Old farm, new family

The Recorder. March 14 2015. David Rainville
NORTHFIELD- A Northfield family is breathing new life into an old farm. Benjamin and Laura Wells-Tolley spent the last year getting the old A.C. Parker dairy farm ready to resume its life as South Wind Dairy.

“We’ve been open for four weeks now and every week, business is getting better and better,” said Benjamin Wells-Tolley. “We have a lot of returning customers.”

Their farm store at 664 Millers Falls Road is open from sunrise to sunset seven days a week. They sell unpasteurized raw milk from a herd of four Jersey and Ayrshire cows. They have half-gallons and quarts available, as well as yogurt from Hawley’s Sidehill Farm, canned goods from Real Pickles, local eggs, frozen berries, and their own meat.

They raise grass-fed beef cattle and organic-grain-fed chickens and pigs for meat. Their dairy cows are fed a mix of grass and organic grain, though they hope to transition them to an all-grass diet soon. “We’ll be getting a flock of 100 laying chickens in the spring,” Mr. Wells-Tolley said.

They also hope to more than double their dairy herd. With sustainable grazing, Benjamin is confident the farm could support 10 milking cows. When they were is college in New York state, the could were part of a group of friends that envisioned a self-sustaining, farming lifestyle. Now in their early 30s, the wells-Tolleys are realizing that dream.

They moved from New York to Northampton eight years ago and Mr. Wells-Tolley started working at Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst. Two years later, they moved to Amherst, right by the farm, and Benjamin became its dairy manager.

“Quickly after we moved to Amherst, we began getting sheep and cows for the family,” he said.

“As soon as we had our first family cow, we knew the direction we were going,” his wife added.

With no prior farming background, Mr. Wells-Tolley relied on hands-on learning. “I learned from my mentors, reading, and going to (dairy) conferences,” he said.

Those mentors included Clifford Hatch of Upinngil Farm in Gill, where he worked. “Cliff was willing to hire me as his herdsman even though he knew from the beginning that I planned on giving him some friendly competition.” he said.

He said the demand for raw milk is high enough to support the handful of raw-milk farms in Franklin County. He said Hatch has been a big help, and even donated a couple of barn cats for pest patrol. Landlord Richard French has also been a big help, Wells-Tolley said, restoring the farm’s old barns.

Farm History
Although South Wind Dairy recently took over the farm, its land and buildings have more than a century of farming history. As they were mucking out the barn basement last year, the noticed  “1914” stamped into the foundation.

“I think it’s really cool that we were getting into the barn 100 years later,” Laura said.

It turns out the farm’s history goes back further than that. Records show that the property was a working farm owned by the Stratton family as early as 1831, according to local historian Joel Fowler.

“It’s gone through a number of owners who would have it for a few years and sell it,” he said. The longest owners were the parker family, who ran it from the late 1800s to the 1920s. The most recent farmers were Ronald and Holly Deome, who bought the farm in 1997 and closed about 10 years ago.

Although they are just getting started, the Wells-Tolleys hope to hand the farm down to their children someday. “Our kids love life on the farm,” Mrs. Wells-Tolley said. “They’re really enthusiastic.”

She said they have “a bunch” of kids, but declined to say how many, as they like to keep their family life private.

They did say that one of their daughters is responsible for the names of their beef cows.

“We told the kids we weren’t going to name the steers, because we were going to eat them and didn’t want to get attached,” Mr. Wells-Tolley recalled. “She said ‘Can we name him Granola? We eat granola.’ Since then, we’ve names all the steers after edible things.”

While most of their livestock came from other farms, the couple welcomed the birth of their first calf, Cyprus, this month. As a female, she’ll be safe from slaughter