Valley Bounty: Chestnut Farms
It’s officially summer. On farms across the Valley, there’s no doubt that we’re in the warm season.
“It’s hot and dry here, just like for everybody else,” Kim Denney said.
Denney owns Chestnut Farms in Hardwick with her husband Richard Jakshtis. The family raises livestock for meat, including cows, pigs, lambs, goats, and chickens, on 200 acres of land.
From mid-April through mid-November, Denney cuts fresh grass from her pastures. Instead of drying and baling it to make hay, she feeds the grass to her cows as ‘green chop’ the same day that it’s cut.
“The cows are probably thinking that green chop is bad hay right now because it’s so dry,” she said. “The animals aren’t happy and we’re not happy. We really need some rain.”
Denney bought Chestnut Farms in 1998. At the time, she was a single mom raising four and seven-year-old daughters.
“I read too many Little House on the Prairie books and never got effective therapy. So I moved from Harvard Mass to Hardwick and bought the farm,” Denney said with a laugh.
For the first few years, farming was a side gig for Denney. But when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, her priorities shifted.
“I figured if not now, when? So we chose to make the dive to go all-in on farming.”
By 2004, Denney had teamed up with her husband Richard and together, they went through the planning process of what type of farm they wanted to run. It didn’t take them long to land on livestock.
“I knew I wasn’t a dairy farmer and I can kill a house plant in three days, so it didn’t leave a lot of options,” Denney said.
During that planning phase, Chestnut Farms also established their business’s driving values.
“Our mission is to connect communities to agriculture. I look at every sale we make through that lens,” Denney said.
That mission led Denney to use Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a sales model where customers sign up directly with the farm to receive regular shares of meat. The CSA model enabled Chestnut Farms to connect directly with their customers without a middleman.
Well over a decade later, Denney’s CSA has grown to be the centerpiece of Chestnut Farms. About 80% of the farm’s revenue comes in through the CSA and Denney delivers monthly shares to her members at over a dozen pickup sites across the state, including locations in Northampton, Amherst, and on the farm in Hardwick.
When the pandemic hit, Denney and her team implemented a contact-free distribution system at their CSA pickup sites and were able to continue serving their customers throughout the time of increased social distancing measures.
Starting in March, as large slaughterhouses across the country shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks, the demand for local meat surged. There was a rush to book appointments at local slaughterhouses and it became difficult for many producers to get a slot to have their animals processed.
But Denney was able to increase her slaughtering to meet some of the increased demand.
“We have 15 years of a really good relationship with the people who run our slaughterhouses and we’re there week in and week out. So they’ve been willing to accommodate us,” she said.
That focus on maintaining strong connections is central to Denney’s farming philosophy. She credits the many years of work she’s put into building the farm’s strong relationships for insulating them from some of the financial hardships that other businesses have faced.
“I learned as a middle school teacher, before I was a farmer, that life is relationship based. And if you work hard on your relationships, the rest will fall into place,” she said.
To find a local farmer in your community, visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.
Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).