Valley Bounty: Barberic Farm

Daily Hampshire Gazette,
March 27, 2021

By Jacob Nelson

Barbara and Eric Goodchild are farmers, musicians and blacksmiths. They are skilled in fiber arts, leatherwork and preserving food. Amid a world that speeds towards specialization, they are generalists finding happiness in the direct work of making what they need to live a good life at Barberic Farm in Shelburne Falls, an operation that bears both their names.

“Eric and I both grew up on dairy farms, me on the Davenport Maple Farm in Shelburne, and him on his grandfather’s farm in Ashley Falls,” Barbara Goodchild says. “Both our families came from a background where you grew what you wanted to eat, and you made your clothes. We really enjoy all those pieces of a varied life, and we’re just trying to keep that going in the life we live now.”

Through Barberic Farm, the wider community has access to the bounty of what they make.

“A lot of what we sell is value-added products made from the meat and vegetables we raise, and ingredients from other local farms,” Goodchild explains. This starts with frozen ready-to-bake pies galore, including four varieties of meat pies and six flavors of fruit pies.

They also make pickles and relishes, as well as jams, jellies and marmalades. Many of their fruit preserves are sweetened just with pears they grow and a touch of apple juice concentrate instead of sugar — “fruit sweet,” Goodchild calls them.

“We got into that because my mom is diabetic, and couldn’t have regular jam,” she says. “People ask me at the farmers market, ‘What’s your favorite?’ and I say, ‘Whatever jar is open at the moment!’”

Homegrown popcorn is another uniquely local treat. “That’s grown from our own line of seed we’ve saved since 1986,” Goodchild says. “We save the best ears from each crop to plant the next year.”

A little further afield, “We also sell handmade leather work and fire pokers that we forge ourselves,” she offers.

The heart of Barberic Farm might be their flock of Romney sheep, a dual-purpose breed that’s well suited to both meat and fiber production. This time of year, they’re also Goodchild’s greatest source of joy on the farm.

“My favorite activity, my husband will tell you, is lambing,” Goodchild confides. “He says it’s better than Christmas for me, and that’s probably true. We’ve had 22 born so far this year, and it’s a wonderful surprise every morning when you go out to check the barn full of ewes and bouncing, happy lambs.”

Their lambs are born in March and reach 100-120 pounds in time for slaughter, Goodchild explains. While most are for meat, some are also kept to replace aging ewes and others are sold as breeding stock. “We’re one of the few registered Romney breeders left in Massachusetts, apparently,” she says.

When the sheep are shorn, the Goodchilds make the most of that resource as well. They sell wool as is, cleaned and combed, and hand-spun into yarn. Hand-spun yarn is an exquisite product, and a time-intensive labor of love.

“Eric’s the spinner,” Goodchild says. “Every morning after breakfast he spins until the CD he puts on finishes, and it keeps us in constant supply.”

Music is another constant in their lives.

“We’re either musician-farmers or farmer-musicians,” Goodchild says. “We’ve never figured out which way around to put that, but it’s really a nice combination.” Eric is a bagpiper who teaches and performs, while she teaches piano, and they’re both church musicians.

For Barberic Farm, the curveballs thrown by COVID mostly concerned marketing.

“We used to sell at winter farmers markets in Greenfield and Northampton,” Goodchild says. “Once we lost those last season, it made us rethink how we sell our goods.”

Happily, the couple were able to set up a farm stand at Davenport Maple Farm, which her brother and his wife run. “We’re also doing a farm stand in our own garage on Saturdays,” she notes.

While they wait to see what happens with summer farmers markets in Shelburne Falls and Ashfield and yearly wool festivals in Massachusetts and Connecticut, all of which they typically sell at, they’re reliant on customers reaching out directly.

This time of year, people often seek out lamb for the centerpiece of a spring holiday meal. “If you want a roast or a special cut, it’s best to call ahead or email,” Goodchild says. Their contact information, along with a full list of their products, is on their page in CISA’s online guide — just search by business for Barberic Farm.

For the Goodchilds, the drive behind their work seems to be an insatiable curiosity in what people can create with their own two hands.

“The way we raised our kids, and how we encourage others,” Barbara Goodchild says, “is to step out and grow a garden. Raise a few chickens. It’s very rewarding, and also helps you become more self-sufficient as individuals and as a family.”

For those taking steps toward that self-sufficiency, her advice is not to let the enormity of choices become paralyzing.

“Pick something you’re interested in and go for it,” she says. “You’ve got a lifetime to learn.”

Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA).