Farmers' Kitchen—Grass=Solar Energy=Good Meat
Written onAugust 20 , 2013
My husband, Bruce Hennessey, and I moved to an end-of-the-road, hilltop farm in Huntington in 1999 for a “close-to-the-mountains” farming opportunity. The hilltop nature of our 136 acres made it challenging for growing crops or making hay (steep, too many rocks, some wet areas), so grazing livestock seemed like the answer to keeping the pastures open, fertilized, and healthy. A small herd of a dozen Angus cattle kicked off the birth of Maple Wind Farm, and since then, grass has been our focus as we’ve followed our passion for growing the best possible meats, improving soils, and intensively grazing multiple species.
We are now managing a cattle herd of 120 Angus/Devon crosses, 50 pasture-raised Berkshire Tamworth hogs, 500 layer hens, 2 draft horses, 400 organic turkeys, more than 4,000 pasture-raised broiler chickens, and a 10-acre organic vegetable operation. It all has us quite busy but it’s all part of our integrated pasture management plan. Each animal group has its own job to do, contributing to improving the soils and grazing as nature intended them to. For instance, our pigs root up the soil and reclaim areas on the farm that need to be reseeded and restored. And the poultry provide the soils’ much-needed nitrogen from their manure and cleanse pastures of parasites and flies after the cattle have grazed through; they pick through the cow pies and look for bugs and larvae to keep pests at a manageable level.
By moving our 100-percent grass-fed cattle herd to new pasture every day, we ensure that the grass is eaten at optimal levels of nutrition. We feel that cows raised on 100 percent grass (never any grain) can reach appropriate weight gain in 24 months and be as delicious and tender as conventional beef with the proper attention to forage and seasonality of butchering. This takes time and education on both our part and the part of the customer. But Bruce and I are former educators, so it’s a natural extension of our farm work to teach folks about the benefits while at farmers’ markets, hosting pasture workshops, or speaking at conferences.
As a mother, I appreciate the fact that my children recognize all the items from our farm sitting on their plate at dinner, knowing that it is the healthiest for them and raised in the most natural and sustainable way. Passing a fast-food restaurant with them in the car and hearing them say, “Oh gross, that’s bad meat, Mommy” gives me a small sense of satisfaction that they do understand what we’re doing with our lives (and what maybe they’ll continue into the future).
Below is a favorite grass-fed beef recipe for a busy after-school meal. I love using my crock pot for it!
Maple Wind Farm is located in Huntington, Richmond, and Bolton. An article about its new poultry processing facility can be found here. Find Maple Wind’s products at restaurants, food co-ops, and farmers’ markets. For more information: maplewindfarm.com.