“Milford’s a funny place,” said Mary Treat of , a cornucopia of flowers and produce that has operated within the family since 1948. “They [the residents] go away and they come back. I’ve been here since the early 1960’s. I’ve watched a lot of generations go through the door.”
Treat was nine year olds when, she said, her father gave her a hat one summer and told her to pick strawberries at the Robert Treat Farm.
“Once I started picking strawberries, I came back every summer,” said a woman who went on to major in fruit and vegetable production at the University of Connecticut.
Then, she married the boss’s son, Robert Mortimer Treat. The lineage of her husband, who died in 1986 when Mary was 30 years old, stretched back to the very first Robert Treat in Milford, who was born in England in the early 1620’s and became one of the city’s earliest settlers.
From 1683 to 1698, according to records at the Connecticut State Library, he served as governor of the Colony of Connecticut. Earlier, he had served as a deputy at the New Haven Colony General Court—it was from New Haven Colony that Milford’s founding fathers came—and as the chief military officer of Milford and then as deputy governor.
Robert Treat acquired extensive properties before he died in Milford in 1710.
The 25 tillable acres of soil under Treat's supervision provide produce that is now in the early stages of growth. A farm market, open-air pavillion and greenhouses accompany it.
Keeping the farm in the family is no easy task.
“I work almost every day,” said Treat who conceded she had been out the door of her Milford home by 5:30 a.m. on a day earlier this week. In summer, she said she heads off to the farm by 4:30 a.m. or as soon as day breaks. “When I can sit home and have a coffee, that’s a day off.”
“I drink with my left hand and water with my right hand,” she said, when asked how she had had her early morning cup of coffee on a day when she was watering some of the farm's abundance of plants.
Her husband followed his father in running the Robert Treat Farm, but what keeps this family business going are the customers who continue to return.
“The only reason the farm is here is because we have great customers,” she said.
Treat is especially pleased with the community-supported agriculture or CSA shares that the farm now offers. The purchase of a share gives a customer fresh, local produce and, in the case of the Robert Treat Farm, also cut flowers, while allowing the farm to predict how many fruits and vegetables it needs to produce.
“I can remember days when we grew a lot of things,” Treat recalled. Then, she said, the area would have one week of rainy weather and customers would find it easier to go to the grocery store than come out to the farm. “We’d chop up a whole field of lettuce,” she said.
Within her awareness as well are the farms lost to the construction of highways or the times when farmers, having stopped farming their land commercially and, so, absent the tax benefits of a state policy available to those who do, had to sell their property to developers.
And while Treat conceded that she is “crazy” to work as hard as she does, the ascribed her efforts on the farm to “a love of what you do” and a “passion for what you do.”
“I like the land,” said the mother of three children she raised with the help of her parents while she continued to operate the farm. And if none of her children have chosen to become part of the family farming tradition—well, now there are grandchildren.
“I don’t want to sell it,” Treat said of the family farm.