WESTPORT, Mass.— TO most outsiders, the southeastern coast of New England is a stretch of tranquil countryside, a blur of old stone fences and shady country roads on the way to Cape Cod. A place where ospreys nest along the tidal Westport River, and where black and white cows graze in pastures all the way down to the shoreline.
But the region is also blessed with the longest growing season in all of New England and a sunny temperate climate like that of northern France. And like that part of France, it is the source for oysters so fine they are sold by name, and wines that are served in some of the leading restaurants in Boston and New York. One of the best American blue cheeses is made here, not far from centuries-old apple orchards and farms that are experimenting with cutting-edge technology in fish farming.
All of the region's exceptional bounty is the result of hand labor on the kind of small farms that were on the verge of disappearing just a few years ago. Like other small farms around the country, they are being rescued by agricultural artisans who have learned to offer the quality that satisfies a more appreciative and sophisticated America. Sommaripa, a former potter, is considered the most successful farmer in the area -- even though she tills all of two acres. Her amazingly fragrant herbs are cut to order for some of Boston's top chefs.
Her business, Eva's Garden, has been growing organic herbs for more than 20 years in Dartmouth, including basil that you cannot resist the temptation to pluck and rub between your fingers. Not content to grow the ordinary, Ms. Sommaripa has recently leased some additional land to experiment with growing herbs in high shade in the forest.
''A lot of chefs have our name on their menus, so a lot of people come to visit,'' Ms. Sommaripa said. ''There is a basic satisfaction feeling connected to the earth and the source of your sustenance.''
Chris Schlesinger, a chef and an occasional contributor to the Dining Section, is one of the few local representatives of the restaurant side of the farm-chef equation. His Westport restaurant, the Back Eddy, features local ingredients. ''Right now, there are just baby steps between chefs and growers,'' he said. ''Other than Eva's Garden, no growers are being asked to grow for chefs, but we are starting and that's the break. That's the critical mass.''