Local Hero Profile: Brook’s Bend Farm
Suzanne Webber and Al Miller started farming on their Montague property over ten years ago. After first trying their hand at raising beef cows, turkey and chicken, the pair has since settled on sheep. Over the last decade, Suzanne and Al have created a successful operation by raising a small herd of the British Shetland breed here in Western Massachusetts.Brook’s Bend Lamb and Woolens began raising sheep ten years ago for meat and breeding stock. Suzanne explains that their Shetland breed is easy to manage as it was originally developed to thrive in the cold, rugged environment of Scotland. Additionally, the sheep require little maintenance and graze in the pasture, so they require no grain. As the snow comes down in Montague, Suzanne laughingly adds that her sheep are “impervious” to this New England weather and that they even sleep outside. Seeing the sheep comfortably huddled on top of the hill, I wouldn’t say that I was surprised.
Two years into their venture, Suzanne and Al began to expand into woolens. Suzanne says that the Shetland breed is particularly well-known for its beautiful natural colors and was long heralded as the premier sock wool breed in Europe.
For the processing of their woolen products, Suzanne likes to keep it local. Blankets are made with Brook’s Bend wool by Bedfellow Blankets in Shelburne Falls, and other wool is transformed into yarn and rugs at a nearby Connecticut mill. Although Suzanne sells most of their woolen products from her farm, at fairs and at Amherst’s All Things Local, she adds that CISA has the potential to bring together Local Hero wool producers to better organize and support local sales.
In addition to the wool and lamb farm run on Brook’s Bend’s 90 acres, Suzanne and Al have welcomed four other independent enterprises—two youth mentoring programs, a local herbalist and a budding pork producer. As Suzanne describes, “We realize that the farm has so much potential that we could never meet ourselves, so we began to open it up to others… and especially because of the kids’ programs, there are hundreds of people that are connected to the farm.”
Suzanne and Al also do their best to see that these enterprises are well-integrated with Brook’s Bend and with the larger community. Clearpath Herbals ties the farm into the area’s herbalist community and to a large number of students through its apothecary garden and apprenticeship program. Youth and families are brought to the farm by Wolf Tree Programs and Full Moon Girls, which offer wilderness skills programs on the other side of the property. Suzanne makes sure to tie these programs into the farm through shared projects, like unloading deliveries of hay or stacking lumber from the sawmill.
Sage Farm at Brook’s Bend is a new project of young farmer Tyler Sage. In doling out praise for this unique set-up, Tyler says, “They’re really enabling me to get a huge head-start on my business with their resources and their generosity.”
Both Suzanne and Tyler think that this shared land model has potential to work for other farms with extra space or unused woodlands. As Tyler comments, “I think that it’s kind of necessary in the economics of agriculture.” He then explains, “Young starting farmers are graduating college with debt and then wanting to start farming—so not making any money for a number of years while they’re learning to farm.”
Many of us are familiar with access to land as a barrier to incoming farmers, but Tyler adds that other amenities are also important. His pigs, who drink 25 gallons of water a day, require access to other resources that not all locations could provide but that he finds here at Brook’s Bend.
In addition to the supporting role that Brook’s Bend plays for these enterprises, the farm is also well-used by the surrounding community. With residential neighborhoods just down the road, local residents regularly walk along the land, and nearby barns also use the farm’s extensive trails to walk their horses. Suzanne loves that Brook’s Bend has become an important community asset as well as a hub of learning, and she excitedly adds, “We’re really happy for the farm to be used by as many people as possible.”
To find out more about Brook’s Bend and what they have to offer, visit their website or call or stop by today! Mutton will be ready by the end of January and can be purchased by calling 413-367-2281.