Fresh from the Farm
The Double L farm stand in Southport makes eating locally grown food a delicious daily luxury
Photograph by: Bruce Plotkin
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Farm-to-table cooking is staging a renaissance, thanks to chefs around the country who spearheaded the craze for locally farmed, organic foods. The passion for eating farm-fresh fare has trickled down to the masses in Fairfield County, with soccer moms and investment bankers rubbing elbows at area farmer’s markets, sampling ripe vegetables and fresh fruits in season. Creating sumptuous, healthy and all-natural meals at home is easier than ever. We visited the newly relaunched Double L farm stand on the Post Road in Southport, one of the local places that offers a wide variety of seasonal food.
The Double L was first opened on Kings Highway North in Westport in 1986. This June original founder Lloyd Allen relaunched it with Justin Hawryluk and Emily Fenn, who had worked at the original stand as teens. Hawryluk was previously a local farm produce buyer at Fresh Direct in New York City, and Fenn was a schoolteacher.
Allen, whose father was a gardener, admits that getting his hands dirty excites him. “Justin brought me back to my roots. For a while, I had the writing bug,” he offers, alluding to his 2006 book Being Martha, about his former Westport neighbor Martha Stewart. “But I really missed the farm stand. When Justin called me and said he wanted to open up something out here, I picked him up at the train station from New York and drove him around until we found this,” he gestures as he stands in front of the rough-hewn red structure on a dusty lot.
The trio is gathering fresh ingredients for a celebratory meal at Allen’s home in Weston. The Double L’s first summer was a resounding success, with truckloads of sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, buttery lettuce, herbs and zinnias native to Connecticut being carried off by happy, repeat customers. “People wanted local food, healthy food and the old-fashioned experience of pulling off the side of the road to get it. We’ve brought back that little bit of lost humanity,” Allen explains.
The human touch is a large part of the stand’s winning formula. Customers come in and the friendly staff is ready with updates on what’s fresh, they offer samples and carry produce to customers’ cars. “I love hoisting every box,” he enthuses.
Despite setbacks and challenges (like a delivery of sweet corn that arrived a day after the advertised date for the big sale), the Double L plucked through its first summer to become a hit in the area. It has also allowed the three principals to satisfy an entrepreneurial yearning. Fenn, who stopped by to say hello one day, could not have imagined that she would return to her favorite summer job — this time as a partner. “I used to tell my mom that working at the stand was the most fun job I ever had,” she recalls. “When I walked in this summer, something just felt right about the place.” Today, she does everything from marketing and advertising to working the register to designing merchandising.
The distinctive red building with bold white lettering did not inspire confidence upon initial inspection. When friends saw the ramshackle “barn” with a leaky roof, they pointed out all the work it would need and the realities of opening a small business in a down economy. Allen and his crew saw it differently: “We thought the timing was spot-on, with more people interested in eating foods grown close to home. We were itching to get our hands on these beautiful vegetables and plants in time for summer, so we just went for it.”
They used the Double L’s quirky facade to create a homespun vibe that has become a big part of the stand’s appeal. “I can’t tell you how many people stop in and say, ‘I saw the hand-lettering on your barn and I just had to pull over for fresh corn,’” Hawryluk explains. He recalls customers, after tasting their berries or watermelon, saying things like, “I could kick myself for buying my produce in the supermarket. I’ll be back!”
It’s easy to be taken in by the staff’s old-fashioned sweat and genuine enjoyment of their hard work. “Part of the fun of what we do is that we get to visit the farms, talk to the farmers and feel like we’re really supporting their efforts to stay in business,” Hawryluk explains. “The bonus is that we get amazing fruits, vegetables and flowers that were all grown either in Connecticut, Long Island or New York. We pull from
a lot of farms. It’s great to be able to make a meal and know that it consists of delicious, locally farmed goods in season.”