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!
Bringing you organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, locally-sourced blog posts on a semi-weekly basis from the Amherst Farmers' Market.