alongside my grandmother. When you have fresh ingredients it doesn’t need much work. That leaves time to be with each other and have that conversation to reconnect.”

Each year, Popp takes to her aunt’s a produce gift for everyone to try.

“Last year was spaghetti squash,” she recalled, laughing. “Half of them looked at me like, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ But this way, the family get a chance to try something different.”

“I don’t want it to be the same old same old. I like to change up,” she added, giving a hint at what we be on the table this Thanksgiving.

“This year I will probably bring Brussels sprouts, which are very easy,” Popp said. “When we harvest the stalks we leave the leaves on top; I use my leaves like a collard. Rough chop it, toss them all in olive oil and roast them all down. You get more bang for your buck, too. The leaves taste just like the Brussels sprouts.”

She is the first to admit that family traditions are important, but traditions can evolve.

“A true locavore Thanksgiving is really taking your self out of your comfort zone,” Popp said, noting that the original harvest feasts consisted of whatever was growing at the moment, something she wishes people would do more of.

“The biggest disconnect is not bringing what is local in Connecticut to our table,” Popp said.

One suggestion for easy locavore?

“Go with the squashes,” she said. “Everybody is afraid of squash, but they are so easy. When I turn on my oven, I put in three or four cookie sheets loaded with squash. Turn it on once, and bake it down. You have all this squash ready for other meals. I freeze it. I casserole it, I soup it, and it’s phenomenal.” CLICK HERE FOR A SQUASH SOUP RECIPE.

Thankfulness has become an everyday thing for Popp.

“I am very thankful to be alive, to be able to celebrate any holiday, and every day, especially after suffering from a brain aneurysm a year ago, which almost could have taken my life,” Popp said.

The brush with death made her take a step back and look at things differently.

“I appreciate everything. I appreciate all the people that this business has brought to me. They are my support group, they are my community, they are my friends, and they are my patrons. They’re are more than just customers to me. I built a community which I’m proud of and thankful for, because it was nothing before, and I’ve worked very hard to make it to this point,” Popp said.

“I’m thankful for people; people, not things. It’s what the holidays should be,” she said. “Sitting around the table, talking to each other, making memories.”

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