In Hadley, Humera Fasihuddin, Dee Scanlon and their children are betting the farm on goat meat
November 23, 2013. By Debra Scherban
Dee Scanlon was at the farmers market at Kendrick Park in Amherst one day giving out samples of goat curry. She urged me to try one. I was reluctant. Goat? I don’t know. She was gently persistent. So I tried it, liked it and took one of her cards:
“Copperhead Farm in Hadley. Goat Meat! See why the New York Times and Wall Street Journal say it’s not just for foodies and ethnic consumers.”
When I paid a visit weeks later, I found that Copperhead Farm is the 1½-acre yard of a yellow, two-story house on East Street bordered in the back by a vast potato field owned by a neighbor. It is home to Scanlon, 45, who ran an auto repair business on Route 9 for years, her spouse, Humera Fasihuddin, 43, a member of the town’s School Committee who works for a nonprofit, their three children, Noah, 11, Aiya, 7, and Jeremiah, 5 — and 45 goats, 80 chickens and eight turkeys (whose time, as we know, is running out).
“Goat meat is the most consumed red meat everywhere in the world other than the United States,” said Scanlon, after inviting me into her kitchen. “It is certainly up and coming here, but it’s a very long way from becoming a main source of meat in this country.”
She apologized for the clutter. “It’s been a tough week.” Two does miscarried, one Saturday, one Sunday. She found a buck dead Monday. Then the water heater blew shortly before the upstairs shower sprung a leak. Plumbing jobs took her the better part of two days. “It’s been busy, busy, busy. Not a great time.”
Learn as you go
Farming, even on a small scale, is hard, the couple has learned over the past decade. The women were planning to expand their turkey operation this season but saw all but eight of the 40 poults they ordered die during shipping last summer. The ones that arrived are fattening up for Thanksgiving duty and are all spoken for. “We could have sold all 40 of them, but it just didn’t work out,” Scanlon said. “We’ll try again next year.”
Raising the goats, whose numbers they aim to increase to 200, has been a learn-as-you-go proposition for Scanlon, who has counted on guidance from a supplier in Winchendon. Scanlon grew up working on her grandfather’s farm in Westfield, so she had basic farming mastered. But goats are another story. “They are a lot different than cows, that’s for sure.” For one thing, a goat’s health is more fragile, and it is far more curious. “They will find a weakness in any fence and find a way out,” Scanlon said.
Fasihuddin’s father’s suggested raising goats for meat. The women had started with vegetables, and then chickens for eggs and meat, after their eldest child was born. “That’s when we became far more aware of our food choices, what we were putting into our children’s bodies,” Fasihuddin said. “Who can afford an all-organic grocery bill? So, we started growing our own.”
Fasihuddin’s parents came to the U.S. from India before she was born. Fasihuddin didn’t need persuading about goats. She grew up in the suburbs of New York City eating goat one way or another every evening. Her parents worked in the city — dad as an engineer, mom as an architect — and she would get dinner started. “We’d have goat meat with potatoes, goat meat with spinach, goat meat with string beans, every kind of derivative possible,” she said. “It’s delicious.”
Scanlon was not convinced.
The only time she had tasted goat was 20 years earlier at the Fasihuddins’ home shortly after the two women met — Fasihuddin had come to Massachusetts to attend Smith College.
“It was fine until I found out what it was,” said Scanlon. Both women laugh at the memory. “I didn’t realize people didn’t eat goat,” said Fasihuddin.
Even after they had their first animals processed at the USDA plant in Westminster, Vt., Scanlon didn’t want to eat it. But Fasihuddin whipped up what has become her specialty, goat curry — which, by the way, does not contain curry. “I just call it curry because how else do you say it’s Indian food?” The recipe, which contains tomato, onion and cumin, is on Copperhead’s website .
Scanlon was sold. “The curry has a nice flavor. The meat is very tender.” And now she has taken over the culinary side of things, too, adapting goat to the U.S. palate which she describes on one of the website’s blogs, Goat Gourmet. She experiments with chops, sausage, ribs, shank roast. While she ticked off the dishes, Fasihuddin provided a running counterpoint: “Goat sausage is amazing, goat shank is amazing, goat ribs are amazing.”
When Scanlon finished the list, Fasihuddin added, “She’s converted many a Hadley farming neighbor to love her pulled goat.”
Two retail stores carry Copperhead’s eggs and meat, North Hadley Sugar Shack, just up the road, and Atlas Farm Store in South Deerfield. Besides the Kendrick Park market, Scanlon also sells at winter farmers markets in Hampden and Greenfield, and the pair is working with a wholesaler in Boston who has 30 customers.
The day I was there, the women’s division of labor was clear by their appearance. Scanlon, serpeant tattoo on her neck, was dressed in John Deere cap, hair tucked beneath it, sweatshirt and soiled jeans. She has been tending the farm full time since giving up her Route 9 Automotive business a year ago. Fasihuddin, who arrived just as I did from her job for the nonprofit National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, based in Hadley, was attired in an elegant black sweater and skirt and black high-heel boots. She handles the marketing.
At the alliance, she encourages college students to create technology startups. Right now that work pays most of the bills. “The farm is sustenance,” said Scanlon. “Someday maybe they’ll be equal.”
The backyard is a makeshift collection of fenced-in pens, shelters for the animals and the chicken coop, all of which Scanlon built. There is also an above-ground swimming pool, a swingset and a trampoline.
The Boer goats — white with copper-colored heads — graze on land the Kestel Land Trust owns nearby. It’s a barter arrangement; the animals clear the property. The women also use a neighbor’s acreage across the street and land on Mount Warner.
Processing their meat birds is something they have done together — but again with a clear division of labor.
“I pluck, part and bag ’em up,” said Scanlon. “I will eviscerate,” said Fasihuddin. “I was always good at biology and anatomy.”
Both laugh when I ask if the children have a role on the farm. “The kids like to go outside and see what’s going on once in a while and then they wash their hands of it,” said Scanlon. Sometimes Noah, the eldest, will take on a job to earn some money. “Then his interest fades quickly.”
The children do like to eat goat, though most of the supply is in demand for sale. “We have a bit of a cache now, but it will go quickly,” Scanlon said.
Next up is getting a tractor. Last year in heavy snowstorms Fasihuddin had to shovel ahead of Scanlon plowing with the snowblower to make a path to the goats. It wasn’t fun. “We’ll be better prepared this year,” Fasihuddin said. There is also a barn coming. Scanlon hopes to get barn poles in the ground soon and get started within six months. “Our dream is to have a barnraising party,” said Fasihuddin.
Another dream, said Scanlon, is to move to a remote area, maybe Montanna or Wyoming, with room for horses. She acknowledged, though, that farming here has its advantages. “Part of our success is that we live in an area populated by educated people who are open to trying new foods. I don’t think we’re going to see that if we move somewhere like that.”
Still, “It would be amazing to get on our horse and go for a three-hour ride on trails on property you own.”
Fasihuddin nodded. “But I need my satellite fiber-optic high-speed Internet connection.”
Debra Scherban can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.