Fort Hill Farms is located in the town of Thompson, Connecticut, at the convergence of the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island borders. The farmland, rich with ponds, lakes, forests, and large fields for grazing, has supported farmers since before the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century. Under the care of Peter and Kristin Orr, the farm is now locally famous for its lavender gardens, corn maze, and ice cream, in addition to its herd of Holstein and Guernsey cattle.
The history of Fort Hill Farms can be traced to 1683, when King Charles II granted Sir Robert Thompson, who would become the town's eponym, a large parcel of land. 200 years later, the name "Fort Hill Farms" was coined when John Doane of the Chicago & Pacific Union Railroad, settled in Thompson, using his wealth to consolidate many large land parcels and create a dairy farm. Shortly thereafter, he received a visit from Mr. Ream, his friend and founder of U.S. Steel, who liked the area so much that he decided to build a house on the property. Together, the two magnates brought in a team of 170 Italian stonemasons to build the famous walls that still surround the property.
In 1942, Kristin's grandparents purchased 92 acres in Thompson, CT and began milking cows. The family didn't originally intend to become dairy farmers, only acquiring their first pair of cows as payment from a local farmer. Over the years, the herd, and subsequently the dairy operation, grew. In 1980, Peter began helping Kristin's father, planting corn and helping in the fields. While having careers elsewhere, over time, they purchased the farm upon the retirement of Kristin's father. They also purchased several other farms to secure the land base for future generations. In the time since, the business has continued to evolve, inviting people from every corner of the globe to Thompson.
Fort Hill Farms is proof positive that Cabot's family farms come in all shapes and sizes. Like many dairy farms, its over 1000 acres feature corn and hay fields, along with grass pastures for grazing, which keep their 200+ milking Holsteins happy and well fed. However, the Orrs also have lavender gardens, with more than 1,500 plants, more than 70 perennial gardens, a creamery which sells ice cream made from their milk and cream and an educational corn maze, for guests of all ages.
Peter, an agronomist with degrees from UConn and Penn State, believes soil is the key to a rich, productive farm, a fact that he often imparts to his daughters. Both of his girls – Kies, an agriculture student at SUNY Cobleskill, and Lily, an animal science student at UConn, love helping out on the farm. “For us, farming is a family activity,” says Kristin, herself a graduate of UConn.
Fort Hill Farms receives thousands of visitors each year, many coming for the corn maze adventure and the delicious “Farmer’s Cow” super premium ice cream. Fort Hill Farms also sells a number of lavender baked goods and other specialty products made with Kristin’s lavender.
Yankee Magazine has named Fort Hill Farms “The Best of New England” multiple times and the farm has been named the Connecticut Tourism Ambassador. Over the years, the farm has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Boston Globe, and The New York Times. Additionally, the Orrs have won numerous awards from Agri-Mark for their milk quality.
Even with all their success, and all the recognition Fort Hill Farms has received, the Orrs remain family farmers. “My father used to wake me up each morning at quarter to four to milk the cows,” says Kristin. “When I would ask him why I have to get out of bed so early, he would tell me that if I didn’t get up and milk the cows, the kids in the city wouldn’t have any milk to drink.”
Along with saving farmland from development, the Orr family is still passionate about providing for the kids in the city.