Local Hero Profile: Hettie Belle Farm
By Noah Baustin, CISA Program Coordinator
Published in CISA’s November 2018 E-Newsletter – Sign Up Here!
As Jennifer Core and I strolled up the sloping dirt road to the pig pens, she turned to me with a smile. “You know, the girls ride the boar.” Seeing my expression of disbelief she added, “Oh yeah. There is a lot of pressure for us to get horses but it subsided briefly this summer because they were having so much fun riding the pigs.” As if on cue, Jennifer’s daughters Louise and Emmanuelle bounded by us, hopped into the enclosure, slipped right past the massive sow, and began petting the delighted piglets. “It’s a really lovely opportunity to raise our kids in a way that is totally connected to the land and to the seasons. Everything they experience is based on the lifestyle that we have on the farm.”
Jennifer and her husband Olivier are the proud owners of Hettie Belle Farm, a small family farm in Warwick, MA. When I stopped by for a visit on a recent sunny autumn afternoon, Jennifer explained that Louise and Emmanuelle were a big part of why they decided to establish the farm in the first place. “This whole operation started when we had our kids – we wanted to produce the kind of meat that we would want to feed our own children. We’ve been shopping in co-ops for decades but we saw that even there we couldn’t find the level of commitment to organic and raising the animals entirely outside that we were looking for. We feel really committed to providing a great environment. It costs us way more to feed our animals organic grain but we want to feed ourselves organic meat. We assume there are 125 people who want to do the same thing – and that’s what our business model is based on!”
The Hettie Belle business model is a meat CSA, which stand for Community Supported Agriculture. Customers pay a flat rate at the beginning of the season to become a member of the farm, then pick up monthly shares of Hettie Belle meats. Jennifer and Olivier serve up a wide variety of meats throughout the season, including beef, pork, chicken, lamb, duck, and even the occasional goose. Members support the farm directly,and many get to try cuts of meats that they may never have encountered before. As Jennifer explained, “We try to break down our animals in really familiar ways, but you’re going to see a whole variety – it’s an education in of itself. You see that when you start to get an equitable distribution of these animals, there are all kinds of parts of animal that you might not have been buying.” For example, Jennifer loves to introduce members to Denver Style Ribs – the ribs of a lamb. “It’s so good! But who goes to the grocery store and buys a Denver Style Lamb Rib? It’s just not a part of the repertoire at the grocery store.”
The farm offers CSA pickups in Florence, South Deerfield, Dorchester, Concord, Brattleboro (VT), Keene (NH), and on the farm in Warwick from November through March. Learn how you can become a member here. Hettie Belle also has a special Thanksgiving turkey offer that is available to the general public every year (sadly, they are already sold out for Thanksgiving 2018, but there are lots of other great opportunities to bring local meat to your table this Thanksgiving – visit CISA’s local Thanksgiving meats page to learn more!)
At the top of the dirt road that runs through the farm, Jennifer, Olivier, and I were able to look out over the rolling pastures of the property. Jennifer reached down and pulled up a handful of thick, lush grass. “See this? We are proud of this!” When the couple founded the farm nine years ago, the pastures were in rough shape. Years of horses running loose had left a tangle of weeds and bald spots. Jennifer explained, “We have so many animal species not just to provide variety in the CSA, although that is lovely. No – we use those animals in rotation to manage the fields.” By making sure that there is a steady rotation of species on each patch of pasture, Jennifer and Olivier ensure that the land receives the diversity of nutrients that it needs from the different animals’ manure. Combined with healthy applications of lime and wood ash, their careful management has dramatically improved the health of the pasture.
During my visit, it was time for the animals to rotate into the pastures closest to the barn. “It’s time for them to be closer to home with winter coming,” Olivier told me. Jennifer added, “This is the time of year when meat starts going in the freezer, getting processed for the CSA. We’re also bringing on the next set of calves who we’ll raise for the next two years. This is the season of transition in that way. We form a new chemistry, a new herd, every winter in the barn.” Such is the life on Hettie Belle Farm – as the autumn process comes to a close, a new set of young animals arrive on the farm. As Olivier puts it, “There is an ongoing series of tasks going along with the cycles of nature. It never stops.” With the wheel of the seasons constantly turning, it can be tough to consider what might come for the farm years down the line. When the couple does find a moment for reflection, it’s not surprising that their daughters are at the center of their dreams for the future. “We think about how to keep this an enterprise that our kids could decide to continue, if they choose to one day. How do we structure this thing that we’ve been creating in such a way that we could pass that on?”