About ten years ago, when Ben and Laura Wells-Tolley moved to the Valley, they immediately enjoyed partaking of the local harvest. They first lived in downtown Northampton, only a walk away from the farmers’ market, and a short drive away from a number of farmstands and farms. The first tastes of the Valley totally swept their hearts away and gave them a vision for participation in the local food movement. Picking strawberries, warm from the sunshine and bursting with life, and cultivated high-bush blueberries from branches heavy with fruit, were beautiful moments in that first summer. Frequenting Hatfield and Hadley farmstands for watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash brought new meaning to eating seasonally.
Ben and Laura were first introduced to the concept of a CSA at the Food Bank Farm. After gathering buckets of glowing sunflowers from the pick-your-own fields and getting into the weekly rhythm of going to the farm to get food freshly harvested with many other people from the community, Laura and Ben knew there was no going back to eating tomatoes in December and shopping primarily at the grocery store. As so many have found to be true, having tasted living food, food that is still vibrant with the life that it has drawn from the soil and sun, their appetites completely changed.
Soon after participating in the CSA at Food Bank Farm, Ben and Laura began to consider how they could delve even deeper into the heart of local agriculture. It was a chilly windy October afternoon when Ben and Laura took their first farm walk at Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, after Ben’s interview there with farmers Jeremy Barker-Plotkin and Dave Tepfer. Little did they know that day how precious that farm would become to them.
Ben began working at Simple Gifts as a farm apprentice but with a focus on the livestock. Dave and Jeremy were incredibly supportive of Laura and their children being present on the farm, out in the fields, in the flow of CSA, and taking front-row seats at every opportunity to see how a farm works at the ground level. Ben stayed on the crew for subsequent years and worked even more closely with Dave on the livestock side of the farm. Dave and Jeremy encouraged Ben and Laura to begin exploring their own livestock enterprises within the context of Simple Gifts. These ventures included having their own beef cows, sheep, broilers and a family cow, or two.
While living in Amherst, Laura and Ben discovered the gem of a farm called Upinngil Farm in Gill, MA. They began frequenting Upinngil for their delicious raw milk and cheese, and struck up a friendship with Clifford Hatch (previous vendor at the Amherst Farmers' Market) and his daughter Sorrel, the farmers there. Ben soon began working with the Hatches learning the art of dairying. It wasn’t long before Ben and Laura were sure that their future dream farm was going to have a dairy herd as its centerpiece. This was further solidified in their vision when they had the opportunity to attend an open house at Chase Hill Farm in Warwick, MA. During the open house, Farmer Mark Fellows described the Chase Hill Dairy as being seasonal, 100% grassfed, and certified organic. Ben and Laura left Chase Hill that day saying it was their dream farm.
After almost five years at Simple Gifts, Ben and Laura began to look throughout the Valley for a spot to establish a dairy and ended up making the move to Northfield, MA, when the historic Parker farm on route 63, came up for rent there. It was in Northfield that South Wind Farm was born. With a fantastic roadside location, a gorgeous view of the Connecticut River and a beautiful landmark barn on the property, the Wells-Tolley's hoped South Wind Farm would flourish. Unfortunately they were unable to secure additional pasture adjacent to the farm property and the farm’s limited land base put great limitations on the scale of the operation. Laura and Ben began to consider if again a move to a new location might be necessary for their farm to truly thrive.
In the winter of 2016, Jeannette and Mark Fellows approached Ben and Laura with the offer of a job for Ben with the goal of transitioning ownership of the farm over the next several years. Ben and Laura eagerly agreed and began the process of moving their pigs, chickens, cows and family to Warwick. After less than a year working together it became clear that the farm transfer would take place sooner than later.
Earlier this month Ben and Laura purchased Chase Hill Farm from the Fellows. The farm property is approximately 270 acres of certified organic APR land. The herd is comprised of certified organic Normande, Jersey and Normande-Jersey crosses. These cows happily graze on lush green pastures and produce delicious milk that is consumed in its raw fluid form sold directly to the consumer on the farm. Normande milk is excellent for cheese-making. A variety of artisan cheeses are made and aged on the farm. Ben and Laura are integrating their own livestock enterprises with those of Chase Hill. They are thrilled to have a diversified livestock farm with a 100% grassfed certified organic dairy herd as its centerpiece. The farm is producing raw milk, artisan cheese, beef, pork, chicken, and eggs.
Come by the Amherst Farmers' Market Saturday's to meet Ben and his family!
It's 4am on a Saturday morning and Twin Oaks Farm is awakening for the Market day. Two vehicles to load and then head in two different directions north; one vehicle to Northampton and the other, with John Spineti piloting, heading to the Amherst Farmers' Market. It’s a warm, humid morning, perspiration sets in just looking for the car keys, much less having to load and prepare. John, Twin Oaks’ long-time owner, already with a cool towel around his neck for the drive, is dreaming about breaking his fig tree 'record!' 12 trees sold in a Market day! Many other thoughts are also going through as he heads north on I-91. Shell peas. Snap peas. Japanese eggplant. Roma tomatoes. Persian cucumbers. Perhaps one of the seemingly limitless varieties of potatoes he grows with lyrical names like French la ratte and Russian banana fingerling.
Rolling along the highway, a two decade old Subaru Legacy wagon and a converted Coleman pop-up camping trailer, older than the very Market itself, heading towards the day's sales. The car and trailer, both loaded with more than ever anticipated by either manufacturer, has been making this trip every Saturday morning for years now. Which is to say that by all outward appearances, right now, John, listening to NPR on his way, seems totally at ease. Like there’s no place on earth he’d rather be.
John’s reeling off the laundry list of vegetables, herbs and other herbaceous wonders he grows at Twin Oaks. “…Peruvian blue potatoes, very unique; genuine Japanese eggplant, thin, two feet long; banana trees, fig trees, pomegranate trees, rubber trees…three or four varieties of snap peas, snow peas, sun gold tomatoes.” A very eclectic assortment on offer.
This year’s seemingly endless winter pushed the planting season back a couple weeks or so, but such is the life of New England farmer. And John Spineti would know. He’s been the standing president of the Amherst Farmers’ Market longer than Franklin Deleno Roosevelt was in office and has been selling at the market, since its inception, the market he helped found 45 years ago.
Farming is in John Spineti’s blood. His father farmed the same property John farms today. “My family always farmed…my Dad, his ancestors in Italy. They were all farmers,” John says. “I can trace my family’s ancestry all the way back to Croatia in the Sixteenth Century. These little agrarian villages.”
John remembers his family’s Victory Garden celebrating the end of World War II (“Roses, v-shaped”). But though he has fond memories of childhood summers spent helping his family on the farm, when it came time for John to look for a career, like so many sons and daughters, he set out to blaze his own trail.
Setting his sights on the burgeoning technology sector, John studied chemical engineering where he received a B.S. from MIT in Cambridge, and then eventually earning an Ed.D from UMass and a coveted job with Pratt and Whitney, where he helped design fuel cells for the Apollo Lander. It was the late 60's, the Cold War and the race to put a man on the Moon was fraught with any number of geopolitical consequences. And here was this farm boy from Agawam, helping brave young men and women slip their terrestrial binds. But all the while, John felt his heart drawn to the familiar gravitational-pull of the family farm.
So back to the farm he went. And to the classroom. John left Pratt and Whitney for newly opened Springfield Technical Community College where in addition to teaching, he helped design assorted science and math curriculum's. And after the school day was finished, he’d farm.
“Classes would finish at about 2 or 3 in the afternoon and I’d run home to the fields and green houses,” John says.
Amongst his neighbors, his penchant for plowing into the evening hours earned him the nickname, “the Night Farmer.”
In 1972, John and several local farmers had an idea. Let’s organize a farmers’ market in downtown Amherst.
“We pre-dated the local food craze by a few years,” John chuckles.
The Amherst Farmers’ Market was the first of its kind in the state. And now, 45 years later, it’s the state’s oldest and surely amongst its most beloved markets.
“Where else can you shake the hand of the farmer who planted the potatoes or raised the lamb that you’re going to have for dinner tonight?”
John retired from teaching in 2000 and along with his wife Linda, devotes much of his time to the tireless, year-round work of operating Twin Oaks Farm.
“We don’t have any employees on the farm. So the work is 12 hours a day, every day of the year, selling, growing, preparing, weekends and holidays,” he says.
And John doesn’t have any plans to hang up the keys to his (impromptu) tractor collection, now at the number 14 mark, any time soon.
“I could go another 10 or 15 years,” he says. “I love talking with families who have been coming to the market for years and I think they enjoy seeing all of us. Nowadays, you can buy organic food just about anywhere it seems, but there’s only one place where you can chat up the farmer - at the Market.”
Indeed it’s these relationships, forged over countless Saturday morning conversations, that drive John and the rest of his brethren at the market to get up way too early week after week. It’s the sense of community, of home, of building something enduring and meaningful. That sense of commitment comes through in the vibrant colors and flavors at the market every Saturday. Stop by, say hi and see for yourself. Always at the ready with a quip, prepared for banter and can converse about any topic! Meet the man who, while never having traveled more than a half-days' distance by car, has encyclopaedia knowledge of a truly global capacity. John Spineti of Twin Oaks Farm....
Bruce and Rachel moved to Orange, MA in 1981, one daughter in a backpack and their second on-the-way. They established a homestead with gardens and livestock to feed their family and the others, who came and went, in various communal arrangements. Bruce re-established his business, Kallisti Percussion, building marimbas and drums; Rachel pursued the ridiculous and the sublime as a research fellow in structural biology at UMass, Amherst. When the offspring sprung off, they took up traveling to participate in breeding bird studies and generally enjoy bird observation in all the wonderful habitats North America has to offer.
Much to their surprise and delight, their children decided to raise their children in/on/near the homestead; a refocus on a life with "Terroir" ensued. Bruce transformed his lust for farm equipment into a creative business restoring and maintaining agricultural pastures, fields and orchards that had fallen into overgrown and invasive-plant infested disarray. Rachel transformed her lust for cheese and lacto-fermentation into a small herd of dairy goats and a large collection of cheesemaking books and utensils. Once the daily acts of love, turning milk into yogurt, kefr and cheese for neighbors and family, started taking up 4 then 6 then 8 and more hours, they thought maybe it was worth becoming a licensed operation and offering the caprine abundance to a wider world.
They built their pastures, buildings, and processing plant from the ground up with their own four hands (and lots of family and neighborhood assists!). MDAR and USDA grants assisted with getting the entire operation solar-powered, AND all that cheesemaking whey got Bruce hooked on raising the absolute tastiest heritage breed pork, poultry, and eggs. We love seeing the radiant health of the pastures, flocks, and herds flourish, and provide nutrient dense and delicious food for our family, friends, and ever growing community of customers.
Our herd is comprised of La Mancha dairy goats, known for their mild mannered, sweet temperaments. Their milk is sweet and moderately creamy, making it perfect for drinking, culturing, and cheesemaking. They are also known for their ears - or lack thereof! They do not have upright earflaps like Saanens or Alpines, or droopy ones like Nubians. Their ears are more like humans - just a circle of cartilage. There's an interesting explanation for the distinctive ears that also relates to their hardiness.
The Spanish missionaries that landed on the west coast of the US in the 1500's brought goats with them on their ocean voyages to provide milk and meat. These short-eared goats occasionally showed an "earless" mutation that the missionaries disliked, and so these goats were set loose in the Sierras. Over the next few hundred years, the earless mutation became dominant, and the goats grew hardy adapting to the local climate.
In the early 1900's, other European immigrants brought Swiss and French Alpine goats with them to California that proved to not be very hardy in that climate. Breeders soon noticed the herds of "feral" goats and thought wisely to breed the more fragile European dairy goats with these nativized Spanish goats, and that is how the "American La Mancha" breed began.
Little White Goat Dairy is at the Amherst Farmers' Market weekly - Our fresh products;
MILK IS SEASONAL - APRIL THROUGH DECEMBER
Every day we milk our herd in the mornings, then chill the milk and bottle it in BPA-free recyclable containers. Sold in quarts and half-gallon jugs. Gallons bottled on request, please call ahead
(ON ALTERNATE DAYS, THE MILK IS USED TO CREATE PROBIOTIC DELICIOUS DAIRY PRODUCTS).
YOGURT - AVAILABLE IN QUARTS AND 6 ounce single-serving containers
KEFIR - AVAILABLE IN QUARTS AND 6 ounce single-serving containers
LABNE - A Middle Eastern tradition - yogurt is salted and strained to a thick creamy consistency, then seasoned with flavorful herbs and spices (rosemary, garlic, oregano, thyme, and hot pepper flakes). It is a great dip for veggies or chips, a spread for crackers or bread, and a wonderful addition to sandwiches
CHEVRE - The traditional fresh goat cheese, eaten with bread, crackers, fruit, jam, or honey - our favorite is on a baguette with olive oil and fresh ground black pepper. We also sell it seasoned with chives, or roasted garlic, or garlic and herbs.
BULGARIAN-STYLE FETA - This feta is creamy and delicate! It is sold packed in brine so it will keep for months.
WE ALSO HAVE A VARIETY OF FRESH MEAT AVAILABLE;
- Chevon for sale, cryo-vac frozen under USDA inspection
- Woodland Pork
- Grassfed Beef
Our dairy is Grade A Certified for raw milk sales by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Our processing plant is licensed by the MA Department of Public Health. Our herd is never medicated unless directed by a veterinarian for diagnosed illness when our holistic herbal-based approaches are not sufficient.
Note: Oliver Scott Photography for Little White Goat Dairy
Simple Gifts Farm to Open New Farmstand
Leaving Amherst Farmers Market after 18 years
Amherst, MA (July 8th, 2017)--Jeremy Barker-Plotkin needs to find a new activity for his Saturday mornings. “I’ve been setting up my farmer’s market display 30 Saturdays a year for the past 18 years,” says the 46-year-old farmer. Barker-Plotkin will be celebrating his last market this Saturday, as he prepares to open a new farmstand at the farm on North Pleasant Street. Cake will be available to market-goers who come to say goodbye to the bounteous display in the Spring Street farmers market.
While the departure from market has a touch of bittersweet for Barker-Plotkin, the new farmstand will provide him with an ample outlet for his energies. The stand will be open seven days a week, and will feature organic produce and other local products from other Valley farms along with the veggies, eggs and meat that Simple Gifts typically brings to the market. Simple Gifts Farm’s 250-member Community-Supported Agriculture program will also be able to pick up their shares seven days a week from the new farmstand. A Grand Opening for the new farmstand will happen on July 15th, complete with balloon animals, farm tours, live music, and more free cake.
The farm has had some trouble signing up enough members to allow it to go to with all farmshares, which was the orginal vision of the farm. “The farmshare market is tight in this area, with so many great farmers offering shares,” says Barker-Plotkin. The farm has offered a flexible 10-pass option since 2016, which allows members to come in for 10 pickups anytime over the course of the season, as a way of making the share more accessible for those who have a smaller household or are gone during the summer. The farm stand will offer another more flexible option. “We want to keep the core share experience for members, while also opening opportunities for those who might want to come in and just buy a tomato or a bag of salad mix.”
Barker-Plotkin started started selling at the Amherst Farmer’s Market in 1999 when he started the farm operation. He was initially part of the Lampson Brook Farms Cooperative, a group of farmers who all operated plots at the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown. The cooperative also brought produce to the Central Square Farmer’s Market in Cambridge, and operated a small stand at the farm site in Belchertown.
The North Amherst Community Farm land trust was formed in 2005 to preserve the property in North Amherst where Barker-Plotkin now farms with farming partner Dave Tepfer. “ I had outgrown the site in Belchertown, and wanted to find a site where I work with Dave to integrate livestock into the operation.” The land trust purchased the site in 2006, and Barker-Plotkin and Tepfer have been farming there ever since. The operation has grown from about 9 acres in 2006 up to the current 20 acres in organic vegetable production, along with an additional 20 acres in pasture for the animals.
Bringing you organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, locally-sourced blog posts on a semi-weekly basis from the Amherst Farmers' Market.