Author Archives: Lucia

Feast for the eyes 

One of the great benefits of grassfed cattle is seeing these beautiful animajs ls in their natural habitat. This lovely sight feeds heart and soul as well as body. 

Lambs almost all born

All but one of our ewes have delivered their beautiful lambs. Today is a big day because  the shearer comes. This time of year is intense in the lamb shed. But it’s also a great time for us as we work so closely with the sheep and become more closely acquainted with each other. Soon they will be out all day happily grazing on the pasture and won’t be eagerly greeting us as we bring armfuls of hay. 
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New Well Pump

Being a farmer means being part detective and part engineer. Last week the water pressure suddenly dropped. We needed to act quickly to figure out the problem. We replaced out bladder tank and well pump. So now our delicious artesian water is flowing fully again. 

Meet Yuengling 

Yuengling is our pet goat. She is two years old this winter. When you visit she is sure to come say hello and demand pets and a scratch behind her horns. Goats are excellent pasture managers, eating wild rose, poison ivy and other weeds the cattle leave behind. 

The Explorer

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We were just headed over to our friend’s house for dinner and a game of Mah Jongg when an observant tenant at our second farm up the road called to tell us that our steer had taken off right through the high tensile fence and went into the preserved woodlands behind the farm

These are not the happiest moments as a farmer, to put it mildly. Off we went in pursuit of this loco-yearling steer. Despite my considerable frustration, I found myself happy to be in the beautiful springtime woods for several hours before it started to be too dark to keep looking  So I called the Hopewell Police and Animal Control Officer   Then we did join our patient and kind neighbors for the fun evening we’d planned

Sure enough the next day several people reported  seeing the steer calf  We called the number provided and a friendly woman told us the calf had jumped into her pasture and was hanging out with her older Polled Hereford cattle. So we loaded rails, wire and step in posts in the trailer. Three hours later we finally slapped five after we successfully loaded him back on the trailer  Turns out Kelly and husband Frank had just moved to their new farm three miles from where #16 had escaped  We enjoyed meeting them and talking about farm life.  It occurred to me how lucky we are to be farming here in central Jersey with so many helpful, kind and interesting people nearby And maybe it isn’t time to throw in the towel and escape to a more manageable life. So thank you #16 for introducing us to some new folks.  But don’t get any other ideas of escaping! Charlie fixed that electric fence charger too.

 

More than grass

“Exclusively Grassfed”  and “Grassfed Goodness” are slogans we use to describe out meat. But as I gaze down while walking our pastures I am amazed at the diversity of plants our animals are eating. In one square foot are a myriad of plants, all offering different nutrients and minerals. Plantains, dandelions, burdock, shepherd’s purse, ajuga, chickweed. violets and a vast variety of clovers thrive in the field. All of these contribute to healthier soils and healthier animals. And speaking of clovers, very often I’ll find the four leaf variety!

 

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Winter Market Announcement

Winter Market! Located at the West Windsor Athletic Club
99 Clarksville Road, West Windsor, 10pm- 1 pm
Always the second Saturday of every month.
Dec. 12, Jan 9, Feb. 13; Mar 12; Apr 9

Beechtree Farm approaches 30 years. Reflections from an Eclectic Artist Farmer

The first time Charlie and I walked into our farmhouse that Spring of 1986, we owned it. It didn’t occur to me until years later that this was somewhat unusual as most people would like to see the inside of a house before they commit to buying it. But at the time it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

 

We knew the house had running water, no termites, four walls and a roof to protect us. What we saw was a beautiful piece of land with the house and barn located far away from the road – a perfect place to raise children and animals, in short, heaven on earth. I had admired the farm from the road for years driving between Princeton and Lambertville What surprised me is how many people had viewed the farm and not snapped it up already.

 

We learned about the opportunity to buy this farm only hours after we had decided to marry. It felt like providence had opened her arms and welcomed our new union. Charlie had worked hard in his door and window business, already owned a home and had decided to find a farm before we had met. I had grown up on my parents working dairy farm in Columbia County, New York. So the prospect of managing 58 acres of land didn’t scare me a bit. We will forever be grateful to the person who sold us the property, Mike Plescher, who liked our plan to keep the farm a farm and not to cut it up for more houses.

It didn’t even occur to us at the time that we might make our living on the land. My idealistic, Wendell Berry-reading, parents had fallen in love with rural life and thrown themselves headlong into farming. My siblings and I came away with great stories and unique memories. But my parents came away with a severely depleted bank account after the debacle of drought in the early 60’s. Marriage almost broken, they moved to exurban Rowayton, Connecticut in 1965 to finish raising us. In retrospect, Rowayton is a great place on the waterfront but it was a tough adjustment for a girl of ten to get used to a quarter acre after having the freedom and a pony to explore 365 acres. When we moved to Crusher Road, it never occurred to us that we might make with only 58 acres.

 

Looking back, the assumption we made years ago, that we couldn’t farm for real, often stops me in my present day tracks. How could this be? We all have to eat. Eating is central and even sacred to our lives Why, when and how did farming become such a non-option, so unattractive as a profession, unless you own vast tracts of land and humongous machines and a dependence on chemical companies? Think of all those families who did once make a good middle class living on their farms, who were forced out of business in the post World War era. To my mind, this is not only sad, but also tragic. And it just doesn’t make good economic sense in a country that has a declining middle class, a dangerous dependence on fossil fuel and an unhealthy, increasingly obese population due to poor diets. From an artist’s point of view, my heart aches to see beautiful farmland gobbled up by development, the final crop – houses.

 

Charlie and I continued our respective businesses, selling and installing doors and windows, marketing communications for architects and publishing door posters. At the start, we were fortunate to have two farmers lease our land, Toby Laughlin and Miguel Garces who kept a small herd of Polled Herefords. Their livestock grazed on our fenced 20-acre pasture and we learned from them. Then one day Toby offered to sell us two pregnant polled Hereford dams. They were registered and very fine animals. And that was our start as beef farmers.

 

In short order, our beautiful children Kate and Gus were born in 1988 and 1989. We kept a great vegetable farm for ourselves. Each year we would borrow a bull and our dams would have a few calves and we’d sell them at auction, fulfilling the income requirements for farm assessment which until recently. We were running a “gentlemen farm.” Cats, dogs, horses all came along and greatly enriched our lives and still do.

 

One day the phone rang and John Hart, owner of Rosedale Mills and Hopewell Township Committeeman called to ask if I’d consider joining an Agricultural Advisory Committee in Hopewell Township, which was starting up in order to apply for farmland preservation grant money. “It’ll only be a couple of hours a month Lucia, I’m sure you can find the time to do that.” So I agreed. This small decision to volunteer time for the Township led me to many good things. One of them was meeting the Executive Director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, NOFA NJ, and Karen Andersen who nominated me to attend a conference of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, PASA. There, in 2007, I encountered almost a thousand people all doing, of all things – farming. The conference lifted a box off my mind that had limited my ideas of what Charlie and I could do with our land and opened up a vast of array of possibilities. What I heard and learned that weekend started a “fire in the belly” about the difference between agro industrial farming versus organic and sustainable farming. The issue of how our food is raised and is grown touches everything – our health, the climate change, diversity of species, the economy, dependence on foreign oil and how we relate to each other in our communities. Agriculture is at the very center of the whole big debate.

 

Returning from PASA, I practically accosted Charlie. “We have an unrealized asset with our 58 acres. We aren’t too small at all. Let’s get more serious about farming!!!” After talking and planning, happily he agreed and in many ways, this is when our real adventure as grassfed livestock farmers began.

 

 

Fresh, delicious water

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We often hear comments like, why does your meat taste so much better? One of the secrets is our fresh and delicious well water. Whenever we come home after a vacation we are always eager to return to our tap water. We have friends who bring empty gallon jugs to fill and take home with them because they too love the taste of the water. The same is true for our animals who have 24/7 access to water. Here is one of our katadin ewe sheep, Mrs. White with one of her lambs, enjoying a drink from our automatic Nelson waterer. We have many of these waterers situated around the farm so animals can access water easily. In the winter they stay unfrozen because underneath the canister is an eight foot pit which allows geothermal heat to rise. There is an electric heating element just under the bowl for very cold weather. This is a huge labor saver and the animals really appreciate fresh flowing water whenever they wish.

Rotating pasture

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This photo is a good illustration of how we manage our pastures by rotating them. On the left the cattle have recently grazed while on the right the grass is allowed to grow. This time of year we will use our temporary fences with step in posts and wire on spools to have the cattle mow our yard rather than use the gas gussling lawn mower . Meanwhile, the cattle are fertilizing the fields with their manure and the fields themselves act as large solar panels. The grass and other forages act as carbon sinks which are important in this age of global warming. So this system is a win, win, win, for the cattle, for the environment and for our taste buds.