Castle Hill Farm has been family owned and operated since 1927. Once a working dairy farm, the family now focuses on agri-tourism during the spring, summer, & fall seasons In addition, they coordinate special events and weddings, grow Christmas trees, corn, pumpkins, and vegetables. I spoke to 4th generation family member and mom of 2, Stephanie Paproski Kearns, about the ways Castle Hill Farm pivoted during the pandemic, what they have planned for this Fall, and of course her favorite things about Newtown.
Steph, thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this! Let’s start out finding out a little bit about you before we jump in to talking about the farm. Child(ren) and Age(s)?
We have two daughters, Charlotte Jean, age 4 1/2, and Caroline Katherine, age 2.
One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
Secretly? I absolutely love cows, they are my favorite animals! I’ve delivered calves, milked them by hand, walked them in the Labor Day Parade, even taken a nap on a few! In high school, I got involved with a 4-H group through our friends, Bonnie and Becky Burr, and showed dairy cows at our local fairs. My most memorable moment was being selected to show my favorite cow, Tulip, at the Big E fair with a group of other 4-H members from all over Connecticut. It was an amazing experience that I am excited to share with our children some day; I can’t say enough about the 4-H programs.
Favorite things to do with your family?
Picnicking! One of my absolute favorite things to do with our family would have to be going on a picnic. There is something about taking a summer walk around the hayfields in search for raspberries with the girls and my husband and then setting out a picnic blanket to enjoy together. Being with the family and watching the excitement on the girls’ faces while they enjoy their pickings is so enjoyable!
Favorite spot in Newtown beside Castle Hill Farm?
There are these amazing hiking trails behind Reed Intermediate School that I have enjoyed for years. The trails are quiet and away from the traffic, there are train tracks, fields, and the most amazing little retired barn. The trails are now home of The Catherine Hubbard Sanctuary, which makes this well kept secret even more beautiful with their raised bed gardens and “Walk of Angles” trail. I highly recommend visiting the Sanctuary and these magical trails with your families, pets, or even by yourself.
Best thing about being a mom?
Oh gosh, the best thing about being a mom? This is a hard one, but one of the most enjoyable things for me, related to working on the farm, is to watch both our girls grow- I know that sounds generic, but I love watching Charlotte and Caroline interact with other children that come with their families to our Farm Stand on the weekends. They get so excited about having “new friends” which include any babies, children, or teens that visit. They are so quick to share whatever they are doing with them, flower picking, coloring pages, toys, veggie snacks. The kindness that these two little girls have for others, honestly, brings me so much joy. I am just so proud of them.
Now on to all things related to the farm…Can you share a quick history of the farm?
Castle Hill Farm is located in Newtown, Connecticut and has been owned and operated by the Paproski family for five
generations. The Paproskis began farming at this location in 1927 when my great grandparents bought the property, milled lumber from the hills, and built the barns. The farm was a dairy farm for most of its existence, including my childhood, milking over 100 cows. With the hardships of dairy farming in 2001, my family sold our milking cows and pursued different avenues of farming to support the farm. At one time, Castle Hill Farm was the second largest supplier of dairy products in Fairfield County. The team at Castle Hill Farm consists of my parents, Stephen and Diana Paproski, the farm’s owners and 3rd generation farmers, my sister, Shannon Paproski, myself, and my husband, Dan Kearns (a fourth generation farmer from Kearns Farm in Sandy Hook, CT). Our daughters, Charlotte and Caroline, are the fifth generation of Castle Hill Farm.In total, our farm is about 150 acres, including our cut your own Christmas tree farm in Hattertown. We are actively pursuing the preservation of some of our farm through the CT Farmland Trust.
Currently, the farm is involved in multiple agribusiness ventures, trying to be as diversified as possible. A vegetable stand is open all summer and fall for the sale of eggs, farm raised beef and pork, fruit, and vegetables. The farm production includes roughly 70 acres of hay, 20 acres of corn, a 4 acre pumpkin patch, a 1 acre apple, peach, and pear orchard, 10 acres of Christmas Trees totaling to roughly 10,000 trees (spruce, fir, and pine), and a small scale beef production. In addition to the ag-production listed above, we are most known for our 4 acre pick your own pumpkin patch, unique hayride adventure to feed our cows, and 7 acre corn maze that features 30 game signs, observation wagon, and emergency exit during the harvest season of September and October.
Let’s talk about some of the events you have planned for the last few weeks of summer and into the fall. Can you share a bit about the Sunflower Maze you started last year and the annual Corn Maze?
Every year, our family runs a fall festival during the month of October. Last year, we were able to introduce a sunflower stroll, which was about an acre of sunflowers with a horseshoe path through the middle for visitors to come and walk through, taking pictures of the blooms as they go. We had set times to pre-register for to ensure families were spaced enough to walk at their own pace and also to control social distancing with the pandemic. This year, we are hoping to open our Sunflower Stroll at the end of September, but the inconsistent weather this summer has delayed their growth so we will have to see its exact timing!
At our Fall Festival, we offer a four acre pick-your-own pumpkin patch (off the vines!), a seven acre corn maze, hayride adventure to feed the cows, farm animal exhibit, and fresh vegetables at our farm stand. This will run Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00am-5:00pm, during the month of October. Along with making this a festival we will also have a food truck to eat from and a band playing in the afternoons. One night a year we are host our annual flashlight maze event with food trucks, beverage cart, bonfire, live music, and of course, the corn maze. This year, it will be on October 20, 2021 from 6:00-9:00pm!
I know the Corn Maze takes not only a lot of planning, but also a lot of creativity with designing a new theme every year. Can you walk us through what the process is like – from planning to planting to opening to the public?
I’ll try to keep this as short as possible, but every year, Castle Hill Farm offers a seven acre corn maze and there is so much planning involved! My dad, Stephen Paproski, is definitely the creator of the whole thing as he plows, harrows, harrows again, and then plants the corn field. I can remember our very first one- my dad was so excited to try a corn ‘maze’ that we just picked a random corn field next to our pumpkin patch one year. We went in together with the family and with a machete,
my dad cut hundreds of corn stalks by hand as we all helped to carry them along the paths and out of the ‘maze’. Now, I am air quoting ‘maze’, because it was so strenuous and tiring to carry all these full grown stalks out, that we maybe ended up cutting a fifty foot path with some short dead ends!
The proper way to cut a corn maze is to cut it when it is around two feet high (not 8 feet!) and mow it down with a lawn mower. In the beginning, we used a push lawnmower and some graph paper to determine where our drawn out design would go in the corn field. We progressed to our ride on, zero degree turn, mower with our design on a piece of printer paper. My parents, sister, and I would walk the maze field and I could visually see where our path would need to be cut. It’s hard to explain, but we didn’t use a GPS or measurements, we just worked as a team, and our strengths would create these beautiful designs. We have techniques for cutting circles. We have a pretty consistent rule not to have any straight paths, so guests can’t just see the dead ends, but have to walk the full length. Also, our observation wagon is always at the highest flat point where you can see the beauty of the farm.
Each year, we pick a theme that relates to the farm, town, or family in some way. We celebrated a maze deign for our wedding, the birth announcement of our daughter with a stork theme, the farm anniversary with a vegetable theme maze, firefly theme maze to support The Avielle Foundation, the flagpole to celebrate Newtown’s tercentennial, and last year, we incorporated a hospital theme to honor those on the front line of the pandemic, including my sister, who is a Nurse in Danbury Hospital’s ED.
After we cut the maze (in August), we plan out our map and 30 numbered signs for our game. Each year is different, but this year we are planning an activity for adults, as well as a special hidden puzzle game that our friend, Ryan, who owns Ames Illustration, is designing for us- he is so talented! After we get these signs printed, we place them throughout the maze (to match the maps) so our guests can find their way through the trails and out! Because we enjoy keeping people on their toes, the corn maze typically gets more difficult to navigate once you get past our observation wagon, which is why we have also built in an emergency exit from the wagon that takes you straight out of the maze.
I know Castle Hill Farm has partnered with many local businesses and organizations like the C.H. Booth Library & the Newtown Community Center to bring outdoor programming to families. Can you share a few past programs and maybe anything you have planned for the future?
Sure! Our community is so important to our farm- I mean, without their support, we wouldn’t be able to grow our businesses. That being said, the C.H. Booth Library, Newtown Community Center, Music Together Monroe/Newtown with Miss. Julie, and other local organizations and businesses were and are such an important part of our children’s lives. We really enjoy helping and working with them to bring outdoor programs to families, especially when activities were so limited in the past year. This past summer, the Newtown Community Center offered a hayride and bonfire event for members. The C.H. Booth Library offered an outdoor concert with Principle Al and Pete the Cat to the community. Miss. Julie joined us for our Easter Egg Hunt and engaged the children in music and dance as they collected their last (musical shaker) egg from her and the Easter Bunny! Ferris Creamery delivered ice cream to us for our Father’s Day bonfire event. There are so many local businesses and organizations that we have enjoyed sharing the farm with!
Looking ahead at this fall, Miss. Julie, with Music Together, is hosting SIX classes weekly at the farm, The Newtown Yoga Center is offering an early class on Sunday mornings with reservations available to the public, we have two scheduled paint and sip nights with Painted By The Shore coming up, Real Food Share Newtown is hosting a farm to table fundraiser under the pavilion, and we are partnering with Aquila’s Nest Vineyards to celebrate their 1 year anniversary in October. We love offering events that bring people to Castle Hill Farm where they can enjoy the beauty we see every day, and we definitely look forward to connecting with other local businesses in the future as well!
Lastly, I know like all small businesses, the pandemic affected the farm and what you generally have planned for “typical” years. Can you share a few ways you were able to pivot during the past year and a half?
In the beginning of the pandemic, when things were more unsure, we closed our doors to ensure we were in-line with all state guidelines. There were a few weddings, family gatherings, and other events that we unfortunately were unable to accommodate. It was so difficult to watch disappointed families and guests make the difficult decision to cancel their events. When we opened back up in July, we brought some of our farm stand produce outside on tables and allowed only one masked customer in the building at a time. We kept special events limited to 20 people and followed state guidelines. Pivoting through the sunflower stroll, corn maze, hayrides, and pumpkin patch were a little bit more tricky, as we usually accommodate large numbers of guests at one time. We decided not to run our hayrides this past season and limited sunflower and corn maze entry by requiring an online reservation ahead of time. It worked really well, but limiting entry was definitely difficult on the farm. Our Christmas tree season was also a little different than we are traditionally used to. During this time, we required all guests and staff to be masked. We also labeled our waiting area with social distance markers. With all of this in mind, we noticed people ultimately seemed comfortable and we still saw a lot of returning families and familiar faces.
This year, our farm stand has been open all season. We have been steady with special events under the pavilion, as outdoor spaces are very popular right now. In the fall, we plan to run our hayrides with masks and social distancing requirements. To prioritize the health and safety of our guests, we have cut our corn maze paths much wider than normal and we have pull-off points for guests to use when passing another group . This will allow us the opportunity to open to the public like past years without reservation.
We are hoping for a good season and to enjoy some normalcy again with our community!
Castle Hill Farm is located at 1 Sugar Lane, Newtown, CT. Please visit their website for hours and seasonal events. I want to thank Stephanie & the entire Kearns/Paproski families for participating in this special Meet-a-Mom series sponsored by the Connecticut Office of Economic & Community Development & the Office of the Governor. For more stories on how our state’s small businesses are helping us build strong communities, please visit doyourthingct.org and help us to celebrate Connecticut’s small businesses.