Through the 1950s, Carlisle was a town of farmers with large tracts of farmland and open space. While the town has been fortunate enough to retain much of its open space, most farmland has given way to single-family homes for our growing population. Still, rural traditions can be found around town on a few farms and in homes where Carlisleans produce homemade and homegrown food. Here's a sampling.
Carlisle's largest dairy farm
Mark and Tamma Duffy have operated Great Brook Farm and the Carlisle Cranberry Bog for more than 20 years. They lease the land, farmhouse and barns from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but own their herd of more than 130 Holsteins and the ice cream stand at the farm. their ice cream is made offsite by Bliss Brothers, a company that buys milk from the Duffys.
The Duffys' cows produce over 200,000 gallons of fresh milk each year, which is marketed through Agra-Mark, a dairy cooperative in central Massachusetts where Mark and Tamma serve on the board of directors. The milk is then sold to Hood, Columbo, and Cabot dairies where ice cream blends and other dairy products such as yogurt and cheese are made. The Duffys are currently heavily involved in trying to maintain a viable dairy industry in Massachusetts. "Dairy farming is an extremely challenging career to make a living in," says Tamma. "The most important issue to us is to be part of a community which supports local agriculture and values open space."
Goat cheese production
Across town, on Indian Hill road, is a small dairy farm where Tricia Smith and her goats produce Carlisle Farmstead Cheese. Eight Oberhasli goats provide Smith with enough milk to create her French-style bloomy rind goat cheese . Seven of her eight goats were born here in Carlisle; the queen of the herd, Lea, hails from Santa Cruz, California.
The farm itself is just big enough to suit its land around it. "Our property keeps the operation at a one-woman scale; we have as many animals as our land can support and I can tend," Smith explains. "The cheese house, too, is scaled to handle a milk volume from no more than eight milkers. So while I might like to operate on a larger scale, I can't do it without more land and more hands."
In addition to cheese-making, Smith maintains a small pasture of grasses, clover and other forbs and a garden, whose produce is shared between the house and barn. Smith takes a lot of care with the goats' diet. The eight residents of the barn enjoy dining on a mix of grain, barley, sunflower seeds and an organic pellet.
"We follow organic practices as much as is practical," says Smith. "Our milking procedures and sanitation are per organic practice. Our goats do not receive prophylactic or periodic medications other than annual vaccinations against rabies, tetanus and clostridia."
Each morning Smith starts a new cheese with fresh milk and chilled milk from the previous night. Cheeses that are aged for about 60 days are started with raw milk, while younger cheeses are pasteurized. It takes milk five days to become a new cheese in the ripening chamber in the cheese house. "Each cheese gets tended daily until it goes to market," says Smith.
Smith sells some of her cheese to Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge which then resells it to area restaurants. Locally her cheeses are sold at Verrill Farm and the Concord Cheese Shop. In the summer and fall, most of Smith's cheese is sold directly at the Farmers Market in Charles Square, Cambridge.
Although Smith does not advertise, she gains recognition for her work by entering two national cheese competitions each year. During the first two years of commercial production, Smith's cheeses earned six awards, including a first place at the 2006 American Cheese Society Competition. Cheesemongers from New York, Providence and San Francisco ask to sell her cheeses, but, Smith resists, saying, "For now I like keeping our cheese 'food miles' minimal."
Bread and honey
While Smith tends her herd and produces her cheeses, her husband, Michael Holland, bakes bread when he's not working as a senior vice president and director of site planning for Symmes, Maini & McKee Associates in Cambridge.
He became interested in baking bread as a kid. "My grandmother was a cook in a restaurant, and I was always fascinated by the bread-making process. I was proficient with yeasted doughs by the time I was 12 years old."
Holland creates delicious, aromatic artisan breads that are naturally leavened and then baked in his custom outdoor brick oven. "As part of the construction project to build our dairy/cheese house, we built an outdoor brick oven — a longtime goal of mine," says Holland. He designed the oven in anticipation of one day having the time to do more serious "farmers market baking." "Probably retirement — whatever/whenever that is!"
Designed for bread and pizza cooking, the oven can bake 16 to 20 sourdough boules at a time. When fully heated, it can bake several loads of artisan breads and then more loads of pan bread. It can even cook a turkey and heat casseroles for the next two days. On Sunday mornings Holland likes to fire up the oven to make brunch pizza for friends and family. "The best thing about bread-baking is sharing it with your friends and eating it," he says.
That slice of fresh, homemade bread would taste delicious spread with Carlisle-produced honey. Ed Erny and Avril Taylor of North Road produce Carlisle Honey in hives in their back yard. (See "To bee or not to bee," Mosquito, August 4, 2006.) The hives resemble wooden filing cabinets with ten removable wooden frames. Bees build honey combs in the frames which allow the beekeeper to remove individual frames for inspection and to harvest honey. Erny uses a hand-cranked extractor that spins the comb in a stainless steel barrel and releases the honey. It is then bottled and readied for sale at the Saturday honey stand at the end of their driveway. Carlisle Honey is also available at the Carlisle Farmers Market and at Ferns.
Taylor became fascinated with beekeeping as a child after watching an observation hive at her local penny candy store in New Jersey. Later, she enrolled in "Bee School" run by Mass. Audubon at Drumlin Farm. After completing the class, she ordered her starter hive and a starter colony of honey bees. That year the young hive produced 40 pounds of honey.
Erny says that his interest in bees came later."The story goes that I couldn't resist offering my two cents as to how to maintain and care for the bees. Not having gone through bee school, I was not taken seriously. However, I was a quick study, asked questions and read all the books on the subject I could find. Finally, my wife suggested I should just get my own hive and that was the beginning of the family beekeeping."
Farm fresh eggs
Ken and Marilyn Harte have owned chickens since 1980 when their sons, Will and Tim, joined the Carlisle 4-H poultry club. First the boys built a makeshift chicken-wire coop that proved to be a more of a raccoon-feeding station. With their father's help they built a sturdy wooden hen house for their hens and roosters. Over the years the Harte family has had all sorts of chickens — White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Araucanas, Black Australorps, Buff Cochins and Silkie Bantams to name a few.
The boys sold eggs to the neighbors and showed their chickens at the 4-H Fair. Once they went off to college, the Hartes continued to raise chickens. "We couldn't give up eating fresh eggs, only one or two days old, instead of weeks-old store eggs," Marilyn recalls. "As for the surplus, I found some loyal customers among my colleagues at the Mosquito, while my husband sells some to his coworkers." Presently, the Hartes have about 33 hens and three roosters.
Beef cattle on Bedford Road
Since the early 1980s, Dick and Carolyn Shohet have raised cattle at their Mill Iron Farm at 299 Bedford Road. Originally they kept Hereford or white-face beefers, but recently switched to Diamond Jubilees, blocky, reddish cattle with broad white belts, a cross between Red Angus and Dutch Belted. According to the Shohets, they have the mild disposition of white-faced cattle and the delicious beef production of Angus. They keep their herd at six, because "we can store only about 900 small square bales for winter feed. A full-grown beef can eat a 40- or 50-pound bale on a cold New England winter day," Dick explains.
"In truth, beef cattle require very little attention or help," he notes. "Other than our throwing out a few bales and chopping the pond ice in winter, they are independent, spending all of their lives outdoors." The Shohets use much of their land for summer grazing and raising their cattle's winter feed. They grow winter feed on some town conservation land, on the Clark Farm on Concord Street and a few other smaller private pieces of land. "We plant 100% of what our cattle eat and fertilize lightly with strictly organic products," says Shohet. "We cut, ted [dry], rake and bale ourselves with help from son-in-law Rick West and friend and neighbor Nathan Brown, who generally settle for a cold and frosty refreshment or two. We use no growth implants, feed no grain and apply no medications. Our farm is fenced such that the cattle have pretty much free run of the place."
Mill Iron Farm sells their beef exclusively to friends and neighbors in Carlisle. At Blood Farm in Groton their cattle are butchered, processed, and flash-frozen into individual cuts that are sold by the Shohets at or below supermarket prices. The Shohets slaughter only two or three cattle a year and although customers often ask for steaks and roasts, hamburger is their best product. "Grass-fed beef tends to be somewhat less tender than grain-fed," says Dick, "so grinding the meat compensates. The fat content is so low that Carolyn recommends adding some kind of binder to the beef to keep the patties firm." The Shohets try to give away about a half of each butchered beef to a charity in Boston, Lowell, or to Open Table in Concord.
Growing organic vegetables
Marjorie Johnson of Ember Lane has been gardening since she was a child helping her mom. "I liked digging in the dirt," she recalls. Later she began helping her father-in-law and his neighbor with their very large shared backyard vegetable garden.
Over the years she has tried growing many different types of vegetables, but now concentrates on varieties that taste better than what is available at the store. Because she grows organically, she chooses vegetables that are pest-resistant. She grows heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, strawberries, peppers, sugar-snap peas, green beans, onions, garlic, basil and other herbs which she shares with family and friends. At Foss Farm Johnson used to grow corn, potatoes and squash but the results didn't justify the amount of work required, so now she just buys her corn at the Farmers Market. This year she is also selling at the Farmers Market.
Her biggest challenge is keeping the critters out. Johnson's garden is 20' x 40' and she uses a combination of chicken-wire fences of different heights to discourage deer, rabbits and woodchucks. "The moles and chipmunks can still get in through the mesh," Johnson acknowledges, "but they are small and don't eat too much."
Johnson saves water by making raised beds and burying soaker hoses in them. She places plants near the hoses to allow the water to reach their roots. "This is easier and less expensive than drip irrigation systems, it keeps the plants and soil surface drier to reduce mildew and weeds, and it wastes no water," Johnson explains. "The hoses are all interconnected, so all I have to do is turn the faucet on or off."
Family farms are alive and well in Carlisle, and soon gardens and kitchens will be filled with homemade and homegrown food.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito