Valley Bounty: Upinngil Farm
Published September 2, 2023 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
At Upinngil Farm, a fruit-filled fall awaits
“At this point, for us, advertising seems like a waste of time,” says Sorrel Hatch of Upinngil Farm in Gill. “If you have a good product, it will sell itself. Our business has succeeded by following the pull of the market, rather than trying to push; by growing and making the things that sell themselves.”
After more than 35 years, Upinngil Farm and their farm store at 411 Main Rd. have evolved into a destination in rural Gill. As the calendar turns to September, the sweetest treasure beckons from just behind the store – bright red fall raspberries, waiting to be picked.
These raspberries are one of many projects Hatch and the other farmers have dabbled in across 100 acres of farmland.
“When my father Clifford started the farm in the 1980s, the first things he raised were Finnsheep (a hardy breed of sheep raised for both meat and wool), and bees,” she says. “We were Upinngil Finnsheep and Apiary. We’ve come a long way since then.”
Indeed, the sheep are gone and only a few beehives remain. Now it’s grass-fed raw milk and a newly expanded bakery within their farm store that anchor the business. They also make cheese from their milk, raise other livestock for meat and eggs, and grow a variety of produce and even grains for the bakery. That’s nearly a complete diet coaxed from the hills of Gill.
About 15 staff help all these pieces come together. Founder Clifford Hatch oversees the dairy and serves as head cheesemaker. Sarah Porrovecchio is the resident herdswoman, monitoring the health of the cows and pasture. Crop manager Simon Eaton is responsible for most of the produce they grow, and other employees and family members take on the rest of the pieces.
“My job has shifted more to managing the retail side and being the head baker,” says Hatch. “I’ve had to learn to delegate, train, and trust others with growing things.”
Arguably, the Upinngil Farm that people know today began to take shape in 2007, when they found their niche selling raw milk. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized, or heated to high temperatures to kill any bacteria, whether harmful or beneficial. Farms that sell raw milk in Massachusetts follow rigorous sanitation guidelines and are required to sell their milk directly from the farm.
“Once you’ve had it and tasted how great it is, you have to come to the farm to get it,” says Hatch. “That creates a big customer base coming here regularly.”
Their other year-round draw, the Little Red Hen Bakery, was born out of Hatch’s baking experiments with wheat her father began growing on the farm – an experiment of his own. The viability of growing, harvesting and storing their own grains has proven tenuous, but their baked goods are here to stay. What began with simple breads and cookies has expanded to a selection of muffins, scones, cinnamon buns, croissants, granola, and other pastries available daily.
“Three years ago, we renovated the space adjacent to the store into a commercial bakery,” Hatch explains. “Now our baked goods are right up there with our milk, in terms of bringing in reliable customers.”
To supplement their homegrown wheat, Hatch buys whole organic grain from Farmer Ground Flour, a farmer co-op in upstate New York, and mills it fresh in-house. They also buy some lighter bread flour from King Arthur Flour in Vermont.
The focal point of Upinngil Farm is their farm store, stocked with milk, bread and a lot more. This time of year, shelves are filled with produce from their fields, food from other local farms and staples that save rural neighbors a trip to supermarkets further afield. It’s also a jumping off point for pick-your-own crops.
Many customers know Upinngil for pick-your-own strawberries. Unfortunately, this year a late May frost literally nipped that crop in the bud – one of many examples this year where increasingly erratic weather fueled by climate change has impacted local farms. Luckily, they were still able to offer pick-your-own snap peas, cut flowers, and another coveted red berry – fall raspberries.
“Because they’re fall-bearing, these plants didn’t flower until long after the frost,” Hatch explains, “and the rain has helped their growth.”
The raspberry patch is located right behind the farm store and open for picking 8am – 7pm daily. The fruit began to ripen in mid-August, and barring major cold snaps, the harvest could continue throughout September. Any extra berries are frozen and used later in the bakery, adding a hint of summer to things like maple raspberry scones.
Hatch is a big proponent of pick-your-own crops, highlighting the mutual benefits it offers to farmers and pickers. Farmers are spared a bit of labor, and eaters often pay less (at Upinngil, pick-your-own raspberries are half the price of pre-picked). Meanwhile, picking offers a moment of respite and connection with nature that many crave.
“I feel like everyone needs some work with their brain and some work with their hands to live a balanced life,” she says. “This is a perfect chance for many people to rebalance.” Balance and sustainability are often on Hatch’s mind as she contemplates how Upinngil Farm can best serve their land and their community long-term.
“I think the key to sustainability is maintaining a connection and a natural feedback loop between farmers and customers,” she offers. “If the farmer knows who they’re growing food for, it creates an extra level of commitment to the quality of our food and how we grow it. Customers continuing to buy from them demonstrates their support. It’s a two-way street, and a natural feedback loop.
“Our tagline is ‘food you need from the land you love.’” she continues. “We’re not a gift shop, or a place where only people coming from Boston can afford to buy anything. This is food you need, and I want to see my neighbors here shopping. That’s the most important thing.”
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To learn more about local farms and farm stores you can visit in your neck of the woods, check out buylocalfood.org/farmguide.