Designer jeans, designer eyewear, and now Designer Vegetables?
Except, in the case of designer vegetables - or heirloom varieties - you are actually getting a better product.
David and Ty Zemelsky operate Starlight Gardens behind their home on Fowler Avenue in Durham. The farm, now in its 11th year, is USDA Certified Organic. The fields are dotted with rows of vegetables that are kept warm under row covers. Two large hoop houses - or framed structures with plastic sheathing - serve as greenhouses.
The Zemelskys grow “a pretty eclectic bunch of things,” according to David Zemelsky, but their focus is on season extension farming without supplementary heat or light, an agriculture method that allows them to grow vegetables 12 months a year.
“This is a model for making fresh, delicious food available to people all year long without having to truck it in,” Zemelsky explained. The vegetables are “available right here, right now."
Starlight Gardens specializes in vegetables that are “exotic and visually interesting in color, shape, and taste to please people’s palates,” said Zemelsky. The farm started growing mostly greens, but expanded to tomatoes (40 different heirloom variety types), eggplants, carrots, herbs and more.
The Zemelskys market their products at weekly and seasonal farmers’ markets throughout Connecticut including Madison, Westport, Worcester Square in New Haven, and Old Lyme. Locally, you can catch them at the Wadsworth Mansion’s Farmer’s Market in August.
Your best chance to enjoy a Zemelsky-grown vegetable is at an eatery near you. They have successfully tapped into the restaurant market by providing organic produce year-round to in Middletown, in Durham, the Copper Beach Inn in Lyme, Water’s Edge, and several other Hartford and shoreline restaurants.
It's clear the couple enjoys what they do. “I like being a grower,” Zemelsky said. Pointing to a small tomato plant, he adds, “These guys started as a little seed and now look at them.”
This enthusiasm went over big with Mrs. Anderson’s first grade class from who came and planted a few rows of lettuce last fall.
David and Ty Zemelsky were not always growers. Ty is an artist and David was once a family therapist. It is clear when he talks about the growing process, he likes working with dirt and plants.
To avoid soil-borne diseases, the Zemelskys graft each tomato plant, joining a rootstock from a carefully bred plant that can withstand disease, with a scion or germinated stalk of one of their varieties. Then the plant, as Zemelsky explains, “goes to the hospital,” which is really the nursery in the house’s basement, to recover in a moist, dark place with grow lights.
The resulting plant will be twice as strong and more productive.
He also explained why his vegetables taste better. His winter greens, for example, are grown year-round without the benefit of auxiliary heating or light. “When a plant, like spinach, perceives that it is in danger of dying, it produces carbohydrates that produces a sweeter vegetable to eat.”
This, he emphasized, is the benefit of seasonal extension farming. Organic, fresh, tasty, and beautiful year-round vegetables!