By Josh LaBella
Bob and Barbara Newkirk lead a life steeped in the traditions of New England. The couple has run B&B Farms for 21 years – one of the last farms in West Haven.
Bob has lived and worked on the land for over 50 years; B&B Farms being the most recent incarnation of businesses on the land. He said he and his wife, whom he called his partner in life and in business, knew farming would be hard work and little pay when they started but that it has been a good life.
“We didn’t know the big box stores were going to kick us in the butt,” said Newkirk. “But we just kept on plugging along.”
Newkirk said they have done a lot of rebuilding on the property to fit their business’s needs. What was once a gift shop became their home after a Christmas Tree Shop opened in Orange. They also had to downsize their greenhouse after Home Depot, Lowes and Walmart came in and took profits from their flower sales.
“I didn’t want to give up on my property,” said Newkirk, joking that he probably should have if he had known the future.
B&B Farms is on Jones Hill Road. It is open from May to then end of October and then open after Thanksgiving to sell Christmas trees. The 15-acre farm has animals such as a horse, a rabbit and goats. They sell flowers, vegetables and an assortment of delicious homemade ice creams. Newkirk said tradition is important to him.
“We’re the last working farm in West Haven,” said Newkirk. “We have Simone’s [Golden Acres Farm] which is a greenhouse and then Latella’s [J Latella & Sons Piggery] which is a slaughterhouse. We wanted to keep some of the tradition going because West Haven at one point was a very big farming community.”
Bob said he also worked construction on the side to make ends meet. He said it was not uncommon for he and Barbara to work 20 hours a day. It can be a thankless job, according to Newkirk, but it is very rewarding. He called it a labor of love.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Newkirk. “I am originally from Seymour. My grandfather had a farm up there where we milked cows. We just try to keep some of the past going so the kids can see what it was.”
Newkirk said they hosted around 800 school children from the surrounding area in 2018 for hay rides and pumpkin picking. He said he can tell that young people have not been exposed to the farming lifestyle.
“A lot of people enjoy coming up here,” said Newkirk. “They find it relaxing. Sometimes I feel like I’m providing a service.”
Farmer Bob, as some call him, said they could not do it without the support of the West Haven people. He said he is also happy to see they are getting new customers from outside of town. He said there is a trend in the farming business which has seen more people supporting small local farms.
Newkirk said recently he has had a lot of “executives” and people in high paying jobs visit the farm to talk to him about how they would go about starting a farm. He said he lets them shadow him for a day.
“They want to get back to nature,” said Bob. “They are tired of the hustle and bustle.”
Thee farmer said he works hard but enjoys the lifestyle, adding that he never has trouble putting his “head on the pillow.” He said he is proud of what he has.
“My father always said, ‘You came into this work with a good name and that’s all you’ve got to take with you,’” said Newkirk. “I’ve always tried to live to that.”