Temple-Wilton CSA: Nonprofit dairy and vegetable farm now raising chickens and pigs for organic meat
WILTON - Two piglets, only weeks old, poke their heads out of a windbreak, and go for a small adventure around the hut where they were born. Their mother, an enormous pig named Gertrude, is sublimely unconcerned, grazing on grass a few yards away.
The Temple-Wilton Community Farm looks like a postcard picture of a small-town farm. In a pasture across the road from the dairy - painted red of course - a small herd of cows graze, several with small calves glued to their sides. The laying hens and the meat birds each have their own area. And there are the pigs.
The farm has several distinctions. Not only is it one of the oldest Community Supported Agriculture farms in the U.S., having adopted the concept at the outset of its North American foothold in the 1980s, it's also Wilton's only surviving dairy farm.
The farm has always grown organic vegetables. This year, for the first time, it's also offering organic, pasture raised meats, including chicken, pork and, beginning next year, lamb.
"When people think of organically- raised meats, they have a vision of grass. Pigs on grass, chickens on grass," said Andrew Kennedy, one of the managers of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, on a recent Sunday afternoon. "This is what they think of," he said, gesturing to the rolling hills of the farm, where the chickens the farm raises for meat are kept, and the pigs happily rooting in the dirt.
Not all organic meat is equal, said Kennedy. Animals can be kept on concrete pads or indoors, and still qualify as organic as long as they're raised on organic feed, he noted. And while that's a less labor- intensive way to operate, it's not how the Temple-Wilton Community Farm does things, he said.
The farm is a nonprofit community farm that supports a local CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. Not only does the farm raise chickens, cows and pigs, it also has a fully operational dairy. They sell the meat from their chickens and pigs, and yogurt produced from the farm's 10 milking cows, eggs from its laying hens and organic vegetables grown on the farm.
The animals aren't freerange, because the farm has had issues in the past with predators, but are kept in pasture by simple strings of electric fencing, which is moved every day to give the animals fresh grass, and to fertilize the fields where the farm grows its hay and vegetables.
Anyone who's ever tried to pick up more organic or locally grown produce will know that the benefits come with a price tag. The average cost of processed chicken, for example, is about 99 cents a pound. And organic chicken can be about $2.99. But if you're looking for free-range or grass-fed animals that price is even higher.
The Temple-Wilton Community Farm charges $4.50 a pound for its organic chicken - and that's on the low end of the $4.50 to $5.75 range that grass-fed birds run, according to Kennedy.
The farm keeps dairy cows and laying hens, but the rest of the animals are raised for their meat. While they're on the farm, though, they get to be the animal they're meant to be.
"They're food animals, but if they're here for seven months, we make sure it's a happy seven months. And they get to actually be a pig," he said, while checking in on the litters of piglets born on the farm several weeks ago.
And what's good for the animal is good for the people that buy the meat, Kennedy said.
"The key is to keep them in a low-stress environment," he said. "If you keep the stress down and give them a better diet, they're a happier, healthier animal. And that gives them a better flavor in the end."
Kennedy said the farm is also particular in the kind of animal it raises - but he's not talking about the breed. Most of the farms animals, in fact, are hybrids because when Kennedy breeds them he doesn't do it to keep a bloodline pure. He breeds for calm temperament, good foraging skills and good mothering skills, while bad breeders and aggressive animals are culled. Not only does it make for a calmer, low-stress animal population, it also fits in with the goals of the farm.
"It's important to have friendly animals because the way the farm operates anyone can go anywhere. We have a lot of kids and a lot of students who visit," Kennedy said.
The farm is a community cooperative, owned collectively by shareholders who supply the funds to operate the farm every year. And it's open to anyone who wants to visit and learn about farm life. The farm is always looking to expand its opportunities. For example, Kennedy said, in the spring the farm will be raising lamb for the first time. In the first year, they will raise only as many as they can sell upfront. But in the future, Kennedy hopes it will become another regular facet of the farm's meat production.
In most CSAs, buyers pay a set upfront cost, and then receive a share of the crop produced by its farmers. The Temple-Wilton Community Farm does things a little bit differently. And just maybe their way is better, because they've been doing it longer than anyone in the state.
In 1985, Lincoln Geiger and Anthony Graham, two of the managers of the community farm, became interested in CSAs, which was a concept that did not yet exist in the U.S. at that time, according to Andrew Kennedy, Geiger and Graham's partner in the farm. It was mostly limited to Europe at that time.
As an operational dairy, Geiger and Graham knew they'd have customers coming for milk through the winter, not just during the growing season. So in addition to their summer crop, the farmers began growing a lot of storage vegetables to provide produce through the winter, said Kennedy, something they still do today.
And membership is a little different, too - the members collectively contribute as much as they can to meet the farm's budget. While Kennedy said the farm recommends $90 per adult per month, each family can pledge more or less than that, based on what they can manage.
In exchange, customers are able to have free reign over their CSA boxes. The produce is set out fresh at the farm's store twice a week, but members can stop by at any time and take as much or as little of each product that they need, on an honor system.
Also, all of the other unprocessed farm produce, including the milk from the dairy, is available free of charge. Processed goods, such as yogurt, cheese, meat and eggs, are available for only the cost of processing.
It's a formula that's worked for the farm since it was established in 1986, and worked well. In fact, the farm has a waiting list for members who want to be a part of the collective. To get on the waiting list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
class='abody'> Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or email@example.com m. She's on Twitter at@AshleySaari.