Diemand Farm continues to evolve with Smokehouse Dinners
The Recorder, July 13, 2018, by Richie Davis
Things are smoking down in Mormon Hollow.
There’s baby back ribs, brisket and, of course, Diemand chicken.
Diemand Farm is cooking up “Smokehouse Dinners” on alternate Monday evenings — and it’s just the latest recipe of changes for the 82-year-old farm.
The dinners, on the first and third Mondays in July and August, are the outgrowth of a catering business, which in turn is an outgrowth of the chicken barbecues that founder Al Diemand started as an offshoot of what was originally a chicken-and-egg farm. (But which came first?)
The dinners, which will be served again Monday, July 16, and Aug. 6 at 6 p.m., are also an outgrowth of the giant smokers made by Terry Bucci, whose wife, Anne, is one of Al and Elsie Diemand’s dozen offspring — three of whom still run the business, with help from lots of generations of family members, as well as friends.
“We’ve been going with the flow a long time,” said Anne Diemand Bucci, seated at one of nine picnic tables under a tent and overlooking a herd of beef cattle and the hills beyond. This is the scenic backdrop for the dinners, which also include homemade macaroni and cheese, fresh local corn on the cob, cornbread and tomato feta salad.
The menu alternates to include smoked kielbasa from Mountain Top Country Meats in Savoy as well as quinoa black bean salad, but there’s still the Ciesluk corn and the rest.
Bucci remembers growing up with just chickens on the farm, raised for meat, and then for eggs.
But as the family grew, with the farm needing to support the growing families of her sister Faith and brother Peter, as well as her own family in addition to her parents, Diemand turkeys took flight in 1989 with 500 of the big birds, following the demise of Gill’s Franklin Turkey Farm.
Those turkeys, and the beef cattle that joined them in the 1990s, got an added boost after 2001, when the farm expanded its Diemand Farm Store where hundreds of items — from Moroccan turkey pie, turkey burritos and turkey lasagna to What’s-ya-got soup, cold strawberry soup and spinach-mushroom bake.
Some of those dishes rotate onto the Smokehouse Dinner menu, like celery Parmesan salad, or like the quinoa black bean salad on Aug. 6 that will take the place of next week’s tomato feta salad.
“We try to feature some of things make here,” says Bucci, adding that when the backyard dinners began last year, it included staples like coleslaw, but then it dawned on family members that they should serve some of the side dishes customers didn’t realize are sold at the store.
Back then, the farm was serving its Smokehouse Dinners every Monday, “but we decided that was too much,” Bucci said — especially when processing chickens as early as 4:30 a.m. meant extremely long days, before the dinners were cleaned up as late as 9 p.m. “This is definitely a lot more doable.”
The Diemands see many repeat customers through the summer, as well as new ones, from Greenfield, from Millers Falls and Orange, but sometimes further afield, including Gardner or Westminster.
The picnic tables, where customers sometimes hang around after the dinner for watermelon or s’mores around the campfire, lend themselves to family-style seating. “Sometimes with people you don’t know, so you make new friends,” said Tessa White-Diemand, Bucci’s 34-year-old daughter who helps run the dinners.
White-Diemand, who returned to the farm a few years back and represents the third of what is now a fourth-generation business, said news of the dinners has spread by word of mouth, but also by Facebook and the Diemand Farm website.
“We want the word to get out, but not too much,” she says, adding that the sign along Route 2 in Erving’s Farley section has also helped people find their way to the farm store, where they also hear about the biweekly dinners, where there’s enough picnic-table seating for 54. The Diemands ask customers to make reservations for the upcoming dinner by Sunday at noon by calling 978-544-3806, writing to email@example.com or going to www.thediemandfarm.com/events/smokehouse-dinners
Even after reservations are cut off, though, people are still welcome to wander up — although they may not get their first choice of entree. The Diemands arrange for plenty of food. Attendees may also want to bring their own lawn chairs, even though the Diemands bring out extra seating.
“Last year, we sold out numerous times,” said Bucci, who has been exploring ideas for expanding the dinners, maybe by setting up additional tables, adding another tent or encouraging more take-out orders. They’ve also thought about having two seatings (an idea that was rejected) and possibly about offering Sunday dinners as well.
Like “the little chicken that could,” the Diemand Farm has been evolving in myriad ways, as the imposition of federal regulations led the family to reduce its flock of egg-laying chickens from 15,000 about half a dozen years ago to 3,000 today, curtailing its wholesale business to only a handful of outlets like Foster’s Supermarket, Green Fields Market, Clarkdale, Uppinngil and Millstone and Mim’s Market (where its turkey pies are also sold.)
Peter Diemand, meanwhile, is trying out his saw milling and turning out bowls and cutting boards, as well as birdhouses. There’s now a meat CSA, catering for breakfasts, lunches and special events, and baked goods and desserts sold daily at the store.
A 2016 Massachusetts ballot question that outlawed farms from confining egg-laying hens will take effect in 2022, so the Diemands are now weighing whether to reduce the size of their egg business even more.
“We need to see how we change the way we’ve done things in past, ” Bucci said. “In my dad’s generation, he may have had a vision of raising meat for the community, and then switching to eggs because that was what was called for, and then Peter, Faith and I come into the business and just kind of are doing things how they’ve been. We’re definitely learning more and are open to what the response of our customers are, With more and more rules and regulations coming down for the past 15 or 20 years, and every year, it seems there’s more we have to figure out.”
Fortunately, the Diemands — who have White-Diemand and her cousins interested to different degrees in working for the family business — have been able to get help from Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, where a Whole Farm Planning project has been working with beginning farms in Montague and Ashfield, according to program coordinator Stevie Schafenacker.
Schafenacker’s three-year program, in conjunction with Holistic Management International, helps five farms on decision making about long-range goals, financial planning and land-use decisions.
She said the ventures that have started because of Bucci’s generation taking over what their parents had started is continuing as the Diemands work on moving the 175-acre farm into the future — maybe by adding trails, or cabins or an educational component.
“I think you’re going to have a lot of new, exciting events and expansions happening as the next generation takes over, and they have their ideas, and there are ways they want to see the enterprises of the farm succeed,” Schafenacker said. “It’s both that the farm has evolved over a whole generation to serve the interest of the family members and also what customers are responding, but also the next generation ready to take on new ideas and opportunities. I think it’s awesome that there is interest from the next generation taking the farm forward. That’s been exciting working with them — that interest and support is there..”
“To me,” said Bucci, “it’s been great, being able to have different views,” from her daughter, siblings and other family members, as well as from CISA, as the family contemplates the farm’s future — maybe adding trails or cabins or an educational component or whatever other realistic ideas hatch.
To learn more, visit: diemandfarm.com