Valley Bounty: Couple carrying on a livestock legacy at Chase Hill Farm

  • Normande and Jersey cows grazing on pasture at Chase Hill Farm in Warwick. CHASE HILL FARM

  • A close up of a Normande cow and calf at Chase Hill Farm in Warwick. The farm also raises Jerseys. CHASE HILL FARM

  • The farm store at Chase Hill Farm at 74 Chase Hill Road in Warwick is open every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CHASE HILL FARM

  • A new addition to the goat herd at Chase Hill Farm. CHASE HILL FARM

  • Prepared foods made with products from the animals raised at Chase Hill Farm.  CHASE HILL FARM

  • Wheels of cheese aging in the cheese cave at Chase Hill Farm in Warwick. CHASE HILL FARM

  • Raw milk for sale at Chase Hill Farm's store in Warwick. In Massachusetts, raw milk can only be sold directly at the farm. CHASE HILL FARM

  • Pigs help clear and fertilize pastures at Chase Hill Farm in Warwick. CHASE HILL FARM

For The Recorder
Published: 6/24/2022 3:40:33 PM
Modified: 6/24/2022 3:40:15 PM

“How many people get a chance where someone walks up to you and says, ‘Do you want your dream?’” asks Laura Wells-Tolley. In 2017, she and her partner, Ben, were offered that chance when they took over Chase Hill Farm in Warwick from the Fellows family, who founded it back in the 1950s.

“Chase Hill Farm is a diversified livestock farm with a 100% grass-fed, organic, raw milk dairy at its center,” Wells-Tolley explains. Nestled in the hills north of Route 2, they raise cows, pigs, chickens and goats on 270 acres, producing meat, eggs, prepared foods, and 100% grass-fed, certified organic raw milk, which they also use to make cheese.

As Wells-Tolley tells the story, their family was chosen for this. Not only is dairy farming their calling, but they were literally chosen by Chase Hill’s previous owners to shepherd the farm into the future.

The tale starts years earlier at Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst. “Ben was an apprentice working with their livestock,” Wells-Tolley says. “The owners, Dave Tepfer and Jeremy Barker Plotkin, welcomed us into the farm family, and we raised some of our own animals there. As soon as we had our first family cow, we were like, ‘This is it, we want to raise cows and have a dairy.’”

Soon after, Ben Wells-Tolley began working at Upinngil Farm in Gill, where the couple learned more about small-scale dairying. Then they purchased their own small herd and opened South Wind Farm in Northfield. “That’s where we first got licensed to sell raw milk,” Wells-Tolley says.

Raw milk is milk that hasn’t been pasteurized at high heat. Some people prefer raw milk because it provides a different nutrient makeup than pasteurized milk. In Massachusetts, raw milk can only be purchased directly at farms that offer it. The Department of Agricultural Resources licenses a few dozen farms to sell raw milk, and all follow strict food safety protocols.

At that point, Chase Hill Farm was being run by Mark and Jeannette Fellows, who inherited the farm from Mark’s parents. They transitioned the dairy from more conventional practices to producing 100% grass-fed, organic raw milk, and were among the first in recent decades to make aged cheeses right on the farm.

Their system and success impressed the Wells-Tolleys, and when they saw Chase Hill Farm was offering a tour, they jumped on it.

“We drove our family up to Warwick, got there, and it was just us,” Wells-Tolley recalls. “Mark Fellows — a legend in our world — gave us his afternoon, showed us the farm, and answered a million questions. Pulling away, I vividly remember Ben and I looking at each other like ... if we could ever have a farm like Chase Hill, that would be our dream.”

A few years later, the Fellowses were looking for successors to carry the farm and its legacy forward and offered the Wells-Tolleys that dream. The younger couple said yes, and began working alongside the Fellowses, learning the farm’s ins and outs.

“We pushed though challenges in the early years, but we had amazing support from our families, the Fellows, and other farmers,” Wells-Tolley says. “Now five years into full ownership, it’s like we’re flying. I walk through the fields, no one else around, and sometimes I still grin with excitement.”

The Wells-Tolleys merged their cows into the existing herd at Chase Hill, and now keep about 40-50 head, all Normande and Jersey breeds. Usually about 20 are in milk at any one time, with a handful nursing calves and the rest producing milk for people. They give about 200 gallons a week, with half sold as raw milk and the other half diverted to cheesemaking.

Wells-Tolley sees milking as a relationship of giving, rather than taking.

“You have to make a connection with the cow, because really they’re adopting us when they give us milk,” she says, noting the maternal nature of the act. “Our cows have adopted a whole community.”

If Chase Hill Farm were a wheel, the cows and dairy business would be its hub, the stout center around which everything else turns. The other animals would be the spokes. They’re valuable on their own for what they produce, but even more so for how they support the central hub and the farm as a whole.

As a dairy first, the priority is providing cows with abundant grass. As Wells-Tolley explains, the other animals help with that. Each year the farm raises over 1,000 chickens and 30-40 pigs for meat, keeps a few dozen laying hens, and recently added a small herd of goats to the mix.

The chickens move through open pasture after the cows, foraging and leaving manure. Pigs root up brushy areas and goats mow down invasive plants such as multiflora rose.

Through carefully managed rotational grazing, the Wells-Tolleys use these animals to expand the now 70 acres of open pasture on the property, fertilize them with manure, and boost soil fertility and grass growth.

“When I walked our cows out into their summer pasture this year, the grass was literally up to my chest,” Wells-Tolley says. More grass means happier cows, more milk and more cheese, plus they’re selling products from the other animals too. All of this is good for the land and the business.

Chase Hill Farm makes several kinds of cheese, from smoky blue cheese and salty feta to longer-aged varieties including cheddar and the softer Tomme de Normande with its delicate rind. The entire process — from soil to grass to cow to milk to cheese — happens right on the farm using only their own raw milk.

Chase Hill’s farm store at 74 Chase Hill Road in Warwick is open every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. That’s where customers can buy raw milk, along with eggs and a wide range of cheeses, meats and prepared foods such as soups, stocks and take-and-bake meals. They also attend the Amherst Farmers Market on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and sell their cheese at Simple Gifts’ farm store in Amherst. Some products are available at stores and markets in eastern Massachusetts, too.

Managing a multi-dimensional farm like this is challenging. Says Wells-Tolley: “Sometimes I think about the jump from homesteading to farming — why not do what we’re doing at a homestead scale if it’s so much easier?” For her and many farmers, there’s joy in the higher calling of feeding others.

“Not everyone can have a cow in their backyard,” she says. “We farm to nourish people beyond just our family.”

June is dairy month. To learn more about local dairy farms near you, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.

Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
 

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy