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Farmer Bill’s Top 5 Tips to Stay Healthy This Winter

January 2, 2018

At Fat Stone Farm (Lyme, CT), proprietors Liz and Bill Farrell take their health seriously – in fact their health is one of the main reasons they started their farm and homestead in 2005.

They built the 11-acre farm from scratch, clearing trees and brush, building a barn and root cellar, and adding livestock, fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and gardening areas. The land provides their heat (wood), their electricity (solar panels), their water (wells) and food. In return, they build the property’s soil without synthetic fertilizers, recycle farm nutrients through composting and gray water management, and host school and scout groups. Their main business on the farm is making Certified Organic Maple Syrup in the winter, making Elderberry Apple Shots in the fall, and growing a few specialized Certified Organic crops such as elderberry and elderflowers, baby ginger and baby turmeric.

Running the homestead is a year-round activity, but, being the parents of two boys, they know that winter brings its own challenges with germs and viruses. And, getting sick in the winter means their maple syrup operation shuts down, so they have developed a routine that keeps them in top form:

  1. Eat as close to the ‘local dirt’ as possible. Bill and Liz avoid processed foods, but also make a point to grow what they eat. Local foods, especially ones from right out the back door, retain more nutrition than food trucked in from distant places. This means no strawberries in January, but strawberries picked quickly from their own patch and dehydrated are the perfect substitute. Liz has spent years learning the art and science of preserving the food they grow and debunking a few myths along the way. For example, after harvesting a bumper crop of spinach, Liz investigated how canning the spinach would impact its nutrition. She found that cooked spinach is higher in antioxidants than raw. Overall, she uses several preservation methods, and relies on a balance of each to keep the menu varied and the nutrition balanced: freezing, dehydrating, canning, and “root-cellaring.”
  2. Keep moving, especially in the winter. The sap in maple trees will run when the daytime temperatures climb above freezing and then fall below freezing at night. With 2,500 taps out in their local forests, Bill walks the woods for 20+ miles several times in a season, often with 20 lbs of equipment in tow and treacherous footing underneath. Winter exercise works the heart more than summer exercise, gives a dose of much-needed Vitamin D, and, most importantly, helps to regulate sleep. It is also linked to better mood.
  3. Turn off the devices. Bill has a policy of turning the cell phone off at 5:00 p.m. It’s not easy to have this discipline when running a business, but this gives his body enough of a wind-down to have a complete rest. Increased cell phone use is correlated with disturbed sleep. Without some consistent quality shut-eye, our bodies’ ability to fight germs is weakened.
  4. Hydrate with natural drinks. Long before energy drinks existed, farmers drank them, especially in the hot days of haying fields. With long days and nights in the “sugar shack” boiling maple sap into maple syrup, Liz has developed a few updated, tasty beverages to keep their momentum going. Maple sap is full of the nutrition the trees need to push out new leaves every spring. Liz finds its delicate taste is perfect as a base for her “Sugar-Maker’s Punch” recipe, adapted from the old-time haymaker’s punch: 1 quart maple sap, ¼ cup vinegar, ¼ cup molasses (or maple syrup!), ¼ cup elderberry juice and a sprig of rosemary.
  5. Eat more native berries. Native berries are easy to grow (but harder to protect from birds) and provide years of production with a little care: water, sun, pruning, and nets to keep the birds off when the berries are ripening. The native elderberry (Sambucus nigra spp. Canadensis) is a stand-out berry, full of phytonutrients and antioxidants. Humans have been using many parts of this versatile bush for centuries on this continent, yet it is relatively unknown today. The berry has a bitter, almost fig-like taste, and is higher in these vitamins and minerals than blueberries or blackberries:


CALCIUM (MG) 55 9 42
IRON (MG) 2.3 0.4 0.9
PHOSPHORUS (MG) 57 18 32
POTASSIUM (MG) 406 114 233
SELENIUM (µG) 0.9 0.1 0.6
VITAMIN C (MG) 52 14 30
THIAMIN (MG) 0.1 0.06 0.03
VITAMIN B-6 (MG) 0.3 0.08 0.04
VITAMIN A (IU) 870 80 29

Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28

With a little adaptation, these 5 principles are easily convertible to a non-farm household. Stay healthy this winter!

Fat Stone Farm is located in Lyme, CT, and produces Certified Organic Maple Syrup, Elderberry Apple “Shots”, and more. Visit them on the web at:, Facebook, or Instagram. Their products are carried in over 40 independent, specialty, and organic stores in Connecticut, and on CT Farm Fresh Express (farm home-delivery service: The farm is not open to the public, but they always appreciate comments and suggestions. Readers can find more farm-inspired recipes on the website. They also welcome phone calls: 860-434-1545.

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