Local Hero Profile: Whitney Acres

Local Hero Profile by Talia Brown, CISA Intern
Published in CISA’s November 2020 enewsletter

Faye Whitney’s experience of farming has been one steeped both in tradition and in learning new things.

n an eighth grade career choice questionnaire, Faye’s results told her she should be a farmer. Her teachers were sure the results were wrong—she couldn’t be a farmer, she was a girl. So she took the test again, and got farmer again. Faye is the fifth generation to live on her family farm, Whitney Acres, on Ashfield’s Main Street, but she has not done things exactly like the generations before her. Faye grew up with cows, but when she began farming herself, she went in a different direction—“With cows, you can’t go anywhere” she said. So she started looking into sheep.

From an article in Newsweek, she learned about endangered minor livestock, all breeds of livestock, not just sheep breeds, and it piqued her interest. When she was first looking, in the early 90s, there weren’t many heritage sheep in the United States. And she wasn’t a big fan of sheep. But upon her first visit to a farm with Shetland sheep, she was charmed by “strategically placed” lambs. In 1993, she purchased a few sheep. They were Shetland sheep, a breed she had chosen because of their soft wool and hardiness. These sheep are the smallest of the British sheep breeds, originating in the Shetland Islands. These islands are very rainy and windy, and to survive sheep need to withstand both the rough weather, and navigate scarce food sources. As a result, these sheep are good foragers, and can thrive without much additional food from farmers.

Today, Whitney Acres is home to 28 Shetland sheep. They rotate through paddocks on Whitney Acres’ sixty-five acres, sprawling behind the farmhouse on Main Street. Over the past twenty-seven years, Faye has not only grown her flock of Shetland sheep, but has also engaged closely with the small community of Shetland breeders, in the United States and beyond. She is now the Executive Secretary of the North American Shetland Sheep Association. Using knowledge she has gained from her sheep farmer mentors, she now mentors other new farmers. She even tells people who buy sheep from her, “You get me as well,” letting them know that she is always there to help others through a journey that was once new to her. The bloodlines of her flock of sheep have spread across the Northeast as well, with knowledge and relationships between Faye and other farmers certainly following.

The origins of the Shetland sheep breed date back over a thousand years, and the cultivation of the breed has created an intricate chain of knowledge and relationships. This cultivation and protection has continued, undoubtably, due to the efforts of innovative and brave farmers like Faye Whitney, who are willing to put in work to support not only animals, but farmers past, present, and future.

Whitney Acres is not only a sheep farm, though. Faye and her husband Phil also raise Jersey cows, Morgan horses, and heritage breed chickens. They make their own butter and yogurt, enjoying it mainly for themselves and sharing with family and friends. Whitney Acres has a thriving egg business, with some loyal customers having been buying from Faye for 15 years or more.  This, Faye says, is a nod to traditional farming practices, when family farms would grow and raise “a little bit of everything” for their own use as well as for commercial purposes.

Today, the hard work put into the flock of sheep—the oldest, and possibly the largest, flock of registered Shetland sheep in Massachusetts—at Whitney Acres allows Faye and her husband to produce quality products for purchase—you can get fleece and yarn, as well as breeding stock from the farm. They also offer stud services. Call (413) 628-3279 or email to check availability to inquire about making purchases.

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