Lars Demander

Lars Demander

For over 250 years, Clover Nook Farm in Bethany, Connecticut has been family run. Established in 1765, the farm has continuously passed through the care of many family members and now CAHNR alumnus Lars Demander is carrying on that legacy. Here is what he said in an interview.

What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree?

I completed my bachelor’s in agricultural science with a minor in agribusiness management at Cornell University in 2014. I earned my master’s at UConn in agricultural and resource economics in 2015.

What CAHNR class was most useful to you?

I found the process of completing my research project at UConn to be the most helpful. I learned about consumer psychology in regards to local horticulture.

My research project, entitled “Connecticut Market for Ethno-Cultural Vegetables,” focused on the market viability of locally grown ethnic vegetables in Connecticut. While there are a number of ethnic vegetables that can be cultivated here, I focused on bok choy, a Chinese cabbage, and okra.

I started by giving a survey to 854 Connecticut residents. In the survey, they were presented multiple choice questions, where they chose which option they would purchase in a real life scenario. For every question, there were four variables, including the type of vegetable, price, growing practice label and origin. Ten questions for both bok choy and okra were generated, using more commonly consumed vegetables as alternate choices.

Once the results were gathered, I used a latent class model to attempt to group people who had similar responses to the survey. For example, people who always chose the lowest price might be a group or people who avoided okra no matter what may be another group. Once I established these groups, I looked at their demographic backgrounds to see if there was any significance between those factors and purchasing decisions.

A few of my general findings were that most people, unsurprisingly, preferred lower prices, but several smaller groups revealed that price was not a factor in their decisions. People also generally preferred Connecticut grown products, and if not grown in the state, they selected products grown in the United States. Lastly, a notable trend was people avoiding products with a GMO label.

For okra and bok choy, no one group preferred these vegetables over the alternate choices. The one group that was most open to selecting okra were the least price sensitive, preferred organic label, favored Connecticut grown and were likely a racial minority male under thirty-five years old. The group most interested in purchasing bok choy were older than thirty-five years old and were very price sensitive, tending to choose the cheapest option.

Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn.

When I finally presented my master’s project was my favorite moment at UConn as it was the culmination of my time here.

Please describe your current job.

I am a co-owner of my family’s farm, Clover Nook Farm, located in Bethany, Connecticut. We are primarily a fresh market retail operation, growing a wide range of fruits and vegetables and selling them right at our farm. We have recently started offering other agricultural products from other Connecticut farms.

We also recently started doing farm-to-table events. I had started to hear about these types of events and thought that our farm would make a great venue to host our own. I was still earning my degree at UConn in 2015 when it was our farm’s 250th year of operation, but it seemed a great time to hold our first farm-to-table event. We held two events in mid-August, during the peak of the vegetable season. One was a buffet-style dinner which was a less expensive alternative to our more extravagant, multi-course meal prepared by a celebrity chef from Stamford. We set up everything right on the farm, within a stone’s throw of where the food prepared for the dinners were grown. Both events had live music. People seemed to enjoy them very much as both sold out and people continued to talk about them afterwards.

Last season, I was finishing up with school and coming back to the family farm and the business was ready to expand, so we invested in constructing a new retail facility. The project was time consuming and a lengthy process so I did not have time to plan farm-to-table events for the 2016 season. Many people over last year’s growing season have been asking when we’re going to host these events again. Most of the customers asking did not attend the 2015 events but had heard about them. Their interest in future events was encouraging so I’m currently in the process of planning farm-to-table events for this coming growing season.

Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life?

Yes. My long-term goal was always to return to the family farm. I completed my undergraduate degree in agricultural science to learn more about the growing side of the business. Then I rounded out my education by learning about the business and marketing side by coming to UConn.

Do you have advice for current students that will help them in the future?

Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. At first, I was intimidated with the coursework and the amount of research involved when I was completing my master’s program. While it was definitely tough at times, in the end I am glad that I decided to earn my degree at UConn.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

My great-grandfather, Sherman Sr., attended CAHNR back when it was the Connecticut Agricultural College. He was the fifth generation of my family to own and operate Clover Nook Farm. After attending college and returning to the farm, he was quick to take over and expand farm operations. These included the dairy, a large poultry and egg business, fruit orchards and vegetables. He constructed a state-of-the-art large dairy barn and became one of the largest operating dairy farms in the state at the time, milking about seventy cows. He was also quick to adopt many new technologies for the farm, such as an electric milking machine and the first tractors on the farm.

Striving towards greater sustainability is one of the driving factors for my farm. It is my belief that sustainability is the most important food issue growers face today. With a growing population to feed and less land to feed them with, farmers face one of the most difficult challenges today. The only solution is to have another green revolution, similar to the one that took place in the mid-20th century. This time, however, we have essentially no additional land to bring into production and, in many cases, are losing farmland to developments. Therefore, the only solution is the improvement and adaptation of agricultural technologies that improve yields while also not overworking the land. Unfortunately, many of these technologies brought forth from the science community are met with harsh public criticism.

Though we are a small family farm, we strive to achieve sustainability through our growing practices. Each year we continue to lower our dependence on outside inputs, such as fertilizer, and use more natural soil additives such as compost and manure. With these practices, in combination with an integrated pest management system and proper crop rotation, I believe we are on the right track. In the future, I would also like to incorporate renewable energy on the farm, whether it’s solar, wind or methane digestion.