J.O.E.’s Farm of Northampton Brewery: Tapping into a new/old business model

River Valley Market Newsletter. Loran Diehl Saito.
Everywhere you look in the Pioneer Valley, new farming business models are taking root. Here at River Valley Market we see evidence every day of what an exciting time it is to be living and eating in our region.

We are thrilled to announce a new collaboration growing between the co-op and Northampton Brewery. To kick things off, the co-op will be providing samples of our featured regional artisanal cheeses (Cave to Co-op and Farm Focus) for the Brewery’s new monthly Beer & Cheese Tasting event, taking place every first Thursday of the month at 6 pm in the Brewhouse. (Tickets are $10, available in limited quantities at the Brewery, 413-584-9903).

Our new partnership with Northampton Brewery is based on the values that both organizations share—a deep interest in local food and agriculture, sustaining our valuable local farms and farmland, and a deep care for the community. We have a few more collaborative projects up our collective sleeve…stay tuned for further developments.

Did you know that Northampton Brewery has its very own farm and grows 40% of its own produce in the summertime (20% year round)? J.O.E.’s Farm, a subsidiary of Northampton Brewery, is located on three acres of land in Williamsburg belonging to Brewery owner Janet Egelston (she’s the J.O.E. in J.O.E.’s Farm).

The farm is the fulfillment of a long-held dream for Janet, whose grandfather also farmed land in Williamsburg. Janet launched the farm four years ago under the management of Julia Costa-Grace. After three years, Julia turned the farm management over to her husband, Dave Grace, who has continued in the role since. Although J.O.E.’s Farm has not yet been certified organic, Dave uses organic farming practices and is considering pursuing certification in the future.

J.O.E.’s grows vegetables exclusively for Northampton Brewery, and for its own small, roadside farm stand. Dave says that this model creates an ideal relationship balance. “It gives us a lot of freedom, especially for a start-up farm. We have the freedom to select and change our crop mix. In a way it’s like a CSA, in that the restaurant willingly takes and uses whatever we grow. If we end up with a lot of extra winter squash, the restaurant staff step up their winter squash cooking.”

The relationship involves a lot of two-way communication as well. Dave recently met with the Brewery’s Head Chef Nate Wagner to develop a crop plan for the upcoming season. “It’s a real collaborative effort,” says Dave. “It’s useful for me to find out what they liked and didn’t like in the kitchen. It’s also great for the chef to learn about produce, and how vegetables grow.”

This year’s crops included head lettuce, kale, chard, salad mix, microgreens, summer squash, zucchini, beets, carrots, watermelon, cantaloupe, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, garlic, celeriac, celery, radishes, turnips, and winter greens like tat soi and bok choi. Cold frames and hoop houses extend the growing season so J.O.E.’s is able to produce ingredients for the restaurant almost year ‘round.Greens are the most important and popular product at the Brewery—kale salad is one of the restaurant’s top-selling menu items.

Dave has enjoyed establishing this new farm in the town of Williamsburg. “People were surprised at first when they found out what we were planning to do with the land,” he says. “Not everyone thought a farm was a good idea, but people seem to like seeing us out there working. Eventually they stop by to say hello, and start visiting our farm stand. It feels like we have established ourselves in the community, and it has also been great outreach for the Brewery.” Dave says that the farm is working on acquiring additional land to increase their yield—he believes they could grow to ten acres, and still find a strong demand for the produce they grow at the Brewery.

Dave is enthusiastic about the farm-to-table business model used by J.O.E.’s Farm and Northampton Brewery. He feels it’s a sustainable and expandable model that could benefit other Valley restaurants  as well. “It could be a community effort,” he says. “Four or five restaurants could join together and get their own farm going. Customers’ taste for high quality local food just keeps growing, and sourcing the food from local farms is good not only for restaurants, but for farmers.”

The farm/brewery collaboration is another example of the exciting food days we’re experiencing now. Dave adds, “It says so much about where we live that local farm-sourced food is even on people’s radar. When I started farming, I used to worry that there were so many organic farms here in the Valley there would be a glut, but with 700,000 people we have a lot of bellies to fill. Our parents and grandparents were satisfied with canned food, but more and more people now want a better quality of life, which includes better, fresher food.”

Managing a farm is a creative endeavor, and Dave cites a few of the many models of successful local farms that are thriving and disproving any notion that farming has to lead to a life of poverty. “We have great examples of local organic  farms like Red Fire and Atlas and smaller farms like Kitchen Garden that are making it. Then there are innovative business models like The Book & Plough Farm, which has a close relationship with Amherst College. It’s an exciting time to challenge the conception that there’s only one way to farm. It’s happening all around us—farmers work hard, and are seeing the rewards of their work.”

While they continue to look for more land to expand, Dave and his assistant farm manager (name?) are adding more beds to their existing operations this year. They are also developing a pickle-making operation using farm-grown summer squash, zucchini, and cucumbers. This twoday-a-week operation provides mostly quick pickles to the Brewery, and they hope to be able to expand to producing canned pickles they can sell to Brewery customers to take home.

“We’re still fairly new, and we’re crystallizing our systems,” says Dave. While J.O.E.’s Farm continues to grow, Northampton Brewery customers will enjoy the payoff of fresh, local produce on their plates.