Fellows family sells Chase Hill Farm

The Greenfield Recorder, July 19, 2017, by Richie Davis

WARWICK — These are hardly the hay days for dairy farmers, as the 2016 Berkshire documentary, “Forgotten Farms,” makes clear.

After all, New England has lost over 10,000 dairy farms in the past 50 years, with only about 2,000 remaining. In Franklin County, they totaled more than 125 forty years ago but today number fewer than 35.

Yet farms like Chase Hill Farm, which was passed down 33 years ago in the Fellows family to a generation that created a niche in handmade cheeses, have demonstrated that it is possible for dairy farmers to not only survive, but do well through a combination of Yankee ingenuity and hard work.

Now, Mark and Jeannette Fellows have sold their dairy farm to a young couple who have been farming in Northfield.

Ben and Laura Wells-Tolley, who had been setting up a dairy at Southwind Farm, bought the land, cows and cheesemaking equipment from the Fellows.

“We’re going to slow down a little bit,” said Mark Fellows. Running their 264-acre operation, he said, was beginning to wear them down.

“We’re in our mid-50s, and have been farming there for 33 years. It was just getting really hard to do the work,” he said. “Rather than wait 10 years and have to sell it, we thought we’d start looking, and we happened to find someone who was interested in it, so we went for it. We figured they’d be a good match. They were trying to do the same kind of things. Ben and Laura share a lot of same the values: local food, grass-fed, organic.”

He said Ben Wells-Tolley has been working at Chase Hill for the past couple of years, learning cheesemaking, and transitioning the young couple’s herd into organic and merging it with the Fellows herd of Normandes and Jerseys.

Fellows, who is continuing to produce hay for the farm’s new owners, said his parents “built everything from scratch” in the late 1950s, and added that leaving the herd behind as well as the farm is “a little difficult emotionally,” but he and his wife will continue living in town. He plans to still do some “light logging” with his team of draft horses on 68 acres to sell cordwood.

He also plans to begin driving a school bus route in town.

The Fellowses, who were named “Local Heroes” by Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture in 2005, produced Tomme de Normande, Colby, farmstead and other artisan cheeses and sold organic raw milk, at one point attracting families from the eastern part of the state for 100 to 200 gallons a week. More recently the couple, who originally had also been members of the Our Family Farms milk-marketing cooperative, have been selling 25 to 30 gallons a week, Fellows said.