Local Hero Profile: Stillman Quality Meats
Local Hero Profile by Ellery Pool, TerraCorps Service Member
Stillman Quality Meats, based in Hardwick, raises chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, cows, and lamb to produce delicious, local meat with a uniquely vertically integrated business model. Started in 2006 by Kate Stillman, who wanted to start a farm business that was different from her father’s vegetable farm and her grandparents’ dairy farm, Stillman Quality Meats has grown today to be a far more robust operation than Kate ever expected. The farm sells raw meat cuts along with a wide variety of value-added meat products like deli meats, bacon, meatballs, pot pies, and sausage (they make over 150 flavors!), and what makes them unique in the region is that they process all of their meat on-site thanks to their skilled butcher. I visited Stillman at the farmstead in Hardwick, and she told me all about the farm’s business model, growing practices, and upcoming projects on the farm.
In New England, local meat producers can face challenges in their production due to a bottleneck in the availability of animal processing. While a farm can raise as many animals as they wish, when it comes time for them to be sent to the slaughterhouse and turned into cuts of meat, wait times can be interminable. At Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol (where Stillman has her large animals slaughtered), their processing is booked out for the entirety of 2022. As she puts it, “What’s preventing local meat from growing is processing. Farms can’t get their stuff processed.”
Stillman Quality Meats has no such issue, however, because early on in the development of the business Stillman decided to take processing into her own hands. The farm has a poultry abattoir that allows them to slaughter and process their own poultry, and Stillman says “once the birds get here as day old chicks they never leave the farm until I put them in a customer’s bag.” The skilled butcher on site allows them to have their animals slaughtered at Adams Farm, take them back whole, and then complete the process of turning the animal into cuts of meat to be sold on their farmstead. The ability to cut their own animals has allowed them to keep up with demand and grow their business since it began.
Stillman also attributes her success to a diversified product line. She says, “my goal is not to raise more animals to make money. My goal is to make more money off of the per animal basis” by truly maximizing and utilizing every part of the animal. This goal has led the farm to developing a robust line of value-added products that are all prepared in the farm’s commercial kitchen. “My butcher is cutting meat as much as he is grinding meat to make meatballs,” which gives them appeal to a wide customer base that includes people who want raw cuts of meat and people who want easier-to-prepare products.
The animals on the farm are treated humanely and sustainably. All of the animals are put out on pasture so they have space to roam, and they are fed a custom mix from a nearby farmer. Stillman says her “feed was mixed and made an hour or 20 minutes before it gets here. That’s really fresh. And that matters to the animals. That is probably the single most important factor.” Stillman emphasizes how much she prioritizes treating the animals in such a way that they live high-quality lives that lead to high-quality meat, and she also manages them on the farm such that “we’re building and making a more sustainable farm here. They’re improving the pastures and the woods. We’re regenerating a farm.”
Thanks to a devoted customer base and the rising local meat movement, the farm is working on projects to expand its public presence. Stillman is making the farmstead in Hardwick a retail location and destination where she hopes to hold butcher classes, informational sessions, tastings, and more events once the space is completed in late spring, 2022. Additionally, they are creating a brand-new website with a more robust e-commerce system that should be launching in January, 2022. The website launch will be celebrated with a few new flavors of meatballs, pot pies, and perhaps sausages, along with special promotions for delivery orders.
Right now, you can find Stillman at farmers’ markets in the Boston area and buy meat for delivery on their website here. It is not too late to place an order for your holiday meal! The butcher can trim and tie a roast for you, there are 12 flavors of bacon to choose from for a delicious breakfast, and their acclaimed Santa Sausage is a flavor available only at this time of year.